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Edward H. Wilson & Harlem’s Hotel Olga

Pine Bluff native, Edward H. Wilson opened the Hotel Olga in Harlem in 1920. From the 1920s and 30s, Hotel Olga became the unofficial home of the Harlem Renaissance as Satchel Paige, Louis Armstrong, Joe Louis, and other prominent African American thinkers, doctors, and lawyers stayed at the hotel.

In 1919, Edward H. Wilson, a Pine Bluff, Arkansas native, purchased the Dolphin Hotel during an auction with the help of his sister-in-law, A’Lelia Walker, Madam C.J. Walker’s daughter and heiress to her fortune. In December 1920, he opened the doors of Hotel Olga, the first hotel for African Americans located on 145th Street and Lenox Avenue. Hotel Olga boasted seventy-five nicely furnished rooms with hot and cold water in each room. It was also equipped with mahogany furnishings, numerous reading rooms, and a “large library with a variety of the best books.” 

According to Harlem historian Eric K. Washington, most African Americans had trouble finding places to stay when they visited Harlem. Consequently, Hotel Olga became a haven for affluent Black Americans visiting New York City. The hotel was even mentioned as a safe and suitable destination in Negro Motorist Green Book by Victor Hugo Green, a guidebook for African American travelers that recommended safe routes and accommodations all over the United States. By solving the accommodation issue for African Americans visiting Harlem, Hotel Olga became the unofficial home of the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual and cultural revival of African American creative arts, politics, and scholarship centered in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City in the 1920s. 

During the Harlem Renaissance, Hotel Olga housed several influential and well-known African American guests. Alain LeRoy Locke, the first Rhodes Scholar, a teacher at Howard University, and the “Father or Dean of the Harlem Renaissance”, because of his philosophical contributions to the movement, stayed at the Olga when he visited New York.

In 1925, Rube Foster, founder of the National Negro League (NNL) and catalyst of the development of African American baseball, stayed at Hotel Olga. In 1935, when Joe Louis won the media spotlight after knocking out the 6'6", 265-pound former world heavyweight champion Primo Carnera in six rounds at Yankee Stadium, the owner of the NNL’s Pittsburgh Crawfords, Gus Greenlee, made the Olga the team’s headquarters. Though Louis was a famous boxer, Hotel Olga was the only luxury hotel willing to accommodate him and his team. 

Even though Louis was one of the most famous athletes of the time, the Olga was the only luxury hotel that opened their doors to him and his team. In 1935, Hall of Fame baseball player Satchel Paige was staying at the Olga when New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio publicly announced that Paige was “one of the greatest pitchers I ever batted against.” 

For almost a decade during the 1930s, Hotel Olga was Louis Armstrong’s home as it provided all the necessary amenities a touring musician needed. In 1942, Armstrong moved out of Hotel Olga after marrying Lucille Wilson, a Cotton Club dancer. 

In addition to celebrities, Hotel Olga housed numerous doctors, lawyers, and businessmen who traveled to New York City. Hotel Olga also opened to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and several other civil rights organizations. Unfortunately, Hotel Olga was demolished in 2019, erasing any physical evidence of its importance in the Black community and significance in the Harlem Renaissance.


Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard

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