626-648 West 158th Street
John Patrick Leo
This row of twelve houses embodies the first wave of residential development that accompanied the proposed expansion of rapid transit service to northern Manhattan, predating the apartment house boom. Captain John Leo, a developer active in the area, designed and built Nos. 634-648 in 1896 before designing Nos. 626-632 for builder John Lilliendahl in 1898. These three-story houses with raised basements are faced with brick and limestone trim, and feature eclectic designs that borrow from the Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival and Beaux-Arts styles. Standing at the western end of the block, No. 648 stands out from the row for its Colonial Revival design that likely dates to an alteration around 1915. One of its most distinctive features is a pair of oriels on the western façade. Unfortunately, the house has fallen into such a state of disrepair that both oriels are being supported by wooden posts. Despite support from the local community and the historic connections between this row and the surrounding neighborhood, 626-648 West 158th Street was not included in the Audubon Park Historic District, raising concerns that developers could easily take advantage of current zoning to replace them with something much larger, thus erasing some of the only reminders of an important phase in the district’s history. Community advocates are working toward securing legal protection of the houses.