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Harlem's 369 Regiment Armory gets an upgrade

Jasmin K. Williams | 4/24/2013, 4:18 p.m.

The 369 Regiment Armory, built for the Black World War I regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters, is finally being renovated after years of neglect and decline. But just what does that mean for those operations inside the facility like the 369th Historical Society and the Harlem Youth Marines and others who have called the facility home for decades? There is understandable concern within the armory and the Harlem community as to where important community-based organizations will find themselves during renovations and after the renovations are complete.

The AmNews spoke with Eric Durr from the military's public affairs office about the preliminary plans for the historic edifice.

"The building is stable. The real effort is going to be remaking the building on the inside, and that is still in the planning stages," Durr told the AmNews. "The goal here is to take this historic building and make it useful for another hundred years. This was built in a very different time and place, and the renovation is part of an overall effort by the National Guard to remake our armory structures into something that fits into a 21st century army.

"The goal is to take this building that was built for an infantry regiment in the 1930s and turn it into something that supports a unit of men and women in the 21st century who have different training needs--to take these older spaces, renovate them, update them, enlarge them and make them something that a modern day military can use. You'll incorporate computers. The classrooms will be state-of-the-art, with distance-learning facilities, video cameras, projectors and electronic whiteboards. That's something that we've been doing at all our facilities. There is some preliminary discussion about incorporating electronic ranges," Durr said.

"The New York National Guard is about 15 percent women, and because the 369th Sustainment Brigade is a logistics unit, it has a higher proportion of women than an infantry unit like the Lexington Avenue Armory. We'll take those bathroom and locker room facilities and make them female-friendly," he added.

There is concern for the preservation of internal treatments that were specially designed for the 369th Regiment, which was also known as the Rattlesnake Regiment. The distinct design detail can be found throughout the facility.

"When the armory is renovated, we take historical artifacts that tell the history of that unit and we incorporate them into the construction. There is a preliminary plan right now that we have [at] the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga. They have professional curators who look at the collection of artifacts that the state owns, that have to do with that unit, and build a historic display around significant artifacts.

"For example, at Lexington Avenue, where the 69th Regiment is, they've taken the articles that were collected over time and produced a state-of-the-art display with things that came from World War I, World War II, the Civil War and Iraq, so that the artifacts tell the story. We've done that at Camp Smith, where we've just built a modern, state-of-the-art readiness center, but if you walk into the rotunda, there are all these interesting things that tell the story of Camp Smith since 1888. At the 369th, the current artifacts will be taken out, inventoried and a new display will be built," Durr said.

But everything is still in the planning stages. The renovation is slated to begin in the fall of 2014 and will take some 18 to 20 months. The 369th Sustainment Brigade, the 369th Historical Society, the 369th Veteran's Association, the 369th Sergeant's Association and the Harlem Youth Marines will all be displaced during the renovations.

Plans are still foggy as to what will happen to the large open drill space where soldiers once trained and which currently houses the tennis courts and Harlem Children's Zone.

The stabilization project, which is completely separate from the proposed internal renovations, is already underway. This is to ensure that the outside facade is safe and intact.

As for the space being used by non-military groups, Durr said, "Any such group can conclude a non-military use agreement to use the facility. The facility is being renovated with federal money, so we have to follow federal rules. Essentially, a non-governmental organization cannot have permanent office space in a public building."