Vertner Woodson Tandy 1887-1949
Perhaps the most famous Black architect hailing from Kentucky never practiced here, yet his family’s legacy bears a lasting mark on Lexington. Vertner Woodson Tandy was born in Lexington to Henry and Emma Tandy in 1887.
Henry Tandy, formerly enslaved in Estill County, was a skillful mason who quickly became a masterful contractor of some of the most iconic buildings in the city, including the Lexington Opera House and the Old Fayette County Courthouse. Henry Tandy was widely recognized as the richest African American in Kentucky at the time.
No doubt Henry’s work influenced Vertner’s aspirations, leading him to study architecture first at the famed Tuskegee Institute, and later at Cornell. After graduation, Tandy became the first registered Black architect in the state of New York. His most famous commission was undoubtedly Villa Lewaro, the $250,000 mansion constructed for the millionaire businesswoman Madam C.J. Walker’s daughter. Tandy’s work also includes the St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Harlem where the congregation included at times leaders such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Thurgood Marshall.
Tandy is further revered for co-founding the first African-American fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, and for his military service. Tandy holds the distinction of being the first African American to pass the military commissioning exam, becoming a First Lieutenant in New York’s National Guard. Tandy died of pneumonia in Manhattan at age 64 in 1949.