The Renovation: West 139th Street — A Moody Masterpiece

A derelict diamond in the rough becomes a moody, modern masterpiece in Harlem's revered Striver’s Row.

The Striver's Row area has become one of Dixon's favorite historic districts in New York City. We delved deep into the history of these beautiful blockfronts before and showcased the transformation of two Dixon Leasing homes in the district's Price-Luce-designed blocks: 233 West 138th Street and 261 West 138th Street.

rundown bedroom

For the first 20 or so years of its existence, West 139th Street, like most Striver's Row houses, was occupied by residents who leased their homes from the Equitable Insurance Company. Equitable had taken possession of all King Model Homes when they went into foreclosure in 1895, and the firm was exceptionally discerning about who they would sell to for years. During this period, the home's occupants were mostly lodgers who worked as laborers, clerks, waitresses and household servants.

By 1919, the Equitable finally allowed African Americans to purchase King homes, and the following year, our subject was bought by Dr. Gertrude Elizabeth Curtis McPherson. A 1904 graduate of the New York College of Dental and Oral Surgery, Dr. McPherson was the first black woman ever to pass the New York State Board of Dentistry. She bought the house as an investment property and held it until 1944. Throughout this time, it functioned as a rooming house for up to 20 lodgers at a time.

In 1946, the home was acquired and kept for nearly 60 years by a family that appears to have resided predominantly in the Midwest, particularly during the last few decades, which may explain the derelict state of the home by the time it was acquired by Dixon in 2015.

In need of a complete structural rehabilitation with no salvageable historical details inside, the Dixon Projects team was presented with a unique opportunity to begin with a blank slate. "The other Striver’s Row homes are very traditional because we've kept the existing wall locations, moldings and fireplaces. This one got to have its own personality," explains Marybeth. "The design here is modern, but a bit moody. We played with blacks and whites and that stark contrast, along with really modern lighting."

That dramatic color scheme works, in large part, because of the sunny exposures to the north, south and west. In a dimmer townhouse, these dark tones might have felt gloomy, but here, they add drama and interest throughout the clean, contemporary spaces.

stairs before

On the garden level below, residents enjoy a large bedroom suite with a gray-and-black en suite bathroom, custom closet and a separate front entry. A large laundry room with a utility sink is perfectly positioned across from the elevator, and a spacious rec room is an ideal family room outfitted with a well-equipped wet bar. Thanks to Striver's Row's highly desirable rear alley design, this home also boasts an oversized gated parking area just outside, a precious amenity in Manhattan.