Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Alan L. Dingle House - 245 West 138th Street


photograph by Mark Satlof

In the summer of 1890, developer David H. King Jr. embarked on what the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide said was "One of the most important building operations ever undertaken in this city."  Called the King's Model Houses, his ambitious project of homes "of a first-class character" would engulf the  entire block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues (today's Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, respectively) and 138th and 139th Streets, as well as the south side of  138th Street between the same avenues.

Architects Bruce Price and Clarence S. Luce worked together on the design.  Faced in beige brick and richly trimmed in white terra cotta, the 17-foot-wide homes were three stories tall above English basements.  Their neo-Georgian design featured a single-doored arched entrance that sprouted a dramatic, elongated keystone.  The splayed lintel of the parlor window was composed of alternating, foliate terra cotta sections, matched by smaller versions above all but one of the second story openings.  The exception, at the second floor, was crowned by a lintel in the form of a fasces, and an arched panel with a wreath and garlands.  Above it all was a brick parapet with balustraded openings.  The New York World pointed out that the residences would surround "a great court in the centre of the block."

The houses engulfed a courtyard.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, April 9, 1892.  image courtesy of the Office of Metropolitan History.

In May 1894 David King sold 245 West 138th Street to Henry W. Harwood.  He and his family remained here for 16 years, selling the house in May 1910 to George H. Walker.  It would not be the last time Harwood held title to the property, however.

Henry Harwood supplied the mortgage to Walker.  In June 1917 he was forced to foreclose, and a month later sold 234 West 138th Street to Chauncey O. Middlebrooke.  That transaction did not work out well, either.  The following year Middlebrooke sold the residence back to Henry W. Harwood.

Eight years after he had first sold his former home, Harwood saw the last of it.  It was purchased on August 3, 1918 by Isabel Mackin, starting a game of real estate hot potato.  Macklin resold it three days later to C. Le Roy Butler, who quickly turned it over it to Ernest and Frederica Remaely.  They left in 1920 after purchasing a home nearby on Edgecombe Avenue and 138th Street.

photograph by Mark Satlof

Finally, 245 West 138th Street had a long-term owner in Cecilia G. Dingle and her family.  Almost certainly, her sons, attorneys John Gordon and Alan L. Dingle, purchased the property for her.  The family had come to New York City from their native Savannah, Georgia.

The West 138th Street house was well-populated.  Living with Cecilia were both sons, along with J. Gordon's wife and baby boy, and Cecilia's daughter, Clinton.  Clinton taught in the public schools.  All three of the Dingle siblings were well educated.  J. Gordon and Alan had graduated from Howard University, and Clinton from Atlanta University--a highly unusual achievement for a Black woman at the time.

The brothers' legal office A. L. & J. G. Dingle was nearby at 200 West 135th Street.  The firm quickly became involved in Harlem issues.  On February 2, 1926, for instance, a 14-year-old Black girl was trapped and assaulted in a barn in the Bronx by ten white men.  The men were arrested and each pleaded not guilty.

The Report of the Secretary of the N.A.A.C.P. that month noted that the victim "is in a very critical condition at Metropolitan Hospital on Welfare Island" and "the girl is destitute."  It said:

The National Office has retained Alan L. Dingle, a capable young attorney, who has been instructed to follow the case through for the N.A.A.C.P. both the legal side and the welfare end, and to take such steps as are advisable.  He has also been instructed to visit the girl, to talk with the hospital authorities, and to secure the girl's statement to be used in the event of her death.

In the meantime, the Dingle women made the house a social center.  On March 1, 1930, The New York Age reported, "On Washington's Birthday, February 22, Miss Clinton Dingle of 245 West 138th street, entertained at a luncheon and bridge.  Luncheon served at 3 o'clock after which bridge was in order."

John Gordon Dingle, Howard Academy Year Book 1918, (copyright expired)

J. Gordon Dingle suffered from asthma and was under the care of the family physician, Thomas H. Amos.  He seemed perfectly healthy at the office on January 21, but the following morning he died at the age of 39.  The New York Age said the asthma "finally weakened his heart."

Alan L. Dingle continued the legal practice he had begun with his brother.  Among his private clients were poet Langston Hughes and the estate of Madam C. J. Walker.  His prominence would result in Geraldine R. Segal's saying of him
in her 1983 book Blacks in the Law, "He has sometimes been referred to as the dean of the black bar of Manhattan."

Dingle's involvement in the Harlem community went beyond his legal practice.  He was President of the Harlem Lawyers' Association, Chairman of the Harlem Y.M.C.A., and upon America's entry into World War II became chairman of the 125th Street Rationing Board.

It appears that J. Gordon's widow died before 1940.  Living at 245 West 138th Street that year were Cecilia, Alan, Clinton, and J. Gordon's 15-year-old son, Gordon.

Alan L. Dingle The New York Age, December 23, 1944

Alan L. Dingle was 37 years old that year, and so the expectations that he would marry were few.  But then, on December 23, 1944, The New York Age reported, "Thursday evening, Atty. Alan Dingle, one of Harlem's prominent lawyers, became a benedict."  (The term, rarely used today, refers to a long-term bachelor who finally marries.)  He had married Ethel A. Gardner, a claims adjuster in the Brooklyn Post Office.  The article noted that the newlyweds would live at 211 West 149th Street.

It is unclear how long Cecilia and Clinton remained at 245 West 138th Street.  Unlike many of the homes along the block during the 20th century, it was never converted to apartments and remains a single family residence.

many thanks to reader Mark Satklof for requesting this post
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