April 23, 2024

Black Entrepreneur History

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Vertner Woodson Tandy – 1st Licensed Black Architect of New York & Fraternity Founder

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named Vertner Woodson Tandy who became New York’s first state-recognized licensed architect, going on to found his own architectural firm while becoming one of the founders of Alpha Phi Alpha of Cornell University.

Vertner Woodson Tandy was born in May 17, 1885 in Lexington, Kentucky to Henry Tandy who was a brick contractor and Emma E. Brice [Tandy][1].

Not much is known about his childhood, however, by the time he was 25 years old, he had become a licensed architect in the state of New York[2], the first African American licensed in the state. He’d attended and graduated from Cornell University in New York[3] with his degree in Architecture in 1907. From there, he co-founded his own architectural firm with George W. Foster, Jr. who was New Jersey’s 1st state recognized licensed Black architect. They called it Tandy & Foster and was located on 1931 Broadway, Borough of Manhattan, New York City.

Black Fact: There were many Black architects prior to all those who were state recognized and licensed. Racism prevented Black designers and builders from being recognized for centuries, but there were many.

The Chandler Normal School Teachers Building

One of their projects was to design the teachers building at the Chandler Normal School located in Kentucky (1911). Black people raised a total of $1000 in two months for the building in order to get the rest of the funding, while gaining $500 more dollars from the specific white people who were true friends of African Americans who wanted to help Black people succeed. The amount of money they raised ($2000) equaled to $25,000 in 2021[4]. Tandy & Foster laid out all the designs and plans for the teachers building where educators would lodge and later also be a boarding school.

St. Mark’s Methodist Episcopal Church Parish House

Another project taken on by the Tandy & Foster firm was completed in 1914 was the parish house of St. Mark’s Methodist Episcopal church, located on West 53rd street in New York. The contractor hired to build the Tandy & Foster design was an African American man named R. E. Simons of Charleston, South Carolina who was the only Black man of this time doing such large scale contracting out of that city. What was monumental about this parish house is that it was the only structure designed and built by a complete Black workforce in the city of New York. (R.E. Simons only hired Black employees.) The St. Mark’s parish house was valued at $75,000, equivalent to approximately 2 million dollars in 2021[5].

The Lincoln Institute & Temple of Beauty

Tandy & Foster were also hired for The Lincoln Institute (1910), an institute for Black people in Kentucky. It was a huge farm where Tandy & Foster would design and plan for brand new buildings to be erected in expansion of the institute[6]. They also designed what was called the Temple of Beauty, a piece of Egyptian architecture, with four monoliths placed on each corner with a bronze replica of the Sphinx[7].

His designed structures also include:

  • St. David’s Episcopal Church in New York
  • Villa Lewaro
  • home of Madam C.J. Walker – Irvington on the Hudson
  • Ivey-Delph Apartments
  • St. Philips Episcopal Church in Harlem

It was on April 15, 1915 that Tandy took over all assets of the firm and assumed all liabilities[8].

Co-founder of the first African American College Fraternity

Not only did Tandy establish himself as a dominating architect, but he was also co-founder of the first African American college fraternity – Alpha Phi Alpha at Cornell University.


Vertner Tandy married Sadie Dorsette Tandy, and they had a son Vertner, Jr.


Vertner Woodson Tandy passed away on November 8, 1949 in New York at the age of 64.


  • [1]Year: 1900; Census Place: Lexington Ward 1, Fayette, Kentucky; Page: 8; Enumeration District: 0013; FHL microfilm: 1240519
  • [2]Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1022; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 0538; FHL microfilm: 1375035
  • [3]College Student Lists. Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society.
  • [4]Lexington Leader (Lexington, Kentucky) 12 Mar 1911, Sun Page 25
  • [5]The Denver Star (Denver, Colorado) 21 Nov 1914, Sat Page 3
  • [6] Lexington Leader (Lexington, Kentucky) 31 Jul 1910, Sun Page 31
  • [7]The New York Age (New York, New York) 30 Oct 1913, Thu Page 2
  • [8]The New York Age (New York, New York) 22 Apr 1915, Thu Page 8