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Villa Lewaro
Madam CJ Walker home 67 Broadway Irvington NY jeh.jpg
Villa Lewaro is located in New York
Villa Lewaro
Location in New York
Location North Broadway, Irvington, New York
Built 1916–1918
Architect Vertner Tandy
Architectural style Italian Renaissance
NRHP reference No. 76001289
Quick facts for kids
Significant dates
Added to NRHP May 11, 1976
Designated NHL May 11, 1976

Villa Lewaro, formerly known as the Anne E. Poth Home, is a 34-room 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) mansion located at Fargo Lane and North Broadway (US 9) in Irvington, New York, 30 miles north of New York City. It was built from 1916 to 1918, and was designed in the Italianate style by architect Vertner Tandy for A’lelia Walker, for her mother, Madam C.J. Walker.


Early history

From 1918 to 1919, Villa Lewaro was the home of Madam C. J. Walker, an African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist who was the first female self-made millionaire in the United States. She became one of the wealthiest self-made women in America and one of the most successful women and African-American business owners ever. Walker's fortune was founded on her developing and marketing a line of beauty and hair products for black women.

The mansion is an Italianate villa house designed for Walker by Vertner Tandy, the first African-American architect registered in New York, and has been considered to be one of his greatest works. It was constructed during 1916–1918 at an estimated cost of $250,000, and was furnished lavishly. The name Villa Lewaro was coined by a distinguished visitor, Enrico Caruso, from the first two letters of each word in Lelia Walker Robinson, the name of Walker's daughter, who later went by the name of A'Lelia Walker.

The home was used as a conference center on race relations issues, and as a meeting place for people involved in the Harlem Renaissance, including W. E. B. Dubois and Langston Hughes. Madam C. J. Walker died there in 1919, and the house was inherited by her daughter A'Lelia Walker, who owned it until she herself died in 1931. She left it to the NAACP, but because that organization was in the midst of financial problems, it immediately resold the property.

The estate was bought by the Companions of the Forest in America, and became the Anne E. Poth Home for Convalescent and Aged Members of that group. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and has been a private residence since the mid-1980s.

Purchase by Harold Doley

In 1993, Villa Lewaro was purchased by Harold Doley, founder of Doley Securities, LLC, the oldest African-American-owned and operated investment banking firm in the United States. According to the New York Post:

The Doleys upgraded the house’s mechanical, electrical, heating and plumbing systems. They reconstructed the terra cotta roof with materials from the original manufacturer and restored the wall paintings in the dining and music rooms.

Doley has hoped to attract investors to help turn the residence into a museum. During 1998 it was a designer show house benefiting the United Negro College Fund.

In 2004, it was added to the African American Heritage Trail of Westchester County, a group of 13 sites which include the Rye African-American Cemetery, Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site and the Jay Estate.

In May 2014, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has designated the mansion as a "National Treasure", began a project with the active support of Doley, which it called "Envisioning Villa Lewaro's Future", to determine the appropriate re-use of the mansion, which was becoming available for purchase. Three scenarios were selected by a workshop organized by the Trust: a spa and salon, a "Center for Innovation in Technology", and a corporate events venue, while a fourth – continued residential use – was suggested by the Trust afterwards; other scenarios were rejected by the workshop, although the Trust recommended that one – a cultural arts performance venue – be reconsidered. Others have suggested that the mansion be used as a center for information about Madame Walker and Vertner Tandy, the architect. In 2017, a representative of the National Trust reported that despite the mansion's status as a National Historic Landmark "there’s no oversight or review to stop an external agency to propose changes to the building..." The Trust's concern is that significantly changing the mansion, or, worse, demolishing it, would be a slight to Walker's life achievements.

In May 2017, Westchester County certified an easement under the auspices of the National Trust, a significant step in the house becoming a museum. The Doleys are exploring ways to continue to live in the house if and when it achieves that status. On December 22 of that year, the National Trust's African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund confirmed the preservation easement, which would protect the historic and architectural qualities of the mansion and its property.

Purchase by New Voices Foundation

On December 20, 2018, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that the estate had been sold in mid-September to the New Voices Foundation, which was founded by Richelieu Dennis. An emigrant from Liberia, Dennis is the owner of Essence magazine and the 1992 founder of Sundial Brands, a skin and hair care products company which is now a division of Unilever. He purchased Madam Walker's brands in 2013 and relaunched them. The purchase price paid by New Voices Foundation – which helps women entrepreneurs of color – was not released. The foundation plans on renovating the estate and will operate it, possibly as a think tank, training center or retreat to support the foundation's mission. They would be aided by a change in the village of Irvington's zoning laws, which provides tax relief for registered historical buildings adaptively re-used for non-residential purposes, such as schools, tours and specific types of events.

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