Morning sunlight filled Karen D. Taylor’s apartment, casting a warm glow on the books and artwork lining the dining room. Here, perched high along the bluffs in Harlem’s Sugar Hill, she invoked the names of prominent African-Americans who made her imposing building, 555 Edgecombe Avenue, the address of choice decades ago: Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Count Basie and W.E.B. Du Bois, for starters.
Today, the plaster reliefs in the lobby are chipped, the uniformed staff long gone. To a casual observer it looks like a building that will sooner or later be consumed by the kind of gentrification that has already remade central Harlem. Ms. Taylor is keenly aware of that, which is why she has enlisted a band of like-minded people to document and preserve the area’s history to ensure that whoever moves here knows the greatness that has dwelled within her building, as well as at 409 Edgecombe, a few blocks south, where Thurgood Marshall and Roy Wilkins, among other luminaries, once lived.
“The way I look at it, so-called gentrification is a foregone conclusion, and there is nothing we can do about it at this juncture, because the market forces are too strong,” said Ms. Taylor, an editor and writer from Cambria Heights in Queens. “We are trying to uphold the legacy of the enormous intellectual, political and social activism that went on in both buildings. I have lived in Harlem for almost 30 years because the history here is so rich.”