top of page

DIY walking tour: historic Harlem homes

Updated: May 6

Harlem is like a living museum of 20th-century Black history, where a walk down almost any block reveals a plaque, mural, statue or street name honoring a celebrated African American.

Do a bit of extra digging and you'll find that many of the buildings where these famous artists, writers, musicians and thinkers once lived are still standing.

So to mark Black History Month, The Curious Uptowner set out to find the homes of some of its most famous residents, strolling through the streets of Harlem and Washington Heights to pinpoint their exact locations.

Here they are, from north to south, for you to discover at your own pace.


A. 555 Edgecombe Ave at W 160th St

555 Edgecombe Ave, once home to Paul Robeson, Count Basie and Joe Louis

Before Covid, tourists would swarm to this grand building every Sunday to attend Marjorie Eliot's free jazz concerts in her apartment. But 555 Edgecombe is famous for other reasons, too: It was once home to actor and singer Paul Robeson, musician and composer Count Basie, boxer Joe Louis, and many others.

B. 935 St. Nicholas Ave at W 157th St

935 St. Nicholas Ave, once home to Duke Ellington

None other than jazz great Duke Ellington lived in this late Gothic Revival beauty in Washington Heights, and there's even a plaque out front commemorating the fact.

C. 409 Edgecombe Ave near W 155th St

409 Edgecombe Ave, once home to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

Designated a New York City Landmark in 1993, this building's most famous resident was first African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Learn about the many other notable residents here.

D. 730 Riverside Drive at 150th St

730 Riverside Drive, once home to Ralph Ellison

A beloved Harlem memorial dedicated to "Invisible Man" author Ralph Ellison stands across the street from the historic residential building where the novelist once lived.

E. The Dunbar Apartments, W 149th to W 150th Sts between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Blvds

The Dunbar Apartments, once home to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and W.E.B. Du Bois

A block-long co-op built for Black residents by John D. Rockefeller in the 1920s, this complex was once the home of performer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and civil rights advocate W.E.B. Du Bois, to name just a few.

F. 135 W 143rd St between Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvds

Tennis champ Althea Gibson, who integrated the sport in the 1950s, was born in South Carolina but moved to this Harlem apartment building in the 1930s. Gibson used to play paddle tennis right in front when the Police Athletic League designated the block a play area and closed it to traffic.

G. 151 W 140th St between Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvds

151 West 140th St, once home to Billie Holiday

When jazz legend Billie Holiday first moved to Harlem at the age of 14 to be with her mother, she lived (and worked) in a brothel in this building.

H. 20 E 127th St between Madison and Fifth Aves

20 E 127th St, once home to Langston Hughes

Poet Langston Hughes famously lived in this romantic 19th-century brownstone for the last 20 years of his life.

I. 58 W 120th St between Fifth Ave and Malcolm X Blvd

Poet Maya Angelou bought this Harlem brownstone later in life (2002) and gut-renovated it, even adding an elevator.

J. Graham Court, 1921 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd at 116th St

Graham Court, once home to Zora Neale Hurston

Novelist Zora Neale Hurston Street once called this grand courtyard building—complete with Guastavino tiles in the arched entryways—home. The street in front was named in her honor in 2018.

For daily updates, follow The Curious Uptowner on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter



Screen Shot 2020-11-18 at 2.39.32 PM.png
  • Black Pinterest Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
bottom of page