A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from May 25, 2005
Tree of Hope
The "Tree of Hope" in Harlem stood before the old Lafayette Theatre at Seventh Avenue and 131st Street. Actors who stood beneath it would gain employment. The tree was cut down in 1934 to widen Seventh Avenue.

Part of the tree is available for "good luck" touching at the Apollo Theater.

Other famous New York City trees include the "Dinosaur," the "Hangman's Elm" and the "Hare Krishna Tree."

The legend and tradition of The Tree of Hope began outside the famous Harlem Lafayette Theatre once located between 131st and 132nd Streets on Seventh Avenue, known as the Boulevard of Dreams. The Lafayette was then Harlem's top show biz venue featuring African-American talent. The Lafayette soon became the scene for aspiring actors, dancers and performers to mix, gather and exchange information and gossip.

The Tree of Hope stood between the Lafayette Theatre and Connie's Inn and black performers believed the tree to be the purveyor of good luck to those who stood beneath its branches. The tree came to symbolize the promise that Harlem held for millions of aspiring African-Americans.

26 April 1930, Afro American (Baltimore, MD), pg. 9, col. 3:
Trees a Crowd
Al White, who probably knows Harlem as well as anyone, pens the following lines about one of two famous trees on Seventh Avenue: the first, the Tree of Knowledge, and the second, the Tree of Hope.

Under the first tree, gather the collegians, and under the second, the actors and would-be performers. It is of the latter tree, where gather at this season of the year, particularly, actors awaiting the call of producers needing their services.

But let Al tell of the Tree of Hope.

"Here one meets the great and the would-be great. It is the first objective of every stage-struck man who lands in New York: it is the first objective of every wayfarer returning to his home land.

"What the sidewalks in front of the palace Theatre on Broadway is to the white actor, so is the well-trodden space around the Tree of Hope, the stamping ground of the colored thespian.

"Well-dressed Beau Brummels of the professions swap stories with the down at the heels brothers who hang around, as it were, seeking the crumbs from 'Lazarus's table.

"Dreams of past glories are pondered over, rehashed, retold, resung, while the up and coming youngsters practice new steps, rehearse old gags, plan new shows, all under the kindly boughs of the Tree of Hope.

"Now that Spring is here there will be a profusion of actors under the shade of the tree, which in winter is a mighty barren, lonely object. Alone it stands, fighing the biting winds which sweep unemployed actors off the Avnue into the warmer recesses of some hideaway. But summer, ah, glorious summer, and Seventh Avenue! What a wonderful combination!

"There are those who hang around the Tree of Hope constantly, (Col. 4 - ed.) making it their office; contracts have been discussed, signed and whatnot under the shade of the kindly old tree, for old it is. There are those who claim that the tree brought them good luck and they swear by it. Here is where the white producers look around for types they need in their shows."

21 August 1934, New York Times, pg. 19:

Charmed Circle" Where Noted
Stage Folk Prayed for Jobs
Is Bereft of Fetish.


400 Watch in Gloom as Source
of Old Superstition Falls in
Widening of 7th Avenue.

An old Harlem superstition gave way to modern progress yesterday afternoon when the "Tree of Hope," at Seventh Avenue and 131st Street, a traditional "wishing well" for Negro stagefolk, was cut down by the Park Department. The removal of the tree was made necessary by the widening of Seventh Avenue.
Not even the oldest inhabitant of Harlem could agree as to the age of the tree. Some believed it was more than 100 years old, but others insisted it was "not more than fifty." All, however, were in accord as to the tradition that had become attached to it.

This tradition has it that many years ago - even this date is in doubt - an unemployed Negro actor stood under the tree, wished for a job, and immediately got it. Thankful, he spread the legend of the power of the tree to get employment for those who stood beneath it and lifted a prayer to its leafy branches.

5 November 1934, New York Times, pg. 21:
The announcement was made just before the new tree was officially "planted" by rhythmical shovelers at 131st Street and Seventh Avenue, near the spot where the old "wishing elm" stood for so many years (some say thirty-five, some say longer) before the Park Department undertook to widen the avenue.

"The tree is dead; long live the tree," said Bill Robinson in effect.

2 November 1952, New York Times, pg. 32:
The "Tree of Hope," a Harlem landmark long associated with the late Bill Robinson and the old Lafayette Theatre, was rededicated by Mayor Impellitteri in an outdoor ceremony at Seventh Avenue and 131st Street.

A favorite gathering spot for theatre folk, the "tree" has been preserved and watched over by the Negro Actors Guild. All that remains of the landmark is an ancient stump heavily coated with preservative.

14 July 1969, New York Times, pg. 28:
The Hoofers Club in Harlem closed years ago and the Tree of Hope, a large elm that stood before it, is only a stump on Seventh Avenue and 131st Street. A piece of the tree remains sheltered in the Apollo Theater where amateurs, as Derby Wilson puts it, still touch it for luck before their performances.

16 June 1996, New York Times, "The Tree of Hope," FYI column, pg. CY2:
The second tree was also cut down, and was replaced by an impressive sculpture by the artist Algernon Miller in 1972.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityNames/Phrases • Wednesday, May 25, 2005 • Permalink

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