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Harlem Nights at the Hotel Theresa

PODCAST The Hotel Theresa was once called the Waldorf of Harlem, a glamorous New York City accommodation known as a hub for Black society and culture in the 1940s and 50s — and for a few eyebrow-raising political moments in the 1960s.

The luxurious apartment hotel was built by a German lace manufacturer to cater to a wealthy white clientele.

But almost as soon as the final brick was laid, Harlem itself changed, thanks to the arrival of thousands of new Black residents from the South.

Harlem, renown the world over for the artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance and its burgeoning music scene, was soon home to New York’s most thriving Black community.  But many of the businesses here refused to serve Black patrons, or at least certainly made them unwelcome.

The TH initials over the windows. Photo courtesy Greg Young

The Theresa changed its policy in 1940 and soon its lobby was filled with famous athletes, actresses and politicians, many choosing to live at the Hotel Theresa over other hotels in Manhattan.  

The hotel’s relative small size made it an interesting concentration of America’s most acclaimed Black celebrities. And an almost surreal backdrop for presidents and foreign leaders alike.

Media frenzy around the Fidel Castro’s stay at the hotel.

In this podcast, Greg gives you a tour of this glamorous scene, from the corner bar to the penthouse, from the late-night coffee shop to the crazy parties of Dinah Washington.

WITH: Martin Luther King Jr, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Fidel Castro. And music by Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine and Duke Ellington

ALSO: Who is this mysterious Theresa? What current Congressman was a former desk clerk? And what was Joe Louis’ favorite breakfast food?


Listen to Harlem Nights at the Hotel Theresa on your favorite podcast player or from the player below:

The first half of this show was originally released in 2013 (as Episode #158) but has been newly edited for this release. The second half of this show is ALL NEW.

MUSIC FEATURED: “Sophisticated Lady” by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra and “Dedicated To You” by Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan. 


The Hotel Winthrop which sat on the spot of the Theresa before it was torn down in the early 1910s, deemed a bit inadequete for the growing neighborhood.

Museum of the City of New York

An early glimpse of the Hotel Theresa.

From the February 4, 1917, issue of the New York Tribune, making note of its “large spacious dining room overlooking the Palisades.”

The Hotel Theresa, circa 1915.  Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

Hotel Theresa, Seventh Ave. & 125th Street.

Boxer Joe Louis was one of America’s most famous athletes in the 1940s and a frequent guest at the Teresa.  Joe fought the German boxer Max Schmeling twice, both times at Yankee Stadium.  

Max bested Joe in the first match, but on the second go-around in 1938, Louis knocked out Schmeling in the first round.  

He enjoyed his win that evening at the Theresa, as thousands of fans gathered in front of the hotel and throughout the city in celebration.

View of pedestrian and vehicular traffic at the corner of 125th Street and 7th Avenue in Harlem, New York, New York, 1948. The sign for the Theresa Hotel is visible on the left. (Photo by Rae Russel/Getty Images)

Malcolm X speaking to crowds in front of the Hotel Theresa — back when there was a Chock Full O Nuts on street level! Malcolm would be very associated with the hotel, headquartering here after his split with the Nation of Islam.  

Photo by Larry Fink c/o WNYC
Sen. John F. Kennedy, Democratic presidential nominee, speaks at a rally in front of the hotel Theresa in Harlem. Kennedy made a half dozen speeches or appearances in and around the city during the second of a three-day bid for New York State’s 45 electoral votes. (Getty Images)

Jet Magazine and Ebony Magazine founder John J Johnson conceived the ideas for both magazine at the Hotel Theresa and frequently published articles about the Theresa.

 A notice in a 1954 issue of Jet announcing the opening of the Hotel Theresa ballroom, called the Skyline.

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4 replies on “Harlem Nights at the Hotel Theresa”

Loved this podcast as my mother was born this same year in NY. But one correction. You mentioned that the general area was the first Little Italy. But, in truth, this was Littly Sicily. The area was populated by Sicilians not Italians (yes, there is a difference). My father was born there in 1903.

I heard that Fidel Castro was kicked out of The Plaza or Waldorf Astoria for having live chickens in his rooms. He did not trust the hotel food so they butchered and cooked their own food. The Hotel Theresa welcomed him and his entourage with open arms. Was this area also called Spanish Harlem at one time?

My first cousin whose name was Jacqueline Starr Hawkins, (Jackie) was in a dancing group with her husband Myron J. Hawkins and Eddie. They danced at the Apollo and etc., The group was called Jackie and Tuffy. It is my understanding that she committed suicide in the Theresa Hotel August 17, 1955. A relative informed me that her death was listed in the Jet magazine. I have been searching out all the information I can about her. I never had the chance to meet her. Do you know how I can find that article in the Jet and how do I go about getting her obituary.
Thank you
Myrna Byrd

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