You are invited to trace the steps of a few dozen young Americans (ages 16-38) who have walked their neighborhood. American history expresses itself in stone and paint, plants and asphalt as you will see. Enjoy these points of interest:
1. Hunt’s Point Riverside Park
2. Bright Temple A.M.E. Church
3. Engine 94, a beautiful fire house
4. Bryant Hill Community Garden & Old NY Townhouses
5. Garrison Park (once envisioned as a sculpture park for the Bronx River)
6. South Bronx Greenway
7. Ruby Bridges Mural by Sharon De La Cruz
This article is dedicated to two active citizens in the Hunt’s Point community: Cybeale Ross has been a Hunt’s Point home owner since 1957. She has marched with Mothers on the Move for improved schools, traffic-calming street enhancements, and more over the last several decades. Paul Lipson helped establish The Point community center in the early 1990s after earlier success with Bronx Frontier, a local and popular green business.
Begin at Hunt’s Point Riverside Park now enjoyed in its second and most recent phase. This waterfront park at the base of Lafayette Avenue was established in the 1990s through many hands after an executive at The Point (a younger Majora Carter) was forced to spend a moment at this former dead end street following her dog’s independent spirit. The original park had several magical weeping willows and a simple boat launch. The professionally designed green patch you see today opened around 2006. It has garnered national attention and won the Rudy Bruner Award for excellence in the urban environment. Next door is The Point’s Campus for Arts and the Environment as well as Rocking the Boat.
Walk up the hill along Lafayette Avenue to its intersection with Faile Street, named for a wealthy nineteenth century resident according to John McNamara’s History in Asphalt: the origin of Bronx Street and Place Names. You’ll notice as you go many younger trees planted in the public right-of-way along curbs, on side streets and even with relatively new traffic medians. Hunt’s Point has had several waves of urban forestry enhancement since the 1980s, especially since the late 1990s. This short walk takes you past the successful product of three distinct tree planting campaigns!
On your right is Bright Temple AME Church. This stone neo-Gothic former single-family mansion was built circa 1860 by a family that manufactured printing presses–including for the New York Times in the 1800s. This building is a great place to consider ethnic succession within Hunt’s Point. An English-descended family, whose land extended down to the nearby Bronx River, was the first to occupy it. Some time after the contents of the house were auctioned off following the death of that family’s patriarch, a Jewish Synagogue was established (1919). In the post-World War II period, Bright Temple AME Church assumed ownership to serve the expanding African-American population. Skirt Faile Street to see each side of this richly ornamented building. The church photo you see above was taken around 2005 for Bronx River Sankofa’s founder by the late great photographer and musician Ibrahim Gonzalez.
Without crossing the street, continue along Faile Street until you reach Seneca Avenue. As you approach this corner, look at the Renaissance-inspired fire department building from the “roaring twenties” on your left.Engine 94‘s open-air third floor facing Seneca Ave. combined with light-colored terra-cotta decorations contract handsomely with red brick to evoke Old Italy.
Now turn toward the industrial border of Hunt’s Point and walk one block along Seneca Avenue to Bryant Avenue. John McNamara’s book reports that, “Its proximity to streets dedicated to American poets Longfellow, Whittier, and Drake would seem to be reason enough to honor William Cullen Bryant.” Once at the corner of Seneca and Bryant, turn left and walk half-way into the block passing the first open lot inhabited by rabbits and chickens. Several steps ahead, you will see a community garden on your left unusual in its abundance of trees. You’ve arrived at Bryant Hill Community Garden. Taino Indian traditions live here under the guidance of local gardener Lucia Hernandez whose circle have succeeded the first generation of gardeners who preserved this oasis at least one generation ago. Hunt’s Point was largely a walk-to-work district 100 years ago when it was sometimes called “Little Pittsburgh” owing to its abundance of light and heavy industry. Notice the brightly colored and richly ornamented townhouses across the street from the garden where earlier generations lived. At that time, German was the Bronx’s second most common language.
