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Built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. between 1926-1928, this historic complex was designed by architect Andrew J. Thomas, and named in honor of the famous African-American novelist and poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar. The buildings center around an interior garden courtyard, with each building "U"-shaped so that every apartment receives easy air flow and direct sunlight at some point during the day. Notable residences include the explorer Matthew Henson (who, along with Robert Perry, discovered the North Pole), and author and civil rights activist, W.E.B Du Bois. On the 26th of May 1970, the Dunbar was designated a New York City landmark and in 1979 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Paul Laurence Dunbar (June 27, 1872 – February 9, 1906) was an American poet, novelist, and playwright, and was the first African-American writer to be widely acclaimed in the United States and internationally. Born in Dayton, Ohio to freed slaves from Kentucky, Dunbar’s writing was heavily influenced by their stories about plantation life, and by the African American experience in general. He became especially known for his use of dialect to more potently capture and evoke the African American plight. “Through all of his writing runs the desire to explain the ambitions, hopes, and dreams of African Americans. He strived to show to the world the reality of blacks as caring, thoughtful, creative individuals, as people, not stereotypes. He was an African American struggling with the racism and oppression of his time, and yet he is a spokesperson for all who have dreams unfulfilled.” During his very short life (suffering from tuberculosis, which then had no cure, Dunbar died in Dayton at the age of 33) Dunbar’s writings inspired hope in many and helped set the stage for the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's and 30's. Dunbar wrote: “I did once want to be a lawyer, but that ambition has long since died out before the all-absorbing desire to be a worthy singer of the songs of God and nature. To be able to interpret my own people through song and story, and to prove to the many that after all we are more human than African.”

What dreams we have and how they fly;

Like rosy clouds across the sky;

Then flies forever, -dreams, ah -dreams!

-Paul Laurence Dunbar
The Dunbar is a New York City Landmark since 1970