(Un)Common Stock

This rather dull piece of Harlem ephemera – a 5 shares worth of stock in the Harlem Stock Exchange – doesn’t on it’s surface have much going for it.

Almost the only thing of interest here is that of the $100,000 total amount of stock, a certain Julius D. Westmoreland owned 5 shares.

And this stock was certified on this day, February 1, in 1921.

What makes this dull document interesting is this stock exchange was an investment vehicle to pool Black Harlem’s assets into a Black real estate company that could transform Harlem.

The brochure (below) is from the collection of the University of Massachusetts and would have been printed to distribute and encourage investment in a large, Black firm that would be capable of financing the purchase and management of real estate throughout Harlem.

The brochure lists trustees and directors – note the inclusion of John E. Nail, of Nail and Parker real estate. John Nail got his start in the real estate business working for Philip A. Payton, Jr.’s Afro-American Realty Company, another real estate firm catering to African American customers in New York City. In 1905, he founded the Nail-Parker Company with Henry G. Parker and bought real estate in Harlem.

By 1925, Nail’s business owned around fifty apartment buildings in the Harlem area. Nail became the most important Black real estate agent in New York City, and sat on the Real Estate Board of New York and the Housing Committee of New York; in each case he was the only Black member.

In the brochure (below), the section on “The Need” notes how white capital’s racist refusal to back Black investment opportunities or Black businesses demanded a Black collective (monetary) response in order to build moneys available for the Black (business) community.

After the Great Depression struck, Nail’s business entered bankruptcy in 1933. Nail died in 1947. Harlem developed as a Black community of renters rather than owners.

To read the full brochure, see:


As Seen In Harlem

Izzi Spiller’s Band

A photo dated by an Ebay seller to 1936 of Harlem students in a percussion class.

The drummer on the right has a drum with Izzie Spiller’s Band.

Note the teacher, seated at the piano, and the white-faced drummer figure that is the focal point for the students’ gaze.

Harlem Sign

For $9,000 you can have an early 20th-century tailor and furrier sign:

Note the interesting (if inconsistent) font (look at the A’s)

Jobs Not Guns

Last month, Amsterdam News had a great article on how Uptown Grand Central is using $20,000 from the Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, to fund clean-up around the Metro-North station and Northern East Harlem as a whole.

“As part of our comprehensive gun violence strategy, we are focused on prevention efforts to keep young people engaged through meaningful programming, and Uptown Grand Central is an exemplary model of how this approach can make a significant impact. 

– Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg

The grant is to beautify shooting “hotspots” and provide employment for community members – serving as an alternative approach to preventing gun violence prevention.

Uptown Grand Central stems from efforts by local businessowners to bring back the commerce lost in East Harlem due to unkempt streets. Initially, the consortium—known as the New Harlem East Merchants Association (NHEMA)—contracted with outside clean-up crews. But in 2016, they launched the Uptown Grand Central team, which is easily identifiable by the bright yellow garbage bags that workers carry. The area outside the Metro-North station now comes alive through a weekly farmers market, wide-scale murals, and colorful overhead lights. 

“It’s great to be able to make a good, decent amount of money at $20 an hour rather than $15,” said worker Allen Rogers. “I don’t know how people feed their family and put a smile on every day to go out there. I’m happy to be just picking up trash and cleaning your neighborhood and my neighborhood for $20 an hour.”

Read the full article, here: https://amsterdamnews.com/news/2023/03/02/manhattan-da-gun-violence-prevention-fund-keeps-east-harlem-hub-clean

As Seen In Harlem

The Fires

Most Harlem residents know about (or lived through) the era of disinvestment, redlining, and white-flight that disfigured Harlem in the second half of the 20th century. Many also know that this time was a time of countless fires that started from squalid living conditions, unmaintained building systems, apathy, simple arson, and calculated insurance fraud.

The photo below of the building just west of the Apollo theater shows (in the 1940’s tax photo) an occupied 4-story commercial building with a few open windows and busy pedestrian traffic:

Note how Ella Fitzgerald is playing in the Apollo.

40 years later, however, in the 1980 tax photo, you can see that this commercial neighbor of the Apollo has been devastated by fire. You can literally see through the building to the back (126th Street) and the plywood hoarding (not the contemporary green Department of Buildings green) blocking access.

The Corn Exchange Sign – Brooklyn

While the Corn Exchange Bank was founded in 1853 at 67 Pearl Street in Manhattan, most Harlem residents think of the Corn Exchange building on East 125th Street:

Historically, this building looked similar, but slightly different:

The bank was an outgrowth of the old Corn Exchange, where merchants met and arranged cereal grain prices with farmers.  Corn Exchange merged with many smaller banks in the late 1800s, which gave them offices across the city and into the city of Brooklyn (not yet merged into New York City). These acquisitions and other outposts enabled the Corn Exchange to inaugurate the branch banking system in New York City in 1899.

In 1907 a Flatbush Avenue branch opened and this faded ‘ghost sign’ remains in Brooklyn:

In 1954, Corn Exchange merged with Chemical Bank to form Chemical Corn Exchange Bank. When Chemical merged with New York Trust in 1959, the words “Corn Exchange” were dropped. Chase Manhattan merged with Chemical in 1995.