Next we’ll see what may yet become Garrison Sculpture Park. Continue along Bryant Avenue to the corner where it meets Garrison Avenue, then cross the street–while walking in the same direction–and look down-hill along Garrison. Standing at this intersection of Garrison and Bryant avenues, you’ll notice a shabby patch of green with moderately tall trees just a few blocks away where land meets water. Don’t be fooled by the residential tower in the visible distance; that’s the neighborhood of Soundview across the Bronx River. While this park-in-progress has long since been declared official city land, no effort to improve it has been completed. Many times, this waterfront site has been cleaned, composted, planted and re-designed. Of the formal designs, including one by Pratt for a riverside amphitheater, none have substantially transformed the site and made it a destination for recreation seekers. Over thirty years of planning and false starts have passed in the process. Bronx River Restoration Project Incorporated (founded in 1974), predecessor of the Bronx River Alliance (founded in 2001), first envisioned a park here at the end of the 1970s.
In 2003, Alcoa Corp. proposed partial financing for a sculpture park here following on schematic drawings complete with an amphitheater developed by an out of state college.
Turn and walk in the opposite direction along Garrison Avenue to the busy commercial street with shops in the near distance. That’s Hunt’s Point Avenue. Find 889 Hunt’s Point Avenue across the street. It’s a great location from which to appreciate the emerging South Bronx Greenway. Check it out! You are surrounded by the following relatively new amenities funded by your federal tax dollars (2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act): uniform tree guards, public benches, many new trees (the ones with small trunk diameters planted off the sidewalk), permeable pavements via Belgian blocked walkways curbside, new stylized lighting fixtures, and richly planted in-street medians.
Sharon De La Cruz and the Urban Art Program of NYC’s Department of Transportation provide us with our final stop, Ruby Walks (Walking Series). Please turn toward the busy Bruckner Expressway whizzing above street level one block away and walk toward it along Hunt’s Point Avenue. If you’re walking this tour in 2014 or 2015, you’ll see Sharon’s group of paintings depicting a girl in multiples clasped to the wall of the bridge over the train tracks (between Garrison Avenue and Bruckner) here. Read all about it in DNAinfo, the Hunt’s Point Express and/ or Nilka Martell’s piece in the Bronx Free Press.
Welcome to our first on-line Hunt’s Point walking tour!
In two parts, you’ll see this New York City neighborhood including the westerly streets that were divided from it by the Bruckner Expressway and now called “Longwood.” Tour no. 2 is a shorter (1 hour) walk including parks, historic structures, and shout-outs to local civic boosters. Click here to enjoy that alternate Hunt’s Point journey.
The picture you see above comes from Bronx River Sankofa’s first Hunt’s Point tour. It was given in March 2013. The final on-street guided tours were conducted in summer 2014. While most Sankofa tours were attended primarily by those over 25 years in age, it was fun to have a young adult audience for these neighborhood explorations. Now it’s your turn to make the trip!
Please note that all text in colors other than black are hyperlinks you may click on to explore a site further. All photos may be seen larger and in greater detail by clicking on them.
WALK 1 (two hour tour) points of Interest:
A. The Point: where community and creativity connect
B. 889 Hunt’s Point Avenue (incubator of big ideas)
C. The South Bronx Greenway
D. Yes She Can Mural
E (5). Hunt’s Point’s Post Office reflects citizens’ ambitions for their neighborhood
F. Corpus Christi Monastery
G. Hunt’s Point Recreation Center
H. P.S. 48 where students and teachers have revived interest in the Joseph Rodman Drake Park Cemetery and Enslaved African Burial Ground
I. Barretto Community Garden
J (10). American Bank Note Company printing complex
K. SEBCO (South East Bronx Community Organization)
L. Hunts Point Library
M. St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church
N. Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education
O (15). Banana Kelly, an iconic Bronx Street made famous in biographies and hip hop lore
P. Mothers on the Move, a center of local activism
Q. Rainey Park, almost one whole block of green space where housing stood 60 years ago
R. PS 39 building once housed Longwood Arts Gallery, Pregones Theater, and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Bronx office. It is now the Holcolm L. Rucker School of Community Research, a high school
S. Police Athletic League (Longwood Center)
T (20). Longwood Historic District
U. Prospect Hospital (where Bronx Frontier was born; See Gardening and Garvey article)
V. Dra. Evelina Antonetty Way
W. Casa Amadeo, where Afro-Caribbean music lives!
START: The Point Community Development Corporation is headquartered at 940 Garrison Avenue (3 blocks from the Hunt’s Point station of the no. 6 train line). This indoor/outdoor youth-focused community center was built a century ago as part of the sprawling American Bank Note Company’s printing complex anchored across the street. It later became a bagel factory before falling into cliche illicit uses by the 1980s. This industrial gem was re-purposed as a youth-centered community center in the early 1990s largely by staff from Seneca Center– formerly on Hunt’s Point Avenue– where they did similar work. As the type of funding Seneca sought began to seem unreliable support for non-traditional youth work like theater, key Seneca staff established The Point two blocks away.
