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New Posh Hotel Coming to Harlem Doesn't Worry Local Innkeepers

By DNAinfo Staff on October 20, 2010 11:31am

By Yepoka Yeebo

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Aloft Harlem, opening at the corner of West 124th Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard on Nov. 4, will be the first major hotel in the landmark neighborhood since the Hotel Theresa closed in 1967.

The $15-million, 124-room addition to the posh Starwood hotel chain also will feature its own bar. But local hoteliers and innkeepers are not worried about the new trendy hotel having a negative effect on their businesses.

"They're charging $315 a night and up, I only charge $225, so I think it's for business travelers and a richer clientele," said Marilyn Moulton, who runs Allie's Inn on West 136th Street, 12 blocks north of Aloft. "My clientele is middle class, and I also get people looking for a bargain."

Fidel Castro outside the Hotel Theresa in Harlem in 1960. Known as
Fidel Castro outside the Hotel Theresa in Harlem in 1960. Known as "the Waldorf of Harlem," the now landmarked former hotel hosted Castro after he got into a spat with the Shelburne Hotel in Murray Hill.
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AP File

Moulton, who has lived in Harlem since the 1970s, understands why a big hotel chain would choose to open in Harlem. For more than a decade, the neighborhood has been on the mend. It's why she decided to open an inn there herself.

"I would see all the tourists on Seventh Avenue, people going to Sylvia's Restaurant, people walking with maps, foreigners to the neighborhood," said Moulton, who opened Allie's in 2009. "All of a sudden there were people walking on this block and I thought 'this is it.'"

"But [Hamilton Heights] was always a nice neighborhood," she added, looking out onto her quiet street. "People think we're all poor and living in the projects up here."

Harlem native Lizette Lanoue, who bought a brownstone on West 118th Street and Lenox Avenue in 2001 and turned it into the 102Brownstone boutique hotel a year later, welcomes the newcomer to the neighborhood.

"There aren't many places to rest one's head in this neck of the woods," she said. "Any addition to the ever-changing and vibrant landscape can only lead to a more flourishing Harlem."

The last large-scale hotel in the neighborhood, the Hotel Theresa on West 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, closed in 1967 after more than five decades in operation.

Known as "the Waldorf-Astoria of Harlem," the now-landmarked building hosted Fidel Castro in 1960 when he used the hotel to meet with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Malcolm X was once based at the hotel and Rep. Charles Rangel famously worked as a desk clerk at the Theresa in the 1960s.

In its heyday, the Theresa hosted many of the African-American celebrities who visited New York City, who were unwelcome at other hotels — Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and Muhammad Ali among them.

The closing of the Theresa lead to the boom of independently-run lodgings in Harlem — including more than a few illegal ones. But many have been hit by a state law passed in July that bans renting rooms in residential-zoned buildings for less than 30 days.

A Hamilton Heights resident who rents rooms on the top two floors of her house to tourists, who asked not to be identified, said she felt the hotel industry lobbied its way to the state ruling, to get ready to move into areas it had ignored for decades.

Another Harlem resident who runs a now-illegal bed-and-breakfast from his home, told DNAinfo that the fact that he was always fully booked meant there was clear demand for places to stay in Harlem.

The innkeeper, who asked to remain anonymous, said most of the bed-and-breakfasts in the neighborhood were run by people with ties to the community and a respect for its history — an attitude which appeals to his guests.

"People don’t come here to feel like they’re staying at a Holiday Inn in Midtown," he said.

For a more complete list of lodgings in Harlem, click here.