Posts Tagged ‘white Harlem’

The man who became the “father of Harlem”

February 9, 2011

Founded by Dutch settlers in 1658, the little community of Nieuw Haarlem consisted mostly of farmland estates for the next two centuries.

Then the elevated railroads arrived in the latter half of the 19th century, and speculators got greedy.

They urbanized Harlem, putting up blocks of apartments and townhouses in anticipation of a horde of white middle- and upper-class residents.

But white Harlem didn’t last. A real-estate crash in 1904 meant that developers could not find enough white tenants.

That’s when Philip A. Payton, Jr., stepped in. From New York: An Illustrated History, by Ric Burns and James Sanders:

“That year, as the boom went bust, Payton approached Harlem’s landlords with a daring proposition. His firm, the Afro-American Realty Company, would rent empty apartments to select black tenants—above market value and with a monthly guarantee.

“Though Payton’s clients paid a premium—at least $5 more per month than white families paid for equivalent dwellings—after nearly three centuries on Manhattan Island, African Americans could finally enjoy well-built, well-maintained homes in a stable, established community.”

By 1930, 70 percent of Central Harlem’s residents were African American. And Payton’s own townhouse (in the photo above) at 13 West 131st Street still stands.