Mr. Wilson: 25 Years At The Hotel Theresa

January 5, 2011

Mr. Cedric “Mr.” Wilson, worked at the Hotel Theresa for 25 years as the building Manager. Harlem World Magazine spoke to Mr. Wilson a few months after his retirement about working at the historical location.

The Hotel Theresa, which was known as the “Waldorf Astoria of Harlem”, was built in 1913 in a neo-renaissance style by German-born stockbroker Gustavus Sidenberg.

The guest list of the Hotel reads like a who’s who in music and sports. Louis Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, Duke Ellington to Muhammad Ali, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Little Richard, and Jimi Hendrix have all stayed at 2090 7th Avenue.

The Hotel Theresa was also the backdrop to some of the most important and even controversial political leaders of our time. It was the headquarters for Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity, place of residence for Fidel Castro and his staff of 80 during the opening session of the United Nations, and a crucial campaign stop for future president John F. Kennedy during the 1960 election.

2090 7th Avenue was called home by future Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who lived here when his father worked as the hotel manager. It was also the work address of US Congressman Charles “Charlie” Rangel when he was a desk clerk.

Hollywood also came calling. Legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock filmed scenes from the his film Topaz and director Lee Daniels used the historic hotel for his film Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire:

Harlem World Magazine: You’ve worked at the Hotel Theresa for 25 years, you started in 1985?

Mr. Wilson: Yes, I started in November 1985 and worked until June 2010.

HW: Where were you born?

W: I was born in Jamaica, and came to the states in May 28, 1985.

HW: How did you hear about the job at the Hotel?

W: A friend from Jamaica told me about the at the hotel, the guy who had the job was on vacation and was not coming back. He gave me the application, I filled it out and I was hired temporarily for four weeks. After the guy who had the job came back they hired me (at that time David Goldman was manager, he hired me). At that time the Manager did everything; I was broker, engineer, supervisor anything that happened on the managing of the building I took care of it.

HW: What do you remember most when you first starting working at the Hotel?

W: When I started it was old and run down, with only five tenants (Dr. Henley, Malcolm King College, Harlem Dowling, Ruth Williams Dance Studio and Lensie Jones). The tenants had many floors, so 50% of the building was occupied with tenants. One the ground floor you had a Pharmacy, record shop, hair parlor, western union, Kansas Fried Chicken…

HW: What old stories do you remember about the Hotel?

W: I remember the people used to come here Sugar Ray Robinson, Malcolm X (he was on the 2nd floor), Lena Horne, they all came here. When Castro was here, he lived on the 9th floor, and brought his own chicken, for his chef to cook. Ron Brown stopped here after coming from the UN, he asked me if he could see is father’s old apartment on the 12th floor (note: if you count the first the Hotel floors actually has 13 floors, the management was superstitious and never wanted 13 floors, so the first floor where the shops are located are called “the lobby,” the elevator only goes up to the 12th floor). (Mr. Brown) showed me where his fathers bedroom, living room was and the window they used at night to see the performers go in and out of the Apollo. The following week Mr. Brown died in the plane crash.

HW: So, I heard that the dinning/ballroom is on the 12th floor?

W: No, no, the dinning/ballroom is on the 11th, but the 12th floor has the 18th foot ceiling.

HW: How has the tenants in the building changed?

W: Very little has changed. Some of the same tare still here; Harlem Dowling and Ruth Williams Dance Studio just left last year.

HW: Are there any original spaces that are “untouched” by renovation in the building?

W: No. none.

HW: The building is a historical landmark, do you think it will ever return to its original grandeur to take advantage of tourism?

W: The only thing that historical is the exterior. Tourist come to see Malcolm’s office and there is nothing to show them.

HW: I understand from 1913-1940 was whites only?

W: Yes, only after Sugar Ray Robinson bought a stake in the Hotel did they start letting black people sleep at the Hotel.

HW: What are your best memories of working at the Hotel?

W: I would say when Bill Clinton came here trying to get an office in Harlem. We had the space but we could not meet his requirements. He wanted a parking garage where he could get out of his car and take the elevator right to the office.

HW: Any last words.

W: I enjoyed working with the company. Started with Norman the magazine changed name to PJMX, which changed its name to BLDG Management. I enjoyed working withe them from the beginning with David Goldman he was friend and a boss. He died on June 20th, 2010 and I retired June 21st, 2010.

Check out books Meet Me at the Theresa : The Story of Harlem’s Most Famous Hotel, Sondra Kathryn Wilson, 2004.

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