Visions from a Dark Tower

… this was a place where scholars, painters and musicians; artists of varied races, sexual orientation and social status came together…

Story and Photos by Lance Cain - Lance@cainfilms.com

My Grandparents Lillie and Alvin Cain with my father Sam (upper left) my Uncle Billy (lower left) and Aunt Ile (lower right).

As a New York filmmaker and photographer, I am constantly examining structures and imagining the people who years ago walked these same Harlem streets before me; family members who long ago settled on a new uptown cultural frontier, and lived in those brownstones, railway walk-thru’s, pre-war homes, and the mansions scattered throughout Sugar Hill, pre the abandoned burnt out forms of the 1970’s. There is a new Harlem Renaissance happening today; a redux. A young and vibrant new generation are filling up the lounges and cafes popping up along Frederick Douglas Boulevard; turning hundred year old dwellings into new condos, coffee shops, galleries, the Red Rooster’s. I’m not talking about the gentrification the New York Times real estate section loves to write about without calling it what it is. I’m talking about a young group from a decade ago, who helped redefine this area, years before it became popular again. It was them (not politicians now clamoring for credit) imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit that turned high crime rates into an ugly figment of the past. As an artist, now raising my four year old daughter in the same brownstone my great-grandparents purchased over 92 years ago, I am now in a state I hope I will remain in – a New Yorker representing these historical streets, representing my parents Ida and Sam, representing elders who shared this mecca with the likes of Baldwin, Ellison, Langston, Adam Clayton Powell and W.E.B. Dubois.

The Walker Mansion on 129 West 136th Street, Harlem, NY AKA The Dark Tower.

I’m here representing my father, who learned to speak French in a New York public school only a few blocks from where I now live, from his teacher, the renowned poet Countee Collen. I reflect while having chilled Gray Goose Martinis in the same booth where Malcolm Little once sat in the Lenox Lounge. This is dedicated to the art of life, love and history; Harlem, Manhattan, Paris and the world of paintings, photos, music and cinema of the moment and in the memories of this place. It is inspired by Leila Walker (the daughter of the first American self-made female millionaire Madame CJ Walker) who turned her grand townhouse on 129 West 136th street into one of the most important salons of the Twentieth Century. Coined The Dark Tower, this was a place where scholars, painters and musicians; artists of varied races, sexual orientation and social status came together, congregated, shared, debated, organized, and most importantly, celebrated life, much like the Harlem I live in today.

And last but not least, this is dedicated to the ones who made this personal connection come to life for me; to Mary and John Toodles and Alvin and Lillie Cain; my Harlem Pioneers.

One Response to “Visions from a Dark Tower”

  1. Vincent says:

    Are you sure the above address is correct? I don’t believe it is. The walker mansion is not at 129 west 136th Street. Please double check.