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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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