African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund
Villa Lewaro (Madam C. J. Walker Estate)
In Irvington, New York, there stands Madam C. J. Walker’s “Villa Lewaro,” a restored historic residence that embodies the optimism and perseverance of the American entrepreneurial spirit.
Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 in Delta Louisiana, where her parents and elder siblings were enslaved, Madam Walker would become a cosmetics and business pioneer. Developing beauty and hair products for Black women, Madam Walker trained nearly 23,000 sales agents and workers, serving customers in the United States, Central America, and the Caribbean. Recognized by the Guinness Book of Records for being America’s first, self-made female millionaire, Madam Walker’s achievements in the face of racial challenges of 20th century America are impressive and without comparison.
Villa Lewaro was the intellectual gathering place for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, such as James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes. The preservation of Villa Lewaro reminds us about her remarkable life once lived.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 for its architectural significance, Villa Lewaro’s intact interiors are in good condition and the property retains a high degree of integrity. Ambassador Harold E. Doley, Jr. and Mrs. Doley owned and lived at Villa Lewaro from 1993 to 2018.
Prior to selling the property, Ambassador Doley protected Villa Lewaro in perpetuity through a preservation and conservation easement donated to the National Trust. The easement protects the exterior of the Main House and Carriage House, the iconic multi-level terrace, along with the associated landscaping. Additionally, the easement protects important interior spaces and features, such as the parlors on the first floor and Madam C.J. Walker’s bedroom and bathroom on the second floor.
Villa Lewaro was purchased by the New Voices Foundation in 2018. The Foundation offers women of color entrepreneurs access, capital, and expertise to scale their businesses through funding, networking, and learning opportunities. A planning and advisory team that includes preservationists, historians, and other groups continues to explore possibilities and provide recommendations for the Foundation’s rehabilitation and future use of the property.
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In December 2018, Villa Lewaro was purchased by the New Voices Foundation. The foundation, which helps women of color entrepreneurs achieve their vision through innovative leadership initiatives, will spearhead the stabilization of the structure and planning for future uses.
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