Eartha Kitt

Austin Hansen photographed Kitt leading a dance group at the Harlem YMCA in the early 1950’s.

Eartha had been a professional dancer, dancing and touring with the Katherine Dunham Company between 1943 and 1948 before she became more widely known as a singer.

Note the photo below, and the vents under the windows as the space appears today (not to mention the basketball and other line markings):

This photograph is part of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s collection and is held just down the block from the site of the photograph itself.

There Go The Porches

There are not a lot of homes with front porches in Harlem. Some, but not many. Obviously, the most well-known example is Astor Row, but until recently, there was a small group of row houses on East 129th Street near Park. Obviously the row was a bit forlorn and had been an auxiliary space for the the Storefront Academy, across the street:

Nevertheless, it was sad to see them shaved off, unlikely to return:

William Backhouse Astor Jr.

Harlem’s Astor Row Namesake

Willam Backhouse Astor Jr. lived from 1829 – 1892 and in our community, is best remembered as the person who developed Astor Row, AKA West 130th Street between 5th Avenue and Lenox.

The south side of this block was developed by Astor as speculative townhouses – built when there was little else around, but under the assumption that the expansion of New York would make homes in Harlem attractive to the middle and upper-middle class.

The row (really just the south side) was designed by Charles Buek who built the houses between 1880 and 1883. While John Jacob Astor had purchased in 1844 for $10,000. Astor’s grandson, William Backhouse Astor, Jr., was the driving force behind the development.


The design of the three-story brick, single-family houses is unusual for Harlem and Manhattan, in that they are set back from the street, and all have both front and side yards, as well as their distinctive wooden porches.

Closer to 5th Avenue, there are a series of freestanding brick townhouse pairs. After #24, the houses are all connected.

In the years around and immediately after WW1, Black entrepreneurs like Philip Payton began to bring Black tenants into the area centered around 5th Avenue and 133rd Street. Seeing this trend, J. Cruikshank bought 20 houses on Astor Row in 1920 — all previously owned by middle-class and upper-middle-class whites — and begins selling them to Black buyers, prompting The New York Times to predict that the row would soon be occupied entirely by African Americans.

In 1981, the Astor Row houses (on the south side) were designated New York City Landmarks.

Sistas, The Musical!

Tickets are now on sale for an April 2nd return:

After a matriarch’s death, the women in the family clean Grandma’s attic and find love and old memories packed away, and in the process, hit tunes that trace the history of Black women, from the trials of the 1930s through the girl groups of the 60s to the empowerment of the 90s. Featuring 40 Hit Songs by Black Legends Including Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Alicia Keys, and The Supremes.