80 East 116th Street was the home of Eugene Bullard, the first African-American military pilot. Bullard grew up in Columbus, Georgia but left home at the age of eight. Yes, eight. He saved up the money he earned as a jockey and working odd jobs so he could travel to France (his father was from Martinique and Eugene spoke French at home). At twelve Bullard stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland.
Bullard worked more odd jobs in Scotland and England and took up boxing. The boxing circuit eventually led to France. When World War I broke out Bullard joined the French Foreign Legion. He saw action on many fronts before being seriously injured at Verdun. Because of his injuries Bullard could no longer fight in the infantry. Instead he took up flying, first seeing action in September 1917 and registering two confirmed kills and possibly a third. When the United States entered the war Bullard tried to join the US Army Air Service but was refused.
After the war Bullard was a French hero, married a Countess, had two daughters, owned a gym, and co-owned popular upscale nightclubs. In 1939 he joined the French underground and was severely wounded while fighting the Germans in Orléans. He was smuggled to Spain and eventually evacuated to the United States. His daughters were able to leave France in 1941.
In New York Bullard worked many jobs, including as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong. His final job was as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center. In 1949 Bullard was beaten by the state police in the second of the anti-communist Peekskill Riots. Despite photographic evidence and film of the beating, nobody was charged in the beating. In 1952 Bullard was severely beaten in a Harlem restaurant, losing his right eye.
In 1954 Bullard was invited to relight the
Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at the Arc de
Triomphe and in 1959 he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest honor. It wasn't until 1994, when the Air Force posthumously commissioned him as a 2nd lieutenant that the American military recognized Bullard's achievements.
I'm not sure when he moved to 116th and Park Avenue, but that's where he was living when he died on October 14th, 1961. Bullard was buried with military honors in the Federation of French War Veterans Cemetery in Flushing.