The Dunbar!
Posted on February 17, 2014

Bohemia Blog by Agent Wendy Wood

Bohemia Realty Group is happy to represent the Dunbar Apartments in Harlem! The Dunbar was completed in 1928. Based on the architectural and historic signi?cance and the signi?cance to black social history the property gained Historic Landmark status in 1970. As Harlem currently experiences a second renaissance the Dunbar is well situated to take its place in the celebration!



The apartment buildings were designed by architect Andrew Thomas (1875-1965) at the request of John D. Rockefeller Jr. who purchased the property from William Vincent Astor for $500,000 in 1926. Construction began that same year. Rockefeller was a supporter of affordable housing and this project was just one of several he fostered. Rockefeller teamed with Thomas, who was known for creative design, to build comfortable apartments that fostered a sense of community but were built economically.


Self-taught, Thomas is known for popularizing the large garden court concept. The complex occupies a full block between Adam Clayton Powell Blvd and Frederick Douglas Blvd and between 149th St and 150th St. It consists of 6 buildings with 8 arched entries leading to a central courtyard. Each of the 6 buildings are u-shaped to allow air ?ow and direct sun into all 511 apartments at some point in the day. This interesting and varied complex is made up of buildings that vary in height to create a very open and beautiful space.


Of?cially named after Black poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, this apartment community was destined to occupy a pivotal placed in the history of the Harlem. It was the ?rst co-op project in the country built for African Americans. It allowed an affordable purchasing plan of a reasonable down payment and monthly payments averaging $14.50 per room. The development was very popular. Sales began in Oct. 1927 and all 511 units sold out by May 1928 - just 7 months! If the payments were in good standing the tenant would own the apartment in 22 years. Sadly, the Depression hit and by 1936 Rockefeller foreclosed on the mortgage and transferred the property from a corporation to himself. The co-op plan was abandoned, the equity returned to each of the tenant/owners who then became renters.


The complex served as a model for future developments having the good fortune to be developed in healthier ?nancial times. In 1927 architect Thomas was awarded First prize for Walk-up Apartments in competition held by the NY Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Thomas designed many other projects in and around the New York area including Coney Island Hospital and several other large garden courtyard projects in Jackson Heights.

dunbar-apartment-habs-1955The Kitchen of Matthew Henson North Pole Explorer

A list of past residents reads like a veritable Who’s Who! Among famous tenants are: author W.E.B. Du Bois, labor leader A. Philip Randolph, singer/actor and civil rights advocate Paul Robeson, poet Countee Cullen who was a leading ?gure in the Harlem Renaissance, and dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Matthew Henson who made 7 attempts to reach the North Pole before ?nally reaching it in April 1909, has a plaque on the building noting his achievements.

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The future of the Dunbar looks bright! Recently, in June 2013, the property was acquired by developer E & M Associates from Lehman Bros. E & M plans for a large renovation project to restore the property in a manner it deserves! The apartments, which were originally designed as homes, have proportionate rooms, closets and extra storage throughout. Units allow for easy placement of furniture. Each apartment faces out allowing for air ?ow and direct sunlight. Many of the 1, 2, and 3 bedroom apartments offer extra space that can be used as a home of?ce or dining area. There are plans to beautify the central courtyard adding to the existing landscaping. Other amenities include a large laundry, on-site, plans to add a ?tness center, new playground and a doorman.