Residents who live in two buildings uptown are making a documentary about its rich history. Our Cheryl Wills has the story from Edgecombe Avenue.
Two iconic buildings in Washington Heights are marking their centennial — and residents are banding together to preserve the Washington Heights neighborhood's rich history through a new organization called 'While We Are Still Here.'
The buildings at 409 and 555 Edgecombe Avenue are the subject of a new documentary narrated by Karen Taylor who has lived in one of the national historic landmarked buildings for a quarter century.
"555 was essentially I think the more of the party building, the creative building," Taylor said. "You had a lot of musicians here."
Musicians like jazz great Count Basie — the corner is named for him and his equally famous neighbor — actor Paul Robeson. In addition, on this floor lived a man who was arguably the most famous black man in America during the World War II era — The Heavyweight Champ Joe Louis.
The great bandleader Jimmy Lunceford also rented an apartment here. Black celebrities were drawn to what was then known as the "Roger Morris Apartments" through real estate ads like this one - which sought quote select colored tenants" ... in a doorman building which boasted a stunning lobby with a rare Tiffany ceiling.
However, the demographics are changing quickly.
"Because of the so-called gentrification we're seeing this shift away from African American base of these buildings populations to a more white oriented population," Taylor said.
The buildings are 15 stories high and have 120 apartments.
They were so beloved during the Harlem Renaissance that the great writer Langston Hughes wrote about his many visits there.
The building 409 was home to a host of black intellectuals like Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and activist and writer W.E.B. DuBois.
Residents of 555 and 409 Edgecombe Avenue plan to hold a fundraiser in September. They want to raise enough money to possibly build a museum in honor of the history contained in both of these buildings.
It's important for the younger generations to know where they live and especially for the elders to maintain history — there are still a lot of people that live in the neighborhood that remember what it used to be.