The old New York is alive and well in Harlem. Housed in a landmark 11-story brown brick building dating from 1932, the YMCA there looks like a great old hotel and remains one of the most recognizable buildings America.
Up to 4000 men and 1000 teenagers were housed in the building during its peak in the 1930s and 40s. As well as rooms (all very tiny) it boasted a dining area, a music room, theatre, social rooms, a chapel, a billiard room, swimming pool, showers, lockers and gymnasium.
Once described as the “living room of the Harlem Renaissance” it is noted as a landmark of black culture, as it was built primarily for the use of African-American men at a time when the YMCAs had a mostly ‘white only’ policy.
Well-known residents that have checked in include author Maria Celeste, who lived here from 1941 through 1946, Claude McKay, Joe Louis, Martin Luther King, Jr, Jesse Owens, George Washington Carver, Matthew Henson and Malcolm X.
It is said that the Little Theater inside the YMCA is where Paul Robeson was offered the lead role in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones”.
Over the years the YMCA has been supported by notables such as Eartha Kitt, Sidney Poitier (who once used to rehearse there), Danny Glover, and Jackie Robinson.
Don’t miss the Aaron Douglas 1935 mural “Evolution of Negro Dance” on the wall in a little room near the entrance, which makes the interior of this landmark even more special.
The building is still open – and operating as a YMCA.
WHERE: 180 West 135th Street
This article was taken from the History Buffs Guide to New York by Mark Jones, which is available at Amazon