Please walk north along Garrison Avenue in the direction of the nearest visibly busy street with shops just one block away. That’s Hunt’s Point Avenue. Once at the intersection, turn right and walk a few stores deeper into the Hunt’s Point neighborhood. Stop at 889 Hunt’s Point Avenue where the Hunt’s Point Alliance for Children is located.
STOP 2. Many social entrepreneurial projects have been based here beginning with an annex to The Point. The Point leased this storefront for community arts programming here around 2000 before sub-leasing the space to the then new Sustainable South Bronx (SSB) in 2001 founded by Majora Carter. SSB moved to the American Bank Note Co. building we will see later. Then, for two years–still under lease from The Point–the Bronx Museum of the Arts operated an artists-in-residence program there while administering the Hunt’s Point Fish Parade.
The following five years were guided by local artist Alejandra Delphin (already on-site as a BMA artist in residence) who remade the space into a print-making studio (Studio 889), sharing the space through 2008 with Michael Wiggins’ theater group Mud/Bone Collective who have relocated. The current tenant succeeded Delphin who does print and on-line graphic work and programming at The Point.
The sidewalk, street and view farther into Hunt’s Point Avenue from the place where you stand show most of the key elements in our next attraction.
STOP 3.The South Bronx Greenway is a long-planned and recently expanded linear park and system of park-connectors between Hunt’s Point and Randall’s Island. Click on the hyperlink that begins this section for a comprehensive impression of how much greener it’s made and may make these places. The South Bronx Greenway won about $60,000,000.00 from the 2009 federal stimulus bill. What you see here is a small part of what that money paid for–far beyond this street are new bike paths at the extreme other end of the greenway and more! The cobble-stone walkways surrounding the street trees, uniform tree guards, younger trees planted off the curb, metal benches, sleek new light posts, and generously planted medians that calm traffic are just part of this new amenity. Omar Freilla of Green Worker Cooperatives, just over a decade ago, developed a survey for locals to express their hopes and wishes for its design once the original Sustainable South Bronx team won a million dollar grant to study and propose designs for this relatively new expansion of the local tree canopy!
Continue to walk in the same direction–southwest–along Hunt’s Point Avenue on the same block until you approach the last apartment building before the US Post Office. Stop just beyond 823 Hunt’s Point Avenue and look up at the mural covering the stucco-faced south wall.
STOP 4. Yes She Can mural by Majora Carter Group, LLC
!Si Ella Puede!/ Yes She Can was painted c. 2009 (fence panels added later). Majora Carter Group, LLC hired Goundswell to execute the design concept, which they jointly solicited from community members. Don’t move, improve has been a Bronx rallying cry since the 1970s and this woman-focused image is a great update to that concept. Read more about it by clicking here. Tanya Fields worked on this mural for the Majora Carter Group. Tanya(b.1980-) is CEO/ Founder/ Executive Director of The Blk Projek. She holds a bachelors degree from Baruch College/CUNY in Political Science with a minor in Black and Hispanic Studies. Fields moved to the Longwood neighborhood of the Bronx from her native Harlem in late 2001 in search of affordability. She has had a long history of local civic participation as a member of Mothers on the Move (MoMs), Sustainable South Bronx and other groups. Tanya sees unity between culture and ecology. She promotes this vision with events centered on healthful food, yoga and more. She means to empower and link progressive African-American women and Latinas in concrete community building that improves housing, diet, social and career experience in sustainable ways that are self generated.
Tanya’s a powerful public speaker and writer. She is featured in the book The Next Eco Warriors: 22 Young Men and Women Who are Saving the Planet, edited by Emily Hunter with a forward by Farley Mowat, published 2011.
You’ll want to see the front of the post office next door so continue a few more steps to the end of the block and turn right onto Lafayette Avenue. Now walk to the middle of the block so you can see the entrance to this low-rise building where it forms the corner of Lafayette and Manida Street.
STOP 5.Hunt’s Point’s Post Office mirrors citizens’ ambitions for the neighborhood. Cybeale Ross has lived on this block since 1958 and long been involved in preserving it. Manida’s Street’s 800 block has long been among the best preserved in the whole district.
