Harlem’s Dunbar Apartments were specifically built as the first cooperative building complex marketed to Blacks. Named after poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, the apartments were home to notable figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, explorer Matthew Henson, writer Countee Cullen and entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, among others.
John D. Rockefeller Jr. built the Dunbar between 1926 and 1928 as part of a growing response to housing reform. The buildings housed working, middle-class families and featured perks for mothers and families on its grounds. As an inexpensive alternative to rising rents and mortgages in sprawling city, the Dunbar Apartments thrived.
Unfortunately, a year after the apartments went up, the Great Depression rocked the nation. The event forced tenants and the cooperative association to bend rules so that rent could be paid. Despite this, tenants could not keep up in the depressed economy and Rockefeller defaulted on the property in 1936. From that point on, they become rental units and fell into squalor and decay over the years.
There have been recent efforts to revitalize the apartments and an active tenant association continues to promote family values and community togetherness. In 1970, the apartments were named a New York City Landmark and nine years after, it was placed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2013, the apartments were sold to a Brooklyn-based developer with plans to rehab the buildings and bring The Dunbar back to its former glory.
– Own work)