If you’ve ever walked on 138th or 139th street between Adam and Freddy (yes-I shorten everything), then you’ve noticed the rows of the eloquently designed red, yellow and brownstone townhouses. You might have seen the old remnants of iron gates that were once used as horse stables. In 1919, after 24 years of being vacant because they couldn’t be sold to Blacks, the harmonious rows of townhouses were purchased by Blacks and renamed Striver’s Row. Striver’s Row attracted black doctors, lawyers, businessmen, musicians and others “striving” for a better life.
The Striver’s Row townhouses, which were originally built for New York City’s White elite, became an epicenter for the black professional during the Harlem Renaissance. It represented achievement, success, and accomplishment.
- Vertner Tandy– The first commissioned Black architect in the state of New York
- Harry Wills, a.k.a. “Black Panther,” -Heavyweight contender (who never got to fight for the title due to racism in the boxing industry)
- Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.,-Preacher and Congressman
- Dr. Louis T. Wright– Activist and Surgeon
- Lincoln Perry– Comedian
- Luther Robinson, a.k.a. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson- Actor and Singer
- W.C. Handy– Musician
- Fletcher Henderson,- Widely recognized as “the father of the blues,” Jazz pianist and Orchestra
- Eubie Blake,- Jazz Pianist and Composer
History of Striver’s Row
Today’s Striver’s Row was a townhouse project developed by David H. King in the early 1890s. David H. King created the “King Model Houses, ” that was intended for New York City’s upper-white-middle-class and featured modern amenities like indoor plumbing and shared rear courtyards to park horses. King hired three different architects to design the townhouses. Like the indoor plumbing, the three different style townhouses was another new convention of the time that was intended to give tenants three different house designs options.
In the end, King sold very few house and the project failed. In 1895, the beginnings of economic depression in the US, the townhouses were foreclosed. During this time, Harlem transformed as White people moved out, and Harlem became the heart of New York Black community. The real estate company refused to sell to Blacks so the townhouses sat empty for 24 years. In 1919/1920, the townhouses were finally made available to Blacks for $8,000 each. As different Black leaders, lawyers, poets, doctors, musicians and more began to own these beautifully designed homes, Striver’s Row was created. It was created as an enclave that represented striving for better life and was a symbolism of success and achievement for Blacks in the Harlem community.
Later, Striver’s Row was labeled a landmark by New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1967 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
If you haven’t taken a stroll through Harlem’s history, I suggest you do.
- In Harlem’s Elegant Striver’s Row
- History of NYC Streets: Striver’s Row
- Harlem Property: Striver’s Row
Written by: Toya Chloe
(c) right reserved to Harlem and Beyond
All photos were taken by Latoya Coleman