Elks in Paris

In 1990 Jennny Livingston released a documentary called Paris is Burning that revealed to theater goers the rich underground ballroom scene in Harlem during the 1980s.

The film focuses on one key venue for the ballroom scene – the Imperial Lodge of Elks at 160 West 129th Street – just east of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.

Where does voguing come from, and what, exactly, is throwing shade? This landmark documentary provides a vibrant snapshot of the 1980s through the eyes of New York City’s African American and Latinx Harlem drag-ball scene. Made over seven years, Paris Is Burning offers an intimate portrait of rival fashion “houses,” from fierce contests for trophies to house mothers offering sustenance in a world rampant with homophobia, transphobia, racism, AIDS, and poverty. Featuring legendary voguers, drag queens, and trans women—including Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, and Venus Xtravaganza—Paris Is Burning brings it, celebrating the joy of movement, the force of eloquence, and the draw of community.

Today the space is no longer an Elks Lodge, but a church:

And, for a fantastic examination on how post-Civil War drag balls led to Harlem Renaissance era extravaganzas, and then to Voguing in the 1980’s, see this great article:

https://www.history.com/news/drag-balls-house-ballroom-voguing

Harlem Lane

Harlem Lane was originally a trail that the Lenape people used to travel from what is now Central Park up to Inwood and The Bronx. This trail is one we travel today, but the name has changed (and the route somewhat modified) to St. Nicholas Avenue.

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/M141/history#:~:text=As%20with%20many%20of%20Manhattan’s,road%20on%20June%2016%2C%201707.

Ebay has a color lithograph print of Harlem Lane in the 19th Century for sale:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/164978894229?mkevt=1&mkpid=0&emsid=e11021.m5055.l9429&mkcid=7&ch=osgood&euid=0a697cf467434cb3b75dd5f061814e33&bu=43000789878&ut=RU&osub=-1%7E1&crd=20210725035834&segname=11021&sojTags=ch%3Dch%2Cbu%3Dbu%2Cut%3Dut%2Cosub%3Dosub%2Ccrd%3Dcrd%2Csegname%3Dsegname%2Cchnl%3Dmkcid

Harlem in Inwood

I used to live in Inwood in the ’90s and walked past this Apple Bank regularly. Until a sign was removed recently, I had no idea that the building was originally a Harlem Savings Bank branch.

The classic Art Deco building was the creation of architects Halsey, McCormack and Helmer from the 1940’s.

Note that Harlem Savings Bank changed its name to Apple Bank for Savings in 1983.