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Harlem Walking Tour

Note:  Thanks to Robert Croonquist, who created this walking tour, we have done it three times with Youth Arts.  The two dozen students were junior and senior high school students and were completely engaged.  It has always worked very well, especially in good weather; spring or fall are best.

9:30 AM Begin at Dorrance Brooks Square, 137th St. and St. Nicholas Ave., at the B/C station.
Walk north to 141st St. along St. Nicholas to St. James Presbyterian Church. It is a splendid Gothic tableau and a bit of Neuschwanstein fantasy. St. James descended from one of the earliest black congregations in New York. It was founded in 1895 at the Odd Fellows Hall on West 32nd Street by members of the former Shiloh Presbyterian Church. St. James moved to its present home, 409 W. 141st  Street in 1927. Designed by Ludlow & Valentine, it was built in 1904/1905 as the Lenox Presbyterian Church. During St. James's first decades on W. 141st street, it was led by the Rev. William Lloyd Imes, whom the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., described as having "the mind of a scholar, the soul of a saint, the heart of a brother, the tongue of a prophet, and the hand of a militant."

Dorothy Maynor, the wife of the pastor Reverend Shelby Rooks, was an operatic soprano who was bared from a career in opera because of her race, though she was a famous recitalist. In 1964, she founded the Harlem School of the Arts in the basement of St. James, teaching piano to a dozen children. The school is now housed in a building north of the church, attended by 3,000 children and adults annually. We are now in Sugar Hill which extends from Edgecomb Ave. to Amsterdam Ave., and from 145th St. to 155th. St. The name "Sugar Hill" began being used when affluent African-Americans began moving there in the late 1920's. Shortly after the entire area south of 155 Street was predominantly black. The appellation "Sugar Hill" represented all that was "sweet and expensive.” It showed that one had arrived, socially and economically at the height of African-American culture. It overlooked the valley of central Harlem where the poorer residents lived. Though central Harlem was really the heart of Harlem, Sugar Hill was the place to be because of its exclusive society. Harlem's most talked-about men and women in law, sports, civil liberties, music, medicine, painting, business and literature live on Sugar Hill. Though there were many prominent citizens living on Sugar Hill they also had their share of undesirables. Racketeers and gamblers lived side by side with judges, scholars and writers.

Walk west to Hamilton Terrace, walk around the block back to 141st St. Visit the Hamilton Grange, home of Alexander Hamilton.

Walk east on 141st St. to Adam Clayton Powell and then south to 139th St. and then west to Frederick Douglass.  Strivers Row is Harlem’s most fashionable residential address.  Stanford White designed 106 brownstone houses in 1891 and they were sold to African-Americans in 1919.

Walk down Frederick Douglass, go east on W. 136th St to 267.  “Niggerati Manor” was a rooming house with rent-free rooms for artists and writers; among its residents were Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes, Richard Bruce Nugent and Zora Neale Hurston (who gave it its name).

Walk west from Adam Clayton Powell on 136th St. The Dark Tower, 108-110 W. 136th St., was the home of A’Lelia Walker who transformed her mansion into a gathering place for Harlem’s artists and writers as well as Downtowners.

Walk South on Malcolm X Boulevard to 135th St.  The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Walk east on 135th St. The Harlem Walk of Fame has bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalk that commemorate the giants of Harlem.  Here we can see the Harlem WMCA and Small’s Paradise, 2294 Adam Clayton Powell. Along with the Cotton Club and Connie’s Inn, Small’s was one of Harlem’s big three; its waiters sang, danced and spun their trays, and its bands’ music was broadcast on the radio; it appealed to a racially mixed, upper-crust clientele.

  Continue south on Adam Clayton Powell to 2280 7th Ave.  The Hot-Cha Bar and Grill was where Billie Holiday was discovered.

  Walk to 204 W. 134th St. east of Adam Clayton Powell.  St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church was designed by black architect Vertner Tandy.  It is one of Harlem’s most respectable churches and was the rehearsal space for the Gertrude Stein-Virgil Tompson opera, Four Saints in Three Acts.

