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. The preservation of Villa Lewaro reminds us about her remarkable life once lived.
"I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the kitchen cook. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations." – Madam CJ Walker
At the National Trust, we’re working to explore protection strategies, to understand the building’s potential, and to develop a documentary on Walker’s legacy and Villa Lewaro.
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 has owned and lived at Villa Lewaro since 1993. 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. Villa Lewaro is located one-half mile from Lyndhurst and three miles from Kykuit.
- Determine financially sustainable uses for the home, beyond the house museum model.
- Explore appropriate legal protection strategies to protect the property and the historic interiors.
- Raise national awareness of Walker’s legacy and support for Villa Lewaro’s future preservation.
Ways To Help
Donate to our campaign to save Villa Lewaro for the benefit of future generations.
Share your story about the importance of Madam Walker’s legacy and Villa Lewaro’s preservation.
Help us identify a corporate sponsor to fund a $50K documentary film on Villa Lewaro.
Pledge your support for protecting Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy and preserving her estate, Villa Lewaro.
Written by Brent Leggs, Project Manager for Villa Lewaro National Treasure
This week, check out featured blogs from influencers across the country as they share their love and respect for Madam C. J. Walker’s legacy. Today, Demetria Irwin, freelance writer for MSNBC’s The Grio and the Huffington Post, shares childhood and recent memories about Walker’s influence on her life. You can also read the National Trust’s newly released report entitled Envisioning Villa Lewaro’s Future in the blog entitled The Next Chapter for Villa Lewaro, Madam C. J. Walker’s "Dream of Dreams." In the report, we present four conceptual reuse scenarios to preserve the Villa Lewaro National Treasure.
Excerpt from The Huffington Post:
Over the last twenty years, the home has been privately owned by Ambassador and Mrs. Harold E. Doley Jr. They've dedicated themselves to preserving the home and maintaining the historic integrity. That effort is sorely needed as physical structures that pay homage to the greatness of black history are too often discarded and forgotten. It's that same dedication that lead the current owners along with Walker's great-great granddaughter to team up with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to ensure that the proper legal protections are in place to maintain the historic integrity along with a responsible way to financially sustain the house for the future. The home is not currently open to the public, but perhaps one day it will be, in some capacity.
Written by Jessica Pumphrey, Team Member
On Friday, the National Trust hosted several influential writers and bloggers from the New York City area to tour historic Villa Lewaro. For many of our guests, Madam Walker’s story had always played a role in their lives. Her legacy helped shape some of their career choices and even their understanding of hard work and perseverance.
It’s no secret that Madam Walker was a pioneer in business and beauty, but she also was committed to preservation. We were delighted to have the writers onsite to walk the halls of the mansion and discuss the intricate design work from her architect, Vertner Tandy. We also talked about potential new uses for the home which the National Trust will unveil in a report coming out this Fall.
For more information about how you can get involved in helping to protect Madam Walker’s Villa Lewaro, go here.
Written by Jessica Pumphrey, Team Member
The National Trust is also working alongside our partners to raise awareness about Madam CJ Walker’s legacy and the reuse options that are currently being explored for her home. Brent Leggs, project manager for Villa Lewaro, recently published a blog post about Madam Walker’s impact on her generation and the incomparable esthetic of her home.
Check out the post, here. Also, if you’ve got a great story about Madam Walker or her impact in your life, go to the “Share Your Story” tab and let us know!