by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)
On the heels of launching the African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, the largest preservation campaign ever undertaken on behalf of African-American history, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced a preservation easement on Madam C.J. Walker’s estate, Villa Lewaro. A powerful preservation tool, the easement prevents current and future owners from making adverse changes to or demolishing the estate’s historic, cultural and architectural features.
Madam C.J. Walker (December 23, 1867–May 25, 1919), America’s first self-made female millionaire, commissioned Villa Lewaro, her “Dream of Dreams,” at the height of her wealth and prominence as inventor and entrepreneur of haircare products for African-American women. Constructed in 1918, alongside the Hudson River in Irvington, New York, Madam Walker’s elegant residence was built to inspire African-Americans to reach their highest potential.
Designed by Vertner Tandy—the first African-American registered architect in the state of New York and one of the seven founders of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.—the 34-room mansion served as the intellectual gathering place for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes.
“On the 150th anniversary of her birth, we are delighted to have played a lead role in the lasting protection of Madam C.J. Walker’s tangible legacy,” said Brent Leggs, director of the National Trust’s African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. “The legal protection of irreplaceable historic sites like Villa Lewaro, one of the most significant places in women’s history, is essential in telling the full American story and inspiring future generations.”
Since designating the site as a National Treasure in 2014, the National Trust has worked with Villa Lewaro’s current owners and exceptional stewards, Ambassador and Mrs. Harold E. Doley, Jr., to recognize its architectural and historical significance and secure long-term protections before the property changes hands. The easement marks a successful culmination of those efforts.
Villa Lewaro stands as a living monument to Madam Walker’s entrepreneurial spirit and remains central to understanding her unprecedented achievement during an era when neither women nor African Americans were considered full citizens. Soon to be portrayed by award-winning actress Octavia Spencer in a series produced by LeBron James, Madam Walker’s story of persistence continues to inspire a growing number of African-American women taking leadership roles in business, politics, philanthropy, and other industries.
To learn more about the National Trust’s commitment to expand America’s view of history and bring attention to centuries of African-American activism and achievement, please visit: www.savingplaces.org/african-american-cultural-heritage