The Neighborhood: Harlem Heights
At the pinnacle of Sugar Hill, Jumel Terrace Bed and Breakfast, specializes in living local history, African and American. Representing Colonial Washington Heights’ and Revolutionary Harlem’s history, art, and literature with books and ephemera relating to its community’s cultural literacy make history tangible and give it a forum. The former antiquarian bookshop has been acknowledged by The New York Times, The New York Press, The Amsterdam News, The Lagos Sun, City College’s The Campus, Vanity Fair, Vogue and The Studio Museum of Harlem as a harbinger of “the new Harlem Renaissance.”
Jumel Terrace Bed & Breakfast is an anachronist’s haven within New York City. Housing four private libraries, writers, artists, historians, teachers and the locals visit by appointment, invitation and serendipity. Many use our collections as a research library and, as guests, you are welcome to the same privileges.
426 West 160th Street was built in 1891 in the late Queen Anne style by Richard R. Davis, architect of the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 151 West 128th Street. As residence to Dr. Thomas Matthews, the first black neuro-surgeon to graduate Harvard Medical School, the premises reputedly hosted Queen Elizabeth II for tea in 1973. As antiquarian and book artist Gunnar Kaldewey’s home, the house entertained Andy Warhol and his demimondaine contemporaries in the 1980’s.
Located within the Jumel Terrace Historic District, the house faces the Morris-Jumel Mansion. The Mansion was built as a summer residence in 1765 by a British Officer, Colonel Roger Morris, for his wife, the former Mary Phillipse. As a daughter of the slaver and land baron Frederick Philipse, Mary was heiress to the Bronx, Westchester, Duchess and Orange counties, and the Colonel reputedly competed for the fair Mary’s hand against singleton George Washington. The General would get his comeuppance, usurping the Mansion as his headquarters during the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776. Manhattan’s oldest residence is now a National Landmark in beautiful Roger Morris Park, picturesquely approached by way of Sylvan Terrace, a row of uniform wooden frame cottages built in 1882, steps up St. Nicholas Avenue. The Terrace is among the first streets on uptown Manhattan’s grid and an architectural anomaly.
Duke Ellington dubbed the Morris Jumel Mansion, “The Crown of Sugar Hill.” It faces 555 Edgecombe, once known as “The Triple Nickel.” At the same time Joe Louis, then heavy-weight champion of the world, lived there so did Count Basie, Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, Lena Horne, Coleman Hawkins, Erskine Hawkins, Canada Lee, Teddy Wilson, Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, Don Redman, Andy Kirk, Charles Alston, Dr. Kenneth Clark, and Charles Buchanan, the owner of the Savoy.
Besides being one of the most prestigious addresses of the Harlem Renaissance, it is one of New York’s most opulent apartment buildings. It’s lobby domed in stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany sets the tone for the sounds that emanate from the last of uptown’s parlor jazz salons. Stride piano mistress Marjorie Eliot’s gathering of musicians and fans every Sunday afternoon, from 4 to 6 p.m., has been stepping us through the ongoing Renaissance for sixteen years now.
Take a walk by Ellington’s place (157th and St. Nick’s) down to St. Nick’s Pub at 149th, until recently “the oldest continuously operating jazz bar in the city.” In 1940, piano wizard Charles Luckeyeth Roberts, opened Luckey’s Rendezvous. The little-recorded early stride master mentored the likes of Harlemites Fats Waller and George Gershwin, who reputedly took 400 lessons from him. The club was venue to all the musicians mentioned above and locals like Willie “The Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday and Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn’s articulate hand seems in evidence when, in 1950, the bar became The Pink Angel, an effete jazz piano bar featuring torch singers in an array of genders. As Duke’s, in the ‘60s, neighbors like Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean represented the Black Arts scene, as St. Nick’s Pub had since 1970. Currently dark, the club’s expected to reopen in the foreseeable future (likely as a bed & breakfast).
There is a beautiful 1/2 mile promenade that starts a half block from our house along Edgecombe Avenue overlooking the Harlem River, Yankee Stadium, that culminates at the famed Victorian Highbridge-Croton Aqueduct and witch’s tower that makes a perfect morning constitutional. For the athletic, at Highbridge Park in season there are three grand, open to the public, WPA era swimming pools, or it’s three blocks to Riverside Park, where you can jog to The Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge.
And, if you’d prefer not to go anywhere or do anything, there is plenty to read. The garden apartment is quiet and secluded, warm in the winter and pleasant in the summer, an unexpectedly peaceful retreat from a day in the hectic city. As our first guest remarked, “I have been to New York only once, but I think it’s not easy to find a place like that. The current of time is totally different from the outside.”