The Bailey Mansion in Harlem Is Transformed by a Couple’s Renovation – The New York Times

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The James A. Bailey residence at St. Nicholas Place and 150th Street in Harlem, built in 1888 for the less flamboyant partner of the Barnum & Bailey team, is a three-ring circus of architectural elements: a Romanesque Revival tower, curvilinear Flemish gables, a high chimney adorned with Tudor roses, even a heraldic carving of a medieval knight’s helmet over the front door.

One of the Bailey mansion’s two tourelles.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
The owners replaced modern aluminum windows in the Romanesque Revival-style tower with wooden sash windows faithful to the original design, which they believe was intended to give the impression of an open loggia.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

A show house for a showman, the limestone mansion is an unlikely survivor of the apartment house construction that swept away other Gilded Age residences on St. Nicholas Place, a four-block spur of St. Nicholas Avenue that stretches north from 150th Street like a railroad siding. By the early 2000s, however, the mansion was in dire distress, its elegant interior ravaged by a pack of inbred dogs and one of its four chimneys tilting perilously.


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Though the building was designated a city landmark in 1974, preservationists worried that an unscrupulous investor would buy it and hire lawyers and engineers to persuade the city it needed to be demolished. Instead, the leak-plagued structure was saved by an enterprising couple who scraped together $1.4 million to buy it in 2009, amid the depressed real estate market caused by the 2008 financial crisis.

Martin Spollen and Chen Jie stand smiling in sunglasses at a corner of the railing on a rooftop of the mansion, with the tower and their Harlem neighborhood behind them. Mr. Spollen wears a fedora and a tan overcoat, and Ms. Chen wears a brown jacket over an all-black outfit.
Martin Spollen and Chen Jie bought the Bailey residence for $1.4 million in 2009, when it had more than 30 active leaks. Soon after, the nine-foot copper finial on the tower blew off in a storm. They replaced it with a detailed replica, shown here behind them.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Martin Spollen, 63, and Chen Jie, 59, natives of New Jersey and Shanghai, have been restoring it ever since, often with their own hands. It has been a monumental effort driven by love and obsession.

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