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409-Edgecombe-Avenue-1 409 Edgecombe Avenue's notable residents include (L to R) Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins, W.E.B DuBois Aaron Douglas. Exterior photo via Keller Williams
Known for housing such black luminaries as the famed intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and artist Aaron Douglas, "the father of Black Art", 409 Edgecombe Avenue in Sugar Hill has a history as storied as its previous inhabitants. That’s because the neighborhood around the building played such a large part in cultivating talent. “Anything to do with what black people experienced, I got that from church and community groups,” former resident Cecelia Hodges told The New York Times. And since that neighborhood counted musicians as renowned as Duke Ellington as residents, it wasn’t uncommon to witness the trappings of fame as well. “It wasn’t a surprise to see these people rolling up in their limos,” the Princeton professor and actress recalled. “And that said to us, you can do this, too.”
Construction of 409 Edgecombe was completed in 1917. The famed architects Schwartz and Gross designed the building in the classic Neo-Georgian style, which meant a stone facade, brick upper stories, terra-cotta details, and a marbled lobby. As reported by The New York Times, the occupants were first small, white middle-class families. At the time, the only two residents of color were two live-in servants. However, as a real estate recession that started in 1905 began to expand to the north and south, black families began to move in.
409-Edgecombe-Avenue 409 Edgecombe (formerly the Colonial Parkway Apartments) overlook Jackie Robinson park and the Macombs Dam Bridge
Looking west from the Harlem River
“In those days, 409 Edgecombe, Harlem’s tallest and most exclusive apartment house, was quite a party center,” wrote the poet Langston Hughes in his autobiography The Big Sea. “At the Aaron Douglases, although he was a painter, more young writers were found than painters. Usually everybody would chip in and go dutch on the refreshments, calling down to the nearest bootlegger for a bottle of whatever it was that was drunk in those days. “
While We Are Still Here, a 501(c)(3) corporation, is dedicated to preserving the legacies of 409 Edgecombe, as well as 555 Edgecombe. The organization has been cataloguing residents of note. Reverend James H. Robinson, for example, was a political activist who founded Operations Crossroads Africa in 1958 with the intention of sending professionals such as doctors and engineers to African nations to facilitate self-determination. Later, the Kennedy Administration conferred with Robinson when putting together the Peace Corps in 1961. Another resident was the aforementioned Aaron Douglas, who leapt into prominence after providing the cover for The New Negro, an influential work by the philosopher Alain Locke. Douglas would go on to become a prominent illustrator, graphic designer, and muralist.
 
 
 
 
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409-Edgecombe-09 Some intact original details can be seen in 409 Edgecombe #4C which is now in-contract (Corcoran)
409 Edgecombe also has the distinction of having the oldest sidewalk scaffold in NYC. As reported by WNYC, the scaffolding was put up roughly 20 years ago while the building's facade was being renovated. Right before the project was finished, lightning struck 409 Edgecombe. The building’s board president Nikki Berryman told WNYC that the Department of Buildings would not allow the scaffolding to come down until all of the repairs were completed. After years of raising money, however, residents hope that the scaffolding will finally come down the summer of 2019, which should be make the building even more appealing to potential new tenants.
A newly renovated two-bedroom, one-bath co-op once owned by the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice, is currently on the market for $500K. Features include exposed brick walls, 9' ceilings, crown molding, generous closet space, and a granite kitchen with a washer/dryer. Oversized windows offer breathtaking views of the Harlem River, Yankee Stadium, and the Upper Manhattan skyline. This is an HDFC co-op, and further details can be found here.
 
 
 
 
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Contributing Writer Ben Kharakh Ben Kharakh is a writer and comedian living in the New York City metropolitan area. His work has appeared in Vice, Fortune, and The Best of McSweeneys: Humor Edition by Vintage Press.
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