  Walk east on 133rd St. and then back to Adam Clayton Powell.  Jungle Alley, the stretch of 133 St. between 7th Ave. and Lenox Ave., was the main drag of night clubs. The Clamhouse, 136 W. 133rd St., was a cabaret featuring Gladys Bentley singing bawdy double-entendre songs and wearing a top hat and tails.  Pod and Jerry’s Catagonia Club, 168 W. 133rd St., was a popular speakeasy that  featured Willie “The Lion” Smith and the hunchbacked baritone “Little Jazzbo” Hilliard.

Adam Clayton Powell and 132nd St. Lafayette Theater, 2235 7th Ave., was a 1,500 seat auditorium that was the first to desegregate.  In its basement was the Hoofers’ Club, the informal headquarters of such tap-dancers as Bill “Bojangles”Robinson and Honi Coles.

  Walk west from Adam Clayton Powell on 132rd St. St. Aloysius Church. The last time a church in New York City achieved landmark status was in 1979, when St. Monica's in Jamaica, Queens, became a city landmark. In September, the commission held a hearing to consider St. Aloysius. William Renwick designed St. Aloysius in 1904. The Renwick family built such monuments as the English Gothic of Grace Church, a freer adaptation of continental Gothic in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and almost at the end of the line, late Italian Gothic at Saint Aloysius. This extraordinary building has been rather fancifully compared to the Certosa or Charterhouse near Pavia in the extravagance of its ornament and the transitional position between Gothic and Renaissance. The church follows traditional Gothic in general form and major elements, but the elaborate treatment of the façade is in tension between this framework and the strongly horizontal elements of a decorative scheme that owes more to the Renaissance. This includes colored bands that strive to contain the restless, vigorously twisted and interlaced elements of the moldings and arcades. The head of Christ crowned with thorns rising in the gable above the ironwork cross set in front of the rose window and the object of adoration by a pair of plaques with Renaissance angels above the side doors has strong symbolic power.

South on Adam Clayton Powell to 131st St.  The Corner.  Many musicians hung out and made music on this open-air site. The Tree of Hope, corner of 7th Ave and 131st St., was thought to  have magical powers if rubbed by entertainers seeking a big break. Barron’s Exclusive Club, 2259 7th Ave., was an early Harlem nightclub where Duke Ellington played with Elmer Snowdon’s Washingtonians. Connie’s Inn, 2221 7th Ave, opened as the Shuffle Inn (named after Shuffle Along.)  It became one of the top three clubs.  It featured Bill Robinson, Paul Meeres, Earl “Snakehips” Tucker and the 1929 hit Hot Chocolates.  It catered to a mostly white clientele, featured a raised dance floor, gold and black tapestry decoration, and seating for 500.  The Barbecue was “the best” rib joint in Harlem, and the first Harlem establishement to boast a juke box. The Barbecue was located directly over Connie’s Inn.

  Adam Clayton Powell and 126th St.  Alhambra Ballroom was a large upstairs ballroom featuring prominent jazz bands.

  West on 125th St. The Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th St., was originally the uptown location for a burlesque circuit. In the early 1920s it became the home for black jazz musicians, in the 1930s the site for Amateur Night.

  Walk west on 125th St. to the B/C train stop on St. Nicholas Ave.  There we will eat lunch.  Choices include McDonalds, Popeyes, Dunkin Donuts, a pizza parlor and a fresh-fry fish store/restaurant. The End.

Your Task:
Descriptive Writing. Write detailed descriptions of three sites and imagine the people who may have populated them.  One paragraph per site.  Use figurative language if you wish and try to include emotional responses the site may evoke.  Counts as a 30 point quiz.

  Dr. Steven Watson, a cultural historian who is particularly interested in the dynamics of the twentieth century American avant-garde, has written a series of books about key circles of the twentieth century: Strange Bedfellows: The First  American Avant-Garde; The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture 1920-1930; The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels and Hipsters 1944-1960; Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism and Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties.

Malcolm X Boulevard is Lenox Avenue

Adam Clayton Powell is Seventh Avenue

Frederick Douglass Boulevard is Eighth Avenue