DIY walking tour: historic Harlem homes

Updated: Aug 22


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)

Tourists swarm here every Sunday to attend Marjorie Eliot's free jazz concerts held inside her apartment, but this grand building 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)

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)

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)

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 and W 150th Sts btwn Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Blvds)

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. 115 W 143rd St (btwn 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 (btwn Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvds)

When jazz legend Billie Holiday first moved to Harlem to be with her mother, she lived in a brothel in this building. Teenage Billie soon became a "strictly twenty-dollar call girl."

H. 20 E 127th St (btwn Madison and Fifth Aves)

Poet Langston Hughes famously lived in this 1869 brownstone for the last 20 years of his life.

I. 58 W 120th St (btwn 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)

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

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THE CURIOUS

A Curated guide to life in Harlem And beyond
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