Before the Apollo Theater opened for its inaugural performance on January 26 1934, Harlem’s 125th street was a shopping center for residents in the mostly white upper-middle class neighborhoods surrounding Columbia, Barnard, and the City College. The theater that became the Apollo was erected in 1914, designed by a prominent architect whose projects included the Belasco and later the Selwyn (now known as the American Airlines) Theaters. From 1914 to 1934, the theater served as a venue for burlesque and vaudeville performances. In the early 1900’s developers had invested substantially in the Harlem community in anticipation of the 1904 opening of an elevated subway line connecting uptown with downtown. By the early 30’s 125th street had become a substantial commercial and entertainment center. At the time that the Theater was re-christened as the Apollo, the real estate bubble brought on by the prospect of growth in upper-Manhattan had burst. White New Yorkers did not move to Central Harlem in the numbers anticipated by developers leaving many newly constructed residences empty. Rather than lose out on their investments owners then rented their properties to African-Americans who had been living in the area of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Lincoln Square and Hell Kitchen neighborhoods, and who were arriving in New York from the South and Caribbean. This took place over the period of time known as the Great Migration.
Looking back on this period of history, it is apparent that waves of change we face today echo the challenges of generations past. Whether the changes are social, technological, or physical, the only thing leaders are guaranteed to face over time is change. Read the rest of this entry »