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

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

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 America's first black female millionaire–the subject of "Self Made," a new Netflix series starring Octavia Spencer–came to Harlem in the early 1910s.

After growing her business in the Midwest, she bought two townhouses at 108 and 110 W 136th Street (near Malcolm X Boulevard) and in 1915 transformed them into one double-wide mansion that included a retail store on the ground floor.

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

Walker died four years later and left the Harlem house and a second mansion she had built in the suburbs to her daughter, A'lelia Walker Robinson, who took over her business. In the 1920s the Georgian-style 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 townhouse, 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 street sign at the corner of W 136th Street and Lenox Avenue is the only physical reminder of the magnificent building that once stood nearby: last year it was renamed Madam C. J. & A'Lelia Walker Place.

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