The renowned author, poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, passed away in May 2014 at the age of 84. She called Winston-Salem, North Carolina her primary residence, but owned a townhouse in the Mount Morris Park Historic District of Harlem that she also called home. As we walked by her townhouse over the weekend, we noticed the door open, and we were graciously permitted to take a peek.
The five-story townhouse, located on one of the prettiest blocks of the Historic District, was nothing but a shell in 2002, when her good friends, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson (Ashford & Simpson) discovered it and called her to say – we’ve found your home. Indeed they did. She bought the house sight unseen for $435,000 and set about renovating under the direction of architect Marc Anderson of M Anderson Designs.
In spite of its deteriorating condition, the townhouse, which was built in 1912, still had some of the original moldings, staircase banisters, oak doors, fireplaces and twelve-foot ceilings. The renovation took about two years. Keeping the integrity of the old, she added central air conditioning, a jacuzzi tub, an elevator, modern lighting and lots of bookshelves. It was completed in 2004. There was custom stained glass on the french doors leading to the dining room, and above the dining room table, a recessed mural of sky and clouds.
As in most Harlem townhouses, the kitchen was on the garden level, with a wet bar on the parlor floor for convenience. A dumb-waiter connecting the two, with a decorative fireplace in the kitchen area. The garden level rooms were incredibly bright and the garden still had waste-level planters that probably once held herbs.
We have heard that the home was as colorful as her personality – as she put it, designed to look like a bowl of summer fruit, with various walls painted in watermelon pink, tomato red and plum purple. The rooms were filled with books and furniture that included a lime-green couch and armchairs in pink, blue and yellow. Her frequent journeys to Manhattan from North Carolina took her 10 1/2 hours by bus, which was her preferred way of travel, In recent years, her health didn’t allow for such a long journey, and the townhouse was rented out from 2013 to 2015. Located at 58 West 120th Street, it is steps away from a plethora of Lenox Avenue restaurants to the west, Marcus Garvey Park 1/2 block to the east, and a few blocks away from a Whole Foods Market, scheduled to open next year.
Now empty, walls painted beige and on the market for $4,795,000, we walked through the structure, very much aware of the formidable woman who once walked these rooms.