The Dunbar Apartments, named after the famous Black poet of the turn of the century, Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906), occupies the entire block bounded by 149th and 150th Streets and Seventh and Eighth Avenues. It was the first large cooperative built for Blacks and was Manhattan’s earliest large garden apartment complex.
Financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and designed by the architect Andrew J. Thomas, the building was completed in 1928 and was destined, from the planning and sociological points of view, to occupy a pivotal place in the history of the Harlem community. The complex consists of six independent U-shaped buildings, containing 511 apartments, and is clustered around a large interior garden court. Eight arched entrance ways lead into the court and to public staircases.
With its lawns, shrubs and trees, the garden court provides a quiet, green oasis removed from the traffic and noise of the surrounding streets. Architecturally, the dominant note is one of simplicity. The architect successfully avoided the cold monotony of many later housing projects by breaking up the massive walI surfaces. He varied the heights of the buildings from five to six stories, alternately projected and recessed adjoining units and introduced a variety of window alignments and sizes. The warm tones and varicolored brick are set off by decorative accents of limestone. Handsome wrought iron balconies and window guards and architectural terra-cotta at the roof level complete the decorative scheme.
STATUS Designated Individual Landmark
The neighborhood is named for Fort Washington, a fortification constructed at the highest point on the island of Manhattan by Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, to defend the area from the British forces.Explore the Neighborhood >
“I don’t know what the City would be without HDC. [They] testified before LPC time after time and helped us focus on the right issues. We would not be an historic district without HDC! ”
Doreen Gallo: DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance
“Use HDC as a resource because they know what they are doing and can offer advice on how to go about creating a district from every front: architectural, political, LPC, and the media. I had floundered prior to my involvement with this invaluable organization.”
Fern Luskin: Lamartine Place Historic District; Friends of Lamartine Place & Gibbons Underground Railroad Site
“HDC provided guidance and shared information during that process—we knew which Council members were going one way or another and we changed a few minds. I don’t think NoHo would have had as cohesive a district had it not been for HDC’s aid.”
Zella Jones: NoHo Historic District; NoHo East; and NoHo Extension
“I remember Richard saying at a meeting, we have someone here from HDC, Nadezhda Williams, Director of Preservation and Research, to help us. She said to us, ‘You are not the only ones going through this.’ HDC included us in an enormous community”
Erika Petersen: West End Preservation Society