Vertner Woodson Tandy was born in Lexington, Kentucky, where he was educated at the Candler School. He gained an understanding of construction by watching his father build and develop homes in Lexington. These early experiences with his father led Tandy to an interest in architecture.
In 1904, Tandy attended Tuskegee Institute to study architecture and during his short stay was under the guidance of Booker T. Washington. Tandy became the architecture program’s “prize” student and a year later, in September of 1905, he transferred to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Henry Arthur Callis recalled that Tandy showed up on the hallowed grounds of Cornell in a rather “tight cadet’s uniform with a saxophone under his arm.” Tandy, Callis and a small group of college men formed Alpha Phi Alpha Society in the spring of 1906, which would soon become the first African American Greek letter fraternity, on December 4th of the same year. During his time in the fraternity, he was treasurer, designer of the pin, and eventually was responsible for its incorporation.
Upon graduation, Vertner W. Tandy became the first African American registered architect in the State of New York. His office was on Broadway in New York City. Among the buildings designed by the highly gifted architect are St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in New York City and Villa Lewaro, the mansion of Harlem businesswoman Madam C.J. Walker, in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.
Vertner W. Tandy later became the first African American to pass the military commissioning examination in World War I. He was subsequently commissioned First Lieutenant in the 15th Infantry of the New York State National Guard. Tandy died on November 7, 1949.