Villa Lewaro / Photo by David Bohl/Historic NewEngland/Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Madam C.J. Walker's Mansion to Become a Think Tank for Women of Color Entrepreneurs

The former estate of Madam C.J. Walker, who is known as the nation’s first self-made female millionaire and beauty pioneer, will serve as the site of a learning institute for women of color.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced last week that the New Voices Foundation purchased Walker’s home, called Villa Lewaro, for an undisclosed amount. The foundation functions as the nonprofit wing of the $100 million New Voices Fund, which focuses on women of color entrepreneurs.

The Dennis Family, including entrepreneur Richelieu Dennis, who also founded the New Voices Foundation, facilitated the recent acquisition, and will spearhead its revitalization.

“We are excited to announce that the vision for future use of the property is as a learning institute, or think tank, to foster entrepreneurship for present and future generations,” Dennis said, in a statement.

“This includes utilizing Villa Lewaro as both a physical and virtual destination where women of color entrepreneurs will come for curriculum-based learning and other resources aimed at helping them build, grow and expand their businesses. When people think of entrepreneurship services for women of color, we want them to think of the New Voices Foundation and Villa Lewaro.”

Walker’s 28,000 square foot property was designed and completed 100 years ago by Vertner Tandy, the first licensed Black architect in New York State and a founder of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. She was the first person of color to own property in Irvington. During the time it was built, Villa Lewaro was located on “Millionaire’s Row” and in an area that was also home to the Astors and Rockefellers.

Historic Villa LewaroPhoto credit: A’Lelia Bundles/Madam WalkerFamily Archives/Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Walker’s home was once a social and cultural gathering place for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, including Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and Langston Hughes.

The pioneer’s great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, a biographer, as well as brand historian, said, in a statement: “No one at the time believed that a Black woman could afford such a place. So, I can think of no better way to celebrate Villa Lewaro’s 100th anniversary than the vision of the New Voices Foundation and the Dennis family for this historic treasure as a place to inspire today’s entrepreneurs, tomorrow’s leaders and our entire community.”

In 2013, Dennis family first reignited her cultural and entrepreneurial and hair care legacy through the acquisition of the Madam C.J. Walker brand. The family will now continue her legacy of creating a space of empowerment for Blacks.

Villa Lewaro was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. For the past 25 years, it served as the family home of Ambassador Harold E. Doley, Jr. and his wife Helena.

For more information, visit the New Voices Foundation’s website.

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