Postcard Views of 125th Street – The Heart of Harlem 1905-1910
What was 125th Street like at the turn of the 20th century? It was the commercial center of a genteel neighborhood, the heart of Harlem. Restaurants, hotels, businesses and entertainment venues lined the prosperous street. 1900 census data shows the area was white with almost no blacks living around the surrounding streets. Residents around the area were primarily Jewish, Italian, German or WASP.
By 1910, things were changing and blacks now made up around 10 percent of Harlem’s population. That gradual change occurred after real estate speculators built apartments when the subway was being constructed between 1900 and 1904. The anticipated housing boom was a bust and these buildings were slow to fill with white tenants. A shrewd black real estate manager and developer Philip Payton Jr. was instrumental in changing the demographics of Harlem starting at 133rd Street and Lenox Avenue around 1905. Payton seized the opportunity in filling new and vacant buildings with black families. Soon other surrounding blocks were attracting black families.