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Harlem’s Tree of Hope

Hi, folks, this is Gordon Polatnick, of Big Apple Jazz Tours.  There are a few things that I’m inexplicably geeky about that I want to explore in this blog.  Most are jazz related, and most of the jazz relates to jazz history as it relates to people and places rather than notes, chords, harmonies, and time signatures.  If there is a story to share, I’m all ears.  If there’s a new club to explore I’m all there.   So keep in touch.

One of the things I’m inexplicably geeky about is the Tree of Hope in Harlem.  I’ve done a lot of reading and research about it and it’s responsible for changing my life.  Today’s public blogging starts the conversation about…

The Tree of Hope

I just got a chance to view this video I made about 10 years ago while experimenting with some editing software.  There are some great shots of an influential Harlem street that was just known as The Stroll – a place to see and be seen back in the jazz-lovin’ Prohibition Era.  In Mezz Mezzrow’s great jazz memoir from 1946, Really The Blues, he describes his years on The Stroll, hanging out under the wishing tree known as the Tree of Hope.  These passages made such a big impact on me that I jumped at a chance to open a jazz club on this block decades later to contribute to the ongoing revival of this forgotten stretch of Harlem history.

The Stroll was home to the Lafayette Theater, where the legendary Apollo Amateur Night was started by Ralph Cooper Sr.  It was home to Connie’s Inn, the Hoofer’s Club, the Rhythm Club, the Ubangi Club, and adjacent to 131st Street, which was simply known as The Corner by jazz cats in the know.  In fact, before the condominium that currently occupies the block was erected a few years ago, a wonderful mural depicting the Lafayette Theater and the Tree of Hope dominated the northeast side of the stroll for many years.  That mural, along with the original architecture housing the Lafayette Theater and Connie’s Inn was luckily captured on this video.

The club I started in 2006 called EZ’s Woodshed featured a jazz retail shop simply known as Big Apple Jazz.  We presented two to three bands daily – starting the party at 2PM in an effort to keep the spirit of jazz alive for Harlem residents and visitors alike in the daylight hours.  The video here captures the shop and some of the cool posters and works of art we sold including beautiful stain glass windows of Lester Young and Sun Ra by a California artist.  Significantly, there is also a children’s book called Tree of Hope that we sold hoping to keep that piece of The Stroll’s history alive as well.

The actual Tree of Hope — a vestige of which remains on the stage of the Apollo Theater waiting to be rubbed once again tomorrow night as it has for the past 80+ years by hopeful contestants on Amateur Night —  was cut down in 1934, but was also preserved on The Stroll as a hefty stump.  The stump disintegrated eventually and was removed, but in 1972 the Parks Department approved sculptor, Algernon Miller’s plan to mark the spot with a psychedelic half tree replica known as Tree of Hope III.  There was a short-lived Tree of Hope IV captured in the video as a sapling that was dedicated in 2007 in a wonderful planting ceremony, but it didn’t survive the construction of the condominium.

So enjoy these images on this wonderfully amateurish video and when you’re uptown looking for something to do, please consider taking a Big Apple Jazz Tour, so we can show you where it’s at!

 

Tree of Hope #4
Tree of Hope #4

 

Peace,

Gordon Polatnick

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