From The Grio
Due to the deeply rooted racism that has been a part of this country since its founding, gentrification and centuries of deliberate erasure of African diaspora culture and history, many physical structures that celebrate or acknowledge black achievement have been destroyed or left to rot in the bowels of forgotten history.
Fortunately, people like Brent Leggs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation have dedicated their careers to preserving and honoring the structures that represent a diverse array of cultures and history, including African-American.
It’s one thing to read about a great person of times past but quite another to have a tangible reminder of that person’s existence and legacy.
“Our signature program is National Treasure. We take direct action to remove preservation threats at culturally and nationally significant historic sites in the United States. We provide assistance in legal issues, advocacy, preservation planning and marketing,” said Leggs.
One of Leggs’ current projects is preserving Villa Lewaro, the estate of Sarah Breedlove — a black woman who was born in Louisiana in 1867. She was the daughter of former slaves. Like many black women of the time, she was a domestic who washed clothes. Breedlove went on to become the first female in the United States to earn a million dollars. She is better known as Madam CJ Walker.
Out of necessity (tis the mother of invention), Madam Walker created hair care products and then used innovative business strategies to grow her business from a modest door-to-door endeavor into a multi-million dollar empire.
She left behind not only a rich legacy of pioneering ideas but also a more tangible artifact in the form of her elegant Irvington, New York estate, Villa Lewaro.
The neo-Palladian-style 34-room mansion, built in 1918, is tucked away in a community an hour north of Manhattan. (The Goulds and Rockefellers called that area home as well.)
Walker spared no expense during its construction. She hired the renowned architect Vertner Tandy to design her lavish abode. Tandy was a founding member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and one of the first black people to become a licensed architect in New York state.
Villa Lewaro featured hand-painted ceilings, glossy herringbone floors, elaborate light fixtures, an elevator and an early version of the modern clothes dryer that used steam. Thanks to the doting stewardship of the current owners, Ambassador Harold Doley and his wife Helene, all of those features remain intact.
Read more about Madame CJ Walker’s real estate at TheGrio.com