Here's what became of Madam C. J. Walker's grand Harlem mansion

Updated: Jun 22


Madam C.J. Walker; her niece Anjetta Breedlove; Alice Kelly; and Walker Company bookkeeper Lucy Flint in 1911
Madam C.J. Walker; her niece Anjetta Breedlove; Alice Kelly; and Walker Company bookkeeper Lucy Flint , 1911, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Madam C. J. Walker, the entrepreneur who launched a hair care business that made her one of America's first Black female success stories—the subject of "Self Made," a new Netflix series starring Octavia Spencer—first came to Harlem in the early 1910s.


After growing her business in the Midwest, she bought two townhouses on W 136th Street near Lenox Avenue and hired African American architect Vertner Tandy to transform them into a single residence that included a retail store on the ground floor.


The Madam C.J. Walker mansion, an elegant red-brick double-wide townhouse at 108 W 136th Street, was finally built in 1915.


Tin for Madam C.J. Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower, 1910s-1920s, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Suffering from ill health, Walker died only four years later. But she left the Harlem residence and a second mansion she had built in the suburbs to her daughter, A'lelia Walker Robinson, who took over the business.


In the 1920s the townhouse in Harlem became a famous literary salon called the Dark Tower visited by Langston Hughes and others.


The Countee Cullen Branch of the New York Public Library

A'Lelia eventually leased the building to the city, which installed a series of health clinics.


But in 1941, the mansion, which by then belonged to the city, was torn down and became the Countee Cullen Branch of the New York Public Library.


W 136th Street and Lenox Avenue is now Madam C. J. & A'Lelia Walker Place

Today scaffolding covers the facade of the library, and the only physical reminder of the magnificent building that once stood nearby can be found on a street sign at the corner of W 136th Street and Lenox Avenue—last year it was renamed Madam C. J. & A'Lelia Walker Place.


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