Strivers' Row

Strivers’ Row is three rows of townhouses in western Harlem, in the New York City borough of Manhattan on West 138th and West 139th between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Originally called the “King Model Houses” after developer David King, they were designed for upper middle class whites and constructed between 1891 and 1893. [1] Different architects worked on each of the three rows, and they are collectively recognized as a gem of New York City architecture. [2]

The houses sit back-to-back with each other, which allowed King to specify that they would share rear courtyards. The alleyways between them are gated off (some entrance gates still have signs that read “Walk Your Horses”). At one time, these alleys allowed discreet stabling of horses and delivery of supplies without disrupting the goings-on in the main houses. Today, the back areas are used almost exclusively for the parking of cars. Strivers’ Row houses are among the few private homes in Manhattan with space for parking, but also among the few townhouses that do not have gardens in the rear.

David King’s speculative development failed, and most of the houses were soon owned by the Equitable Life Assurance Society, which had financed the project. By this time, Harlem was being abandoned by white New Yorkers, and the company would not sell the King houses to blacks. As a result, they sat empty. When they were finally made available to black residents, for US$8000 each, they attracted hard-working professionals, or “strivers,” who gave the houses their current name.




Among its most notable residents was Frederick Douglass, runaway slave, abolitionist, orator, writer, and civil servant. Douglass built the southern three buildings of a five-house, Second Empire-style row located at 2000–2008 17th Street in 1875–76. Douglass’ son inherited the houses and lived at 2002 17th Street from 1877 until his death in 1908.

Other notable residents have included:
– Calvin Brent, the late-19th-century architect lived on V Street.
– James C. Dacy, editor, realtor and D.C. Recorder of Deeds in 1904-10, also lived in the area.
– James E. Storum, the educator and entrepreneur who founded the Capital Savings Bank, the first African American-owned banking institution in the nation’s capital.

Prominent figures who lived within a few blocks of the historic district boundaries include:
– Langston Hughes (1902–1967), Harlem Renaissance poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright.
– Charles Hamilton Houston (1895–1950), dean of Howard University’s Law School.
– Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880–1966), author and poet of the Harlem Renaissance.


[1] “Touring Historic Harlem,” Andrew S. Dolkart and Gretchen S. Sorin, New York Landmarks Conservatory, 1997
[2] Kevin Baker “Our Malcolm,” American Heritage, February/March 2006.