Revisiting The 2020 Black Lives Matter Mural

The Next 60 Years for Sylvia’s Restaurant

Sylvia’s Restaurant, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in August 2022, is a testament to the values instilled by the founder and matriarch, Sylvia Woods. She cultivated a strong community around her soul food restaurant in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood that has continued to thrive, even after her passing a decade ago. Amid business expansions and succession planning, the legacy of Sylvia Woods continues to live on. But as Sylvia’s grandson takes over the business, a new challenge faces him and his family: what should the next 60 years of Sylvia’s look like?

Harvard Business School senior lecturer Christina Wing and Kenneth De’Sean Woods, chief executive officer of Sylvia Woods Inc., discuss the case, “Sixty Years of Sylvia’s.”


Lenox and 116th Street

A few images from the intersection of Lenox and 116th Street. The first (above) shows the south facing view today.

Below shows the same view from 1901 and the construction of what is now the 2/3 subway line:

Looking northward, today’s view shows a building the is now a charter school on the north-west corner:

While the Google Street view (above) shows the space abandoned (before the charter school move in), the image below shows that in mid-century Harlem it was the home to a supermarket.

As Seen In Harlem

Uptown Grand Central lights up, under the Metro North Tracks.

Under The Tracks

(from Uptown Grand Central’s newsletter)

“The overhead lights in the back of a public plaza in East Harlem, mounted on a rusty viaduct that supports the Metro-North Railroad, were not working. And Carey King was panicking.

Ms. King, who runs the plaza as the director of Uptown Grand Central, a nonprofit group formed by local merchants, was getting ready to reopen that section in the spring of 2021 after two years of construction to make it nicer. It was so dark that neighbors stayed away. Drug addicts shot up in the shadows and others found hidden corners to urinate and defecate.

When Ms. King tried to get the lights turned on, the Metro-North Railroad, which is operated by the state, said they were not its lights. She went to the city’s Department of Transportation, only to be told to check with Metro-North. After months of going back and forth with different agencies, she finally got city transportation officials to take ownership of the lights.

‘It’s a bad joke: How long does it take to change a light bulb?’ Ms. King said.”

👉🏽👉🏾👉🏼 Big thanks to The New York Times for giving our spot under the train tracks some shine! And to the NYC Department of Transportation for getting the boxy white lights on.

Also grateful to the Design Trust for Public Space and NightSeeing for the colorful string lights that are making our space even brighter and better.

Head here for the full article on the city’s new public space director and problem-solving plans.


There’s just a little while longer to enjoy the Winter Lights that are glowing here along East 125th Street.

Our trees are lighting even more blocks than ever before, from Fifth to Second avenues. We’re grateful as always to local small business Urban Garden Center for the many weeks they spend to bring you the holiday magic.

The lights will be up through the end of February — adding not only festive cheer, but extra shine and safety on the sidewalks on these dark winter nights.

Join Your Community Board

Omo Sade Skincare

Local businesswoman Sade Tyler started to sell her products on a table in front of the old Tower Records building in East Village, Manhattan. Also, back when corporate brands did not offer products for women of color, she was the first to set up a beauty kiosk in Allby Square mall in downtown Brooklyn. This later led to a store in New York and now she delivers all across the US through her online business.

Originally from Nigeria, belonging to the Yoruba tribe, Sade is passionate about keeping old Yoruba traditions around beauty and skincare alive which she does through her African collection. The Yoruba traditional Goddess representing earthly beauty is Oshun who is the goddess of water, sensuality, fertility, beauty and love which is all reflected in all of Sades skincare products.

In line with Oshun values, Sade wants women of all colors to embrace and love their skin the way it is. She believes by giving our skin the care it needs with natural, nurturing products everyone’s inner beauty and sensuality will shine through.

Apart from running her own business Sade has also taught countless women of color to start and run their own small businesses, especially in the field of skincare and cosmetics.


Street Intersection Named for Elijah Muhammad

The New York City Council approved a plan to name 127th Street and Malcolm X Blvd. in honor of Elijah Muhammad, the controversial late leader of the Nation of Islam. The exact phrase agreed upon was: “The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad Way”.

City Council Member Jordan was not deterred in her support for this co-naming by Elijah Muhammad’s anti-white and anti-semetic statements/rhetoric. Jordan who proposed the street naming for Muhammad, said the honor is “way overdue” and stated:

“It is actually not OK to erase Black leaders who are not pleasing to white people,” Jordan told her colleagues during the full City Council vote. “I profoundly vote aye on Elijah Muhammad Way.”

Mart 125

Harlem’s Mart 125: the American Dream is a documentary film about the history of Mart 125 on 125th Street and how it has served as a physical and imagined embodiment of Black commerce in the face of commercial, cultural, and political change in the heart of Harlem.

View the video with the link, below:


Also make sure to check out GothamtoGo’s blog post on the revitalization of Mart 125:

Booker T. Washington

As seen in Harlem.