The storied neighborhood is changing rapidly, but remnants of Harlem’s glorious heyday remain. Here are a few historic hotspots.

The Langston Hughes House, located at 20 E. 127th St., was home to the famed author and poet for the last 20 years of his life and represents his strong association with Harlem. Langston Hughes is forever synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance, and he is revered as one of the world’s greatest writers.

Located at 138th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, the block-long Renaissance Ballroom and Casino was one of Harlem’s hottest nightspots. It was famous for its parties, marathon dances, movie theater and its own basketball team. Built in the early 1920s, it was Black-owned and a center for Black culture. The facility is currently being rehabilitated by the Abyssinian Development Corporation.

Located in Harlem’s St. Nicholas Park, Caribbean-born Founding Father Alexander Hamilton called the little house he helped design his “sweet project.” Built in 1802, it was the only house Hamilton ever owned. It was originally located around the corner at 1430 Convent Ave., nestled between a church and an apartment building. The area was originally part of a sprawling 32-acreage called “The Grange,” named after his family’s ancestral property in Scotland. Hamilton only got to enjoy his home for two years before he was fatally shot by his infamous rival Aaron Burr in 1804.

Harlem’s Strivers’ Row was where New York’s upwardly mobile Blacks lived. Famed composer Eubie Blake resided at 236 W. 138th St. Blake, along with lyricist Noble Sissle, composed the musical comedy “Shuffle Along,” which opened in 1921 and ran for 500 performances. The show featured an all-Black cast and was the most significant achievement in Black theater at its time.

Named for African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Dunbar Apartments, located at 149th and 150th streets between Seventh and Eighth avenues, were home to a who’s who of Harlem, including W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Roberson, A. Phillip Randolph, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and explorer Matthew Henson. Built in 1926 by John D. Rockefeller Jr., it was the first garden complex in New York City. The building was originally set up as a co-op for African-Americans. Tenants made a down payment of $50 per room and then paid $14.50 per room per month, which went toward a 22-year mortgage. Rockefeller foreclosed in 1936 and the building was converted to rental units but has retained much of its former exterior splendor.

The remains of the Lafayette Theater can be found at 132nd and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. Known as “House Beautiful,” it was the first New York theater to desegregate, as early as 1912. For the first time, Black theatergoers could sit in the orchestra instead of the balcony. Orsen Welles had a successful run of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” there, which was creatively set in Haiti. The theater switched to movies and eventually closed with the downturn of the neighborhood. In 1950, the old Lafayette was purchased by a church that demolished the exterior and narrowed its grand windows.

The IHOP at the southwest corner of 135th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard is a popular spot in Harlem. It was even more popular years ago when it housed the legendary Small’s Paradise. Ed Smalls, the descendent of a former slave, opened the club in 1925. It was the first integrated club in Harlem and was one of the big three hot spots, along with the Apollo Theater and Connie’s Inn.

The basement club held 1,500 and featured big bands nightly. Small’s was famous for its music and for its roller-skating waiters. Duke Ellington and Willie “The Lion” Smith performed there. Hughes and Countee Cullen were patrons. Malcolm X worked as a waiter when he first arrived in Harlem in 1943.

Small’s was the longest running club in Harlem, though it changed hands a few times. Basketball star Wilt Chamberlain bought the club in the 1960s and called it Big Wilt’s Small’s Paradise, but Small’s closed its doors for good in 1986. It was later converted to the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Leaning and Social Change in 2004.

Composer and social activist James Weldon Johnson lived in a handsome brownstone building at the northeast corner of 135th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (Seventh Avenue). It was here that he wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which became the Black National Anthem.

James Van Der Zee was a photographer during the Harlem Renaissance. For 60 years, he was the “Eyes of Harlem,” capturing some of the neighborhood’s most glorious and iconic images. At age 82, Van Der Zee was “discovered” when a photo researcher stumbled on his collection of 75,000 images, capturing more half a century of African-American life. He died in 1983 at age 96. Evidence of his studio, G. G. Photo Studio, can still can be seen on this building on Lenox Avenue, between 123rd and 124th streets, which now houses a real estate office.

The Theresa Hotel is one of Harlem’s most famous historic places. Located at 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, this grand hotel was once known as the “Waldorf of Harlem.” Its most famous guest was Fidel Castro, who stayed there when he visited New York in 1960. Castro received famous visitors during his stay, including Malcolm X, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

ACTIVITIES

  • Look it up: Use the Internet or other reference source to learn more about the early history of Harlem and the people and places mentioned in today’s lesson.
  • Talk about it: Plan a walking tour of Harlem. Visit a few of the places mentioned in today’s lesson.
  • Write it down: Make a list of important Harlem events and where they happened. How did these events change the world?

This Week in Black History, Nov. 14-Nov. 23

  • The nation’s first anti-slavery party, the Liberty Party, convenes in New York on Nov. 14, 1839.
  • On Nov. 16, 1873, Blacks won three state offices in Mississippi elections: Alexander Davis, lieutenant governor; James Hill, secretary of state; and T.W. Cardoza, superintendent of education.
  • On Nov. 17, 1842, the capture of George Latimer led to the first fugitive slave case. Boston abolitionists later purchased Latimer from his owner.
  • Black inventor Garret T. Morgan patents the traffic signal on Nov. 20, 1923.