HARLEM — When she moved to Mount Morris Park in 1980, the neighborhood mirrored the run down condition of Patricia Pates Eaton's now stately brownstone across the street from Marcus Garvey Park.
"This was the kitchen and there was a sink here. There was a fire in the building and it was being used as an SRO," she said while sitting in her living room which now holds a piano and silk rugs. "Outside was full of drug addicts, but I wanted a house."
Eaton said she saw the potential of the neighborhood even though many of the brownstones that now sell for $3 million or higher were boarded up.
By 1989, the neighborhood had begun making progress and the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, which Eaton helped found, launched a house tour.
"We wanted to show what a beautiful neighborhood this was," said Eaton whose house was on that first tour 25 years ago. "People were shocked to see the beauty of the homes."
As the popular tour celebrates its 25th anniversary this Sunday, Eaton's brownstone would sell for more than she ever imagined if she could ever fathom leaving, and celebrities such as the late Maya Angelou and celebrity chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson call the neighborhood home.
"When people look at how the neighborhood has changed, the house tour played a big role in that," said architectural historian John Reddick, who will lead an intimate tour of the 121st street brownstone owned by filmmaker Albert Maysles and his family.
"It was one of the few Harlem house tours that let you see behind the scenes and inside the house," Reddick added. "It made people change their minds about the neighborhood."
Over the years, it wasn't uncommon for tour visitors to seek out homes in the neighborhood. The momentum helped the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association push for the improvement of Marcus Garvey Park and secure millions to repair the historic watchtower at the park's acropolis. They helped fight off a city plan to turn a row of brownstones into a minimum security jail for women.
"When some people came on the tour they had only the most negative perceptions of Harlem," said historian Michael Henry Adams who has been involved with the tour since its second year. "They left with the understanding that Harlem is a wonderful place with a great history."
The tour, which takes place Sunday, has three parts. First is a self-guided tour of 10 homes, including brownstones and lofts, sculpture gardens and a home under construction.
Second, Reddick and Adams will lead visitors on the "Inside & Intimate" tour of a total of four homes. Additional tickets are required.
Finally, at 2 p.m., architect Angel Ayón will lead a tour of the 158-year-old cast iron Marcus Garvey Park Fire Watchtower, the only one of its kind left in the city.
Sam McClendon, president of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, said a special emphasis is being placed this year on making sure that area residents participate in the tour with discount tickets available for Harlem residents.
"After 25 years, I want to make sure everyone in the community knows this is for them," she said.
As for Eaton, she expects the brownstone to be her final home. And even when she's gone she wants it to stay in her family.
"I talk to my daughter every day about how she has to hold on to this," Eaton said. "We turned this neighborhood around and we worked hard to do so."
Visit http://mmpcia.org/site/ for more information on Sunday's tour.