Posts Tagged ‘Harlem at the turn of the century’

Strolling along genteel 125th Street

December 21, 2008

At the turn of the last century, West 125th Street was bustling, urbane—and all-white, according to this penny postcard.

Developed in the 1880s as the next big middle-class neighborhood, Harlem became the victim of a real-estate market crash in 1904 that left hundreds of apartment buildings desperate for tenants. 

A black real estate entrepreneur named Philip Payton helped rent those apartments to African-American residents escaping poorer neighborhoods in Manhattan as well as the Jim Crow South.


That’s Keith & Proctor’s Theater in the center of the postcard, part of a chain of opera houses/vaudville theaters around the city. Entertainment was serious business back then. A 1906 New York Times article entitled “Keith & Proctor’s 125th Street Manager Held for Assault” reports:

“Shortell said he went to the theatre on Thursday night, accompanied by his wife, and paid $2 for two box seats. He says he was unable to find a seat and demanded of Brunelle either seats or tickets for another night. Brunelle, he said, called him a rowdy and had him arrested after pushing him up against the wall.”