The Hotel TheresaIUME is proud to conduct itself in the historic Hotel Theresa--now known as Theresa Tower--in the heart of Harlem. As the late Harvard scholar Dr. Sondra Kathryn Wilson elegantly said, "few people in Harlem know that the slim, white, thirteen-story building that stands on the historic corner of Seventh Avenue and 125th was, in its day, as famous as the Apollo Theater or the Savoy Ballroom, and more central to the history of Harlem than any other building there." Built in 1913 [pictured on left], the New York Times states that the Hotel Theresa "symbolized the new high-rise aspirations of 20th-century Harlem. Three decades later and newly integrated, it offered hope to black New Yorkers." Although operated and originally stayed at only by whites through the first three decades of its existance, since the 1940s when Harlem began to integrate, the Hotel Theresa soon became seen as "a center for African-American events," eventually becoming known as the "Waldorf of Harlem." Representative of the growing black population in Harlem, the Hotel Theresa became a landmark structure, symbolic to struggle for African Americans in New York while also acting as refuge for black American seeking an overnight stay.
During this era, a plethora of famous black actors, musicians and sports icons stayed at the Hotel--becoming the spot for a "who's who" in African American life. For example, Louis Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, Duke Ellington, Muhammad Ali, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix all were guests at the Hotel Theresa. However, it remains vital to understand why these important black figures stayed at the Hotel--many prestigious hotels throughout New York City still denied African American guests. Therefore, the Hotel Theresa is rooted in civil rights, granting access to black guests at a time when such access to hotels of comparable quality was a rarity.
In addition, the Hotel Theresa did not just host entertainment superstars and black businessman, but infamous world icons; for example, in 1960, Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro stayed at the Hotel Theresa. Infamous black leader Malcom X hosted his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the hotel on many occasions. Also in 1960, Soviet Union leader Nikita Khruschev stayed at the Hotel, meeting Castro inside. 1960 continued to be a highlight for the Hotel Theresa; then-U.S. Presidential Nominee John F. Kennedy campaigned at the Hotel as did former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Unfortunately, however, issues within Harlem contributed to Hotel Theresa closure in 1967.
Four years later, Hotel Theresa re-opened as a non-hotel building under the guise of Theresa Towers--the name which it still officially goes by today. Although no longer a hotel, Theresa Towers has a rich historical legacy to Harlem and to civil rights. Although it will never reach the status it did in the middle of the Twentieth century, it has remained a symbol in Harlem that is readily visible throughout the city. In recent years, Theresa Towers has been visited by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and been filmed in movies such as Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. It currently serves as the home of the Edmund W. Gordon Campus of Teachers College, Columbia University and is the also the home of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME). The building was declared a national landmark in 1993.
Above all, IUME's presence in this historic building is important; it is only through remembering and recognizing our past can we change the future. Therefore, not only does IUME allow Teachers College, Columbia University to have a true presence inside Harlem, but underscores the importance of the work that we intend to do by physically conducting such work in a place that is so important to the people we serve.
For more about the significance of Hotel Theresa and IUME, listen below to Director Ernest Morrell: