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.
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.