Hotel Theresa: The Waldorf of Harlem

The Hotel Theresa opened in 1913 on 125th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem and closed its doors as a hotel in 1970.

  1. The Hotel Theresa was built by German-born stockbroker Gustavus Sidenberg and named for his recently-deceased wife.
  2. The hotel had an all-White clientele and staff for its first 28 years.
  3. In 1940, reflecting the changing population of Harlem, the hotel was acquired by an African American businessman who accepted all races and hired a Black staff and management.

On September 18, 1960, four months before the United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, Fidel Castro arrived in New York City for the 15th session of the United Nations General Assembly. He and his staff first checked into the Shelburne Hotel at Lexington Avenue and 37th Street. When the Shelburne demanded $10,000 for alleged damage that included cooking chickens in their rooms, the Castro entourage moved to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem. Castro’s group rented eighty rooms for a total of $800 per day. The Theresa was the beneficiary of worldwide publicity when Nikita Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union, General Abdul Nasser, president of Egypt, Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India, and Malcom X, all visited Castro there.

In the longest speech ever delivered at the United Nations, Castro transitioned seamlessly from his hotel experience to the discrimination faced by North American Blacks to the broader evils of “imperialist financial capital” and the “colonial yoke”.

At the end of 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy made a campaign stop at the Hotel Theresa with Jacqueline Kennedy, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Senator Herbert Lehman, Governor Averill Harriman, Mayor Robert Wagner and Eleanor Roosevelt. “I am delighted to come and visit,” said Kennedy. “Behind the fact of Castro coming to this hotel, Khrushchev coming to visit Castro, there is another great traveler in the world, and that is the travel of a world revolution, a world in turmoil. I am delighted to come to Harlem and I think the whole world should come here and the whole world should recognize that we all live right next to each other, whether here in Harlem or on the other side of globe.”