Before this relatively new branch was constructed, earlier generations knew their closest USPS station as the one that remains on Westchester Avenue between Freeman and Simpson–quite a walk! Mrs. Ross made a point of attending meetings surrounding the establishment of this branch. The building reflects that wisdom. Note that vehicular traffic is oriented onto the commercial streets and away from Manida’s tree-lined calm. The low-rise scale and planted courtyard were her ideas too.
Across the street on Lafayette Avenue and just beyond Manida Street towers a stone-clad religious cloister you couldn’t miss if you tried.
STOP 6. Corpus Christi Monastery is located at 1230 Lafayette Avenue. It was constructed in 1890. According to the American Institute of Architects Guide to New York City, “The best time to visit this cloistered community of Dominican nuns is on Sunday afternoon, when they sing their office.” This black and white image was taken around 2005 for Bronx River Sankofa’s founder by the late great photographer and musician Ibrahim Gonzalez.
Locals call the field at the intersection of Lafayette and Manida Street Manida Park—not it’s official name—and have come to enjoy it’s modern recreation center visible from our last two sites. Walk along the broad field of this park until you reach 765 Manida Street.
STOP 7.Hunt’s Point Recreation Center (not shown) is operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation of the City of New York. It is very active with all kinds of activities for all ages 12 months of the year. It’s also one of the newest recreation centers anywhere in the city.
Our next destination is the corner ahead of us. We won’t be visiting but simply looking over to it where Manida Street and Spofford Avenue cross. Do you see the imposing red brick schoolhouse one block away to your left?
Take Spofford Avenue one block farther away from P.S. 48 walking down-hill to Barretto Street–which you’ll walk half-of-one-block into for the first green space you see to your left. You’ll know you’re approaching it because of its distinctive foundation planting outside the fence in the public right-of-way bordering the sidewalk.
Double back up Barretto Street to Spofford Avenue, turn left so you are continuing down the gentle hill —passing Casanova Street—and join Tiffany Street. Now turn right. Be mindful that you’re on a heavily trafficked commercial route as you head north. The Bruckner Expressway will be visible in the distance. Where Tiffany reconnects you with Lafayette Avenue, a massive twentieth century red brick industrial building will command your attention on your right (across from Corpus Christi Monastery).
STOP 10.American Bank Note Company printing complex (built 1911) is an official NYC Landmark. Read all about it in its official designation report by clicking here. This highly productive facility once employed hundreds who worked in three consecutive shifts. Among it’s many products were South American currencies and American Express Traveler’s Checks.
Tiffany Street unfolds with great sites as we continue toward, below, and immediately on the other side of the Bruckner Expressway above head. Now, at the intersection of the Bruckner Boulevard (at street level) and Tiffany, a powerful community development group presents buildings visible on both north and south sides of the street.
STOP 11. SEBCO (South East Bronx Community Organization) was founded in 1968 and has done a great deal to improve the lives of many in the Hunt’s Point-Longwood neighborhoods. Much has been written about this group over the years. To your left is a low-rise health center they initiated over a decade ago. The tall senior housing facility on the right (although it faces the next block: Southern Boulevard) has the name “Sister Thomas Apartments” facing you. Housing and health are just two of their areas of action. Father Louis Gigante of St. Athanasius Church and other locals formed the South East Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO) as a community development non-profit. Many came to know SEBCO for having painted on some of the buildings they rehabilitated the words “Father Louis Gigante Rebuilding the South Bronx.” This large declaration was seen for decades from the Bruckner Expressway. Learn more by visiting their website here.
Looking just one block ahead on Tiffany Street, let’s head to the Renaissance-inspired building at 877 Southern Boulevard.
STOP 12.Hunts Point Library. This site indicates a rich man’s literacy revolution. The Andrew Carnegie endowment built libraries throughout North American and Britain. The Hunt’s Point Branch was the final NYC branch built under this endowment; it opened in 1928. At one time, the New York Public Library houses a substantial Latino literature department here. Today, you would find a similar specialty collection at the Bronx Library Center a few miles to the north.
This important public building is situated on Father Gigante Plaza, a pedestrian-oriented public open space framed by a gated park and fountain to the south (maintained by SEBCO), Fox Street on the west and our next attraction.
The Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education has developed their own South Bronx Culture Trail. Their mission is to empower youth and their families by creating a culture of learning through high quality social, cultural, and educational opportunities.
