Historic, but not famous

William Rhinelander Stewart, philanthropist and financier
View North with First Washington Arch and horse drawn carriages, 1890.

William Rhinelander Stewart (1852-1929) was born in NYC. He was president of the Rhinelander Real Estate Co. and an officer of the Greenwich Savings Bank and the Corn Exchange Bank. As a philanthropist, he was active in the work of the Conference on Charities and Corrections and served as president of the State Board of Charities for twenty-five years.

Mr. Stewart is often considered responsible for Grant’s tomb funding, Washington Arch in Washington Square Park and was the President of the State Board of Charities in NY. The family was one of the oldest in NYC. He was also rumored to be a member of a secret society before WW II called The Room. The covert group, founded in 1917, included the real estate heir Vincent Astor, a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt; the book publisher Nelson Doubleday; Winthrop W. Aldrich, the president of the Chase National Bank; Kermit Roosevelt, a son of Theodore Roosevelt; David K. E. Bruce, a son-in-law of Andrew W. Mellon and a future ambassador to France, West Germany and Britain; the philanthropist William Rhinelander Stewart; and Marshall Field III, a newspaper publisher and heir to the Chicago department store fortune. The group gathered info from various governments for President Roosevelt as well as gather to hear famous speakers.

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Historic, but not famous

William Roche, Renaissance Ballroom
Renaissance Ballroom – 1920s and 2000s

William Roche was an African American Real Estate Agent that helped build the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem. Constructed in 1921, the combination ballroom, casino and movie theatre was touted as the first non-segregated institution of its kind.

Mr. Roche (Roach) was an immigrant from Montserrat who became a major player in uptown real estate and a member of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. He owned a house cleaning business, but bought the northeast corner of 137th Street and Seventh Avenue, now known as Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. With Joseph H. Sweeney and Cleophus Charity, they built the Renaissance Theater there in 1921. They expanded on the block to include the Casino and Ballroom in 1923.  This, unlike most of Harlem, was an African-American built and owned business. The 900-seat theater first showed silent movies, often with stage acts, and was soon converted to talkies. The casino was used for public meetings, like a 1923 anti-lynching meeting held by the N.A.A.C.P., and it was the home court of the Harlem Renaissance Big-Five, the black professional basketball team known as the Harlem Rens.

Interior of the Ballroom

The ballroom closed in 1970. There was a campaign to have the building landmarked, but that failed and there are plans to tear it down and put up a condo complex.

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