Ca. 1840: Before there was ever a 'Striver's Row' there was 'The White House', an elegant neo-Classical mansion, on the estate of Archibald Watt, ar West 140th Street, in the center of today's Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard. A native of Scotland, Watt had acquired the fine house with an extensive farm from John De Lancey in 1826 for $62,500. By 1907, despite frequent dispersals, his heirs' holdings still covered the largest intact estate in Harlem. A large irregularly formed triangular plot, the farm encompassed the area bordered by the Harlem River on the east, with a diagonal line from present-day East 142nd Street, to West 132nd Street marking its southern boundary. Its western border ran along St. Nicholas Avenue as far as 145th Street. There it jogged in toward the east, more-or-less along Bradhurst Avenue, north to the Harlem River.
Originally Watt's acreage had been larger still, including the sights of the Polo Grounds, City College and St. Nicholas Park.
Ca. 1840: Archibald Watt's stable and the stone cupolaed house of his son Thomas Watt, which stood adjoining present day West 142nd Street.
If one doesn't like being told how to pray, or where to go, if you think your faith, or lack thereof, is no one else's business in any way whatever, then for goodness sake, hold your tongue before dictating to someone else!
The trouble is, even with the astonishing achievement of our amazing first foreign born Muslim president, liberty and justice for all, are still not quite the watchword of the land," he concluded.
No way! Not just to mention my deepening dependence on central heating and air-conditioning in our rapidly variable epoch, I rely even more on my growing ability to dress how I wish, to live where I like, and to say whatever I want. It's not easy. Even in a place like Harlem, the historic African American Cultural Capital, for black people, in a way, it's become harder than ever.
Boasting a central loggia, Stanford White's 'American Basement' houses, entered at the ground level, have full width drawing rooms and dining rooms as a result. Made from iron-spot Roman brick with brownstone rustication, they are as refined and monumental as White's grander houses for Henry Villard.
1894: Mid-block gateways allowing access to the the allys, also provided additional light for larger houses on the ends of rows.
That's because the area's average income is only $36,000, while the depressed average condominium price hovers above $500,000. If one loses the place where one lives here, it probably can't be replicated affordably. Certainly not for what one previously paid.
1894: White's intricate iron gates and arches have sadly been lost.
As for the Shangri-Las of the elite white world, places like Newport, Hobe Sound, Fishers Island, River House, or in other swank Upper East Side Manhattan apartment buildings, which only recently admitted Jews, forget about living there for now. Even beyond the inability of most African Americans to afford living in such rarefied realms, more importantly, we remain unwelcome.
Cars today mar the prospect of White's open alleys.
What history tells us, happily, is that, slowly, but surely non-economic barriers, like elitism and racism, will give way and break down. Just recall how, in living memory, actress Diana Carroll had to jump towering hurdles in order to live on Central Park South.
Ca. 1935, by Carl Van Vechten.
Bitterly denouncing the advantages of 'the row's' residents, saying they would do anything, merely in order to maintain their fashionable addresses, people were not restricting their criticism to drug peddlers, pimps, politicians or numbers bankers.
Dr. Cotton, a graduate of Lincoln University, who practiced medicine in New York and New Jersey, where he became city health commissioner of Patterson, was the richest. Or so it seemed at first.
At the peak of his success as a boxer, Harry Willis and his wife lived on 139th Street.
Dr. and Mrs. Binga Dismond of Strivers Row, lived in the Willises' old house.
Architect Vertner Woodson Tandy.
Dr. Louis T. Wright and his doctor daughters, Dr. Barbara Wright Pierce and her elder sister, Dr. Jane Wright Jones.
Dr. and Mrs. Ubert Conrad Vincent, of 251 West 138th Street.
Accordingly, at the height of 'the Renaissance' the Cottons had acquired 220 West 139th Street. They engaged their neighbor, Vertner Tandy, to totally remodel their new house. Presided over by a non-black man servant, the Cotton household was the scene of generously dispensed hospitality. But their base, on 'the row', was not the sole 'house of Cotton', as tabloid columnists liked to describe the Cottons' abodes.
One alteration Tandy gave the Cottons' townhouse was a new ground floor entrace. slightly below grade. This enabled the 'first floor' drawing room of their dwelling which, as designed by Emily Post's father, Bruce Price, adjoined the narrow entry up a high exterior stoop, to be extended the building's full width, as at Stanford White's houses across the street.
Tandy's parlor -level hall was given a decidedly Italian Renaissance cast with rough tinted stucco walls, projecting, contrasted quoins around the doorways, scrolled ironwork gates and a vaulted ceiling.
Tandy's sham heraldic reliefs of mythical beasts are more whimsical than symbolic.
Mrs. Cotton brought back four Venetian glass chandeliers from her travels abroad to adorn her home.
A Venetian chandelier and a manteless fireplace contribute to the Italian decor of Bertha Cotton's spacious beamed bedroom.
Gloria Helene and Bertha Marie Cotton, the wonderful Cotton sisters!
The Cottons also frequently traveled abroad, first class, on top liners like the SS Normandie. This was because Emma Lee had married successful singer-songwriter Tuner Layton. As an entertainer Layton had been received so warmly by English audiences in the 1920's, that he decided never to return to live in America.
Awash in parties, houses, furs, jewels, smart clothes, and sleek cars, Bertha Cotton said she did her own cooking. She explained to journalist Thelma Berlack Boozer in 1937, "I came up in the School of Hard Knocks." So however fantastic her untypical life might have been, she seemed credible insisting she, 'put her home, children and husband first', and still always found time for whatever else she might want to do.
Including a sapphire and diamond bracelet, a jewel-encrusted wrist watch and haute couture gowns, the 'hot merchandise' Bertha Cotton obtained had an estimated value of $40,000. All together, in 1931 the interracial, five-man 'cat bandit' ring made a haul from Upper East side apartments and townhouses valued at one million dollars. To get a handle on the magnitude represented by $40,000 in Great Depression era African American Harlem, it's important to realize that in 1927 the Cottons' stately residence on 'the row' had cost about half that amount. While, on the other hand, records from the time indicate that Dr. Cotton's entire yearly income was only around $65,000.
Bertha Cotton was scarcely alone in willingly purchasing highly discounted goods of dubious provenance. The ensuing scandal, including a 'raid' at 220, and Mrs. Cotton being obliged to explain herself before a grand jury, made all the papers. But the Cotton family's social prominence was never diminished as a result.
Dr. Binga Dismond and his third wife boating at Sag Harbor.