They welcome kids at the age of six and stay with them until college while providing family learning through the arts. They distinguish themselves in the plurality of ways in which they attract community members to utilize their services. Their students introduce their parents to their cultural programs, while their public programs guide parents to wide ranging education programs. Founded in 1934, they have served many who have gone on to enrich the world through culture, public service, education, and business. Alumni and program providers have been many. Some highlights include:
Double back along Fox street to Father Gigante Plaza where the church we visited stands. Now walk away from the plaza along Tiffany Street so that you are seeing low-rise private homes to your left. Join E. 163rd Street two blocks away, then walk along that street to where E. 163rd and Kelly streets cross. Looking into Kelly Street, take a moment to appreciate the crescent shape of this block as well as it’s early 20th century feel.
STOP 15.Kelly Street (aka Banana Kelly) is an iconic Bronx Street.
It’s been made famous around the world by memoirs of locals including General Colin Powell who recall living and playing here.
Walk slowly down this crescent-shaped street toward the park one block ahead. Next, turn right and find 928 Intervale Avenue.
STOP 16.Mothers on the Move (MoMs) is a community organizing group. There has been good power sharing between Latinos and African-Americans here. Joyce Culler, a long-standing Bronx Community Board 2 member, is a MOMs board member. MoMs works on education, transportation and other issues. It has been led for over a decade by Wanda Salaman, a modest and highly effective Latina of African descent.
Next door is a convenience shop where you may want to grab a drink and a snack so you can enjoy a break in the park across the street.
STOP 17 (SHADE/REST/BATHROOM BREAK).Rainey Parkhas athletic fields rimmed with shaded strolling paths and benches and a comfort station. It symbolizes the Bronx rebuilt. Similar to most community gardens, it occupies land where housing stood 60 years ago. Today, it’s a park named for a major local African-American civic leader–William F. Rainey (1920-1985)–who once ran the local Police Athletic League. Once you’ve enjoyed the charms of this relatively recently renovated park, proceed to the school anchored at its southern end.
Across the street at 991 Longwood Avenue (at Beck Street) is the most recent incarnation of a longstanding children’s play/learning/health institution.
STOP 19.Police Athletic League (Longwood Center). The building you see here dates to 1996. Since 1914 PAL has been serving New York City’s youth with safe, structured programming designed to engage boys and girls in positive activities that improve their quality of life, present developmental opportunities, and offer the prospect of a brighter future. What started out as the closing of streets by the New York City Police Department to enable the city’s unsupervised youth to play became a city-wide Cops & Kids movement and later national model that brought communities and police together in ways that prevail to this day.
Cross Longwood Avenue into Beck Street. Explore the length of this block until Beck Street meets E. 156th Street.
STOP 20.Longwood Historic DistrictAccording to the Lehman College Art Gallery website, “Built at the turn of the 20th century, the Longwood Historic District is an enclave of primarily two and three story row houses constructed in anticipation of the population surge expected into the area. Real estate developer George B. Johnson purchased the old S. B. White estate on speculation and hired architect Warren C. Dickerson (also known for his work on Mott Haven Historic District structures) to design and construct houses. By the time that the IRT subway line (today’s no. 6 train) from Manhattan reached the neighborhood in 1904, Dickerson’s houses were completed and clustered nearby.” Read the complete entry by clicking here. See a simulation of the old White mansion on the SE corner of Beck Street and E. 156th Street.
Make a right on E. 156th Street. One block away is a white glazed brick building at the corner of Kelly Street.
STOP 21.Prospect Hospital (not shown) is where Irma Fleck hatched a late 1970s green business with help from a veteran of the federal War on Poverty scene. Bronx Frontier was born here. See the earlier Gardening and Garvey article to learn more about that Bronx success story. Continue along E. 156th Street for three blocks until you arrive at Prospect Avenue. Please look up at the street signs on this corner by Public School 130.
STOP 22.Dra. Evelina Antonetty Waywas unveiled in 2011. The street sign is located at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and E. 156th Street.
Take time to reflect and be empowered by the legacy of Dr. Evelina Lopez Antonetty (1922-1984). “Titi” or “Auntie,” as she was often called, created United Bronx Parents and was a force for establishing bi-lingual education locally and nationally. Among her hundreds of accomplishments, she protested, periodically shut down filming for, and got twenty jobs for local people-of-color in the filming of Fort Apache, a fictional film set in the Bronx. Her mