If you’ve ever watched the Apollo Theater Amatuer night then you know the tradition of entertainers rubbing a tree stump before performing on the infamous stage. This 80-year old tree stump was once a part of the infamous Tree of Hope that once stood between 131st and 132nd on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.
(The original Tree of Hope on front of the Layfette theater in the 1930s.Image via ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)
Today a purple statue on the meridian at 131st Street and Adam Clayton Powell commemorates the original Tree of Hope that once grew on the ‘Boulevard of Dreams.’ On the Boulevard of Dreams between 131st and 132nd sat the infamous Lafayette Theatre, Harlem’s top venue for Black performers in the 1930s, and Conny’s Inn. This block was the place to be for black entertainers/performers. In between these two prominent entertainment venues was a tall elm tree known as the Tree of Hope.
(Structure created by Algernon Miller in 1972 Image source via www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com)
Legend has it that the tree was a good luck charm for people who touched it or simply stood underneath its branches.
Placed between two entertainment venues, the tree became a place where agents and people gathered to conduct business deals or to indulge in some community gossip/entertainment. The Tree of Hope became a representation of the hope and promise that Harlem created for Blacks in the 1930s.
Some people that rubbed the tree (while it was still planted)
(Image of children rubbing the stump after it was cut down. Photo credit: Aaron Siskind, 1937, Wishing Tree of Harlem)
What Happened to the Tree of Hope?
In 1934, around the time that Apollo opened, the City widened 7th avenue and removed the Tree of Hope, upsetting many people of the Harlem community. The tree was chopped into pieces and sold a souvenirs and firewood. A stump was purchased by Ralph Cooper Sr., who hosted Amateur Night at the Apollo. He had the stump shellacked and placed on stage right so that all those who performed at the Apollo there could rub the original Tree of Hope. Entertainers that grace the stage of Apollo theater get to rub this 81 year old piece of bark.
(Image via Untappedcities.com)
Since the removal of the original tree, there was a second tree replanted and later a plaque was placed where the tree once stood. I looked for the plaque and couldn’t find it, but this purple structure by Algernon Miller still stand strong, in spite of the neighborhood changes.