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Madam CJ Walker’s Mansion

Shea Moisture CEO could Turn Madam C.J. Walker’s Mansion into a Training Center for Black Women Entrepreneurs

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The ac­tual sale of Irv­ing­ton’s Villa Lewaro, home more than a cen­tury ago to Madam C. J. Walker, the Black en­tre­pre­neur who made a for­tune sell­ing skin and hair care prod­ucts to African-Amer­i­can women, took place last sum­mer, but the iden­tity of the new owner—and his plans for use of the 34-room man­sion—are emerg­ing only just this month.

Riche­lieu Den­nis, 48, founder and CEO of Sun­dial Brands, man­u­fac­turer and mar­keter of cos­met­ics for women of color, is the new owner of the es­tate on North Broad­way, hav­ing pur­chased it from Harold and He­lena Do­ley, who lived there for the past 25 years.

Riche­lieu Den­nis

Mr. Den­nis is sched­uled to ap­pear at the reg­u­lar meet­ing of Irv­ing­ton’s board of trustees on Mon­day, De­cem­ber 17, when he is ex­pected to out­line his plans to use the es­tate as a train­ing cen­ter/​re­treat, de­signed to sup­port black women en­tre­pre­neurs in their ef­forts to turn their ideas into flour­ish­ing en­ter­prises. The 7:00 p.m. meet­ing is open to the pub­lic.

Madam CJ Walker’s Mansion

His tim­ing could­n’t be bet­ter. Irv­ing­ton has only just passed a new zon­ing law that per­mits adap­tive reuse of reg­is­tered his­tor­i­cal build­ings for non-res­i­den­tial pur­poses, in­clud­ing schools, tours and cer­tain kinds of events. The pur­pose of the new law, which grew out of the re­cent Com­pre­hen­sive Plan up­date even be­fore the sale of the es­tate, is to give the own­ers of such prop­er­ties some re­lief from the high up­keep and tax ex­penses that bur­den own­er­ship. At pre­sent, only three such prop­er­ties meet the cri­te­ria for the new law: Villa Nu­its in Ard­s­ley Park, the Oc­ta­gon House and Villa Lewaro.

The pre­vi­ous own­ers, Am­bas­sador Harold Do­ley and his wife He­lena had worked with the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion to cre­ate an ease­ment on Villa Lewaro that would al­low it to op­er­ate as a mu­seum as well as their res­i­dence.

Do­ley, who had served as Ronald Rea­gan’s am­bas­sador to the Ivory Coast, en­vi­sioned some­thing like the Barnes Foun­da­tion, on whose board he sat, which once housed one of the world’s great col­lec­tions of Im­pres­sion­ist art in an el­e­gant home in a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood of Philadel­phia that is not un­like Irv­ing­ton.

While us­ing Villa Lewaro as a mu­seum is one of Mr. Den­nis’s op­tions, the en­tre­pre­neur­ial cen­ter con­cept bet­ter meshes with his on­go­ing com­mit­ment to pro­mote African-Amer­i­can wom­en’s busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties and a log­i­cal ex­ten­sion of his busi­ness. Sun­dial, now a sub­sidiary of Unilever, al­ready in­cludes a Madam C.J. Walker line of hair care prod­ucts.

More to the point, last year, he launched the New Voices Fund, seed­ing it with $100 mil­lion to sup­port black women en­tre­pre­neurs through train­ing, men­tor­ship and net­work­ing. Other sup­port­ers in­clude Chase Bank, Gold­man Sachs, Bank of Amer­i­can, Har­vard and Amos Tuck grad­u­ate busi­ness schools and Bab­son Col­lege, from which Den­nis grad­u­ated. Villa Lewaro would seem a nat­ural venue for New Voices de­vel­op­ment pro­grams.

Some of the es­tate’s im­me­di­ate neigh­bors have ex­pressed con­cern about the po­ten­tial for noise and traf­fic un­der the new zon­ing guide­lines. Vil­lage of­fi­cials have as­sured them that the lan­guage of the new law gives the trustees full au­thor­ity to limit the num­bers of ve­hi­cles com­ing in and out of the prop­erty, the types of events held there and any changes in the prop­erty it­self. What­ever Mr. Den­nis pro­poses must first meet with their ap­proval.


Source: The Hudson Independent


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  1. Will there be an interest in revolutionizing the nail industry? We have an amazing concept and an unbeatable exclusive product. We would live to connect @Liquiplex_Nails

  2. I think this is an amazing opportunity for entrepreneurs and especially women of color.
    Congratulations in advance.
    I would like to be a volunteer in support or the women trainees.
    I have a salon in Dallas and I would like to donate hair care services.

  3. Fantastic!

    Koodos to the Ambassador and his wife to sell the Madame C.J.Walker Estate to a Brother who is committed to reaching back to help others!

    It’s wonderful that the Mansion will not sit idlely collecting dust, but will be a place where women can develop Businesses!

  4. I am so elated to know that someone had a idea and a dream to improve the quality of our life. Blessings to you for believing in our people.

  5. I Am Vanessa Harper!!!!! I’m a huge fan of Madame Walker will love to collaborate with whole movement count me in!!!!!!

  6. Hello I LOVE when giving back lift up people especially women! I am a woman that is ready to leap into faith of myself to be my best self. I am a organizer designer who really loves what she does.

  7. What an beautiful interview the pervious owner Mrs. Doley did! She was so eloquent filled with knowledge and passion as she spoke.

    Congrats! on the purchase and your continued work to honor Madam C. J. Walker. Thank you for moving forward as you educate a generation to come. God Bless!

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