2. Strivers Row, one of Harlem’s most beautiful areas, sat abandoned at the turn of the 20th century

Strivers Row
Townhouses along Strivers Row, one of Harlem’s most beautiful areas.

Along both sides of West 138th Street and West 139th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard is Strivers Row. The houses along Strivers Row were built between the years 1891 and 1893 by developer David H. King — known for constructing the 1870 Equitable Building, the 1889 New York Times Building, and a version of Madison Square Garden designed by Stanford White.

On the south side of West 138th Street are red brick and brownstone buildings. Yellow brick and white limestone buildings with terracotta trim, designed in the Colonial Revival style, can be found on the north side of West 138th Street and the south side of West 139th Street. Turning to the north side of West 139th Street, there are dark brick and brownstone buildings in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. 

Though the buildings of Strivers Row stood out as outstanding examples of late 19th-century architecture, very few of the homes were sold by King. Originally, the buildings were intended for upper-middle-class white residents, but by 1895, Harlem was being abandoned by white New Yorkers. Despite almost all of the units being foreclosed on by the Equitable Life Assurance Society, which had financed the project, the company refused to sell the houses to the area’s incoming Black residents.

As a result, Strivers Row remained empty until 1920, when the homes became available for African Americans to purchase at $8,000. Some notable figures who have called Strivers Row home include Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and heavyweight boxer, Harry Wills.