On a brisk day in March, 2016, we noticed a realtor’s Open House in a brownstone belonging to poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, who passed away two years before. Balloons were on the sign and the front door was open on the beautifully maintained home, and so we went on in.
The home located at 58 West 120th Street was first spotted by Ms. Angelou’s good friends, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who suggested that she take a look. The five-story home was nothing but a shell in 2002, but it was located on one of the prettiest blocks in Harlem, located in the Mount Morris Historic District, less than a block away from Marcus Garvey Park, home to the historic Harlem Fire Watchtower, in Harlem.
She bought the house, sight unseen, for $435,000 and set about the task of a major renovation. The house was built in 1912, but despite its condition, it still had some of the original details ~ molding, staircase banisters, oak doors, fireplaces, and twelve-foot ceilings.
Air conditioning was added, a jacuzzi tub in the master bath, modern lighting, stained-glass on the french doors leading to the dining room, and above the dining room table, a recessed mural of sky and clouds. She also added an elevator, and lots of bookshelves. The renovation took two-years, and was completed in 2004.
The rooms were designed to look as fresh and colorful as a bowl of fruit, with walls painted in watermelon pink, tomato red and plum purple. Her furnishings were just as colorful ~ a lime-green couch and armchairs in pink, blue and yellow.
Her primary residents continued to be in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and since she preferred to travel by bus, her trips to her Harlem brownstone took her 10 1/2 hours!
Maya Angelou passed away in May of 2014 at the age of 84. Her Harlem brownstone sat empty for two years.
We were sorry to see that the interior walls repainted beige, but very much enjoyed spending a few minutes in the space where this formidable woman once walked these rooms. Maya Angelou’s brownstone, located at 58 West 120th Street, sold in June, 2016 for $4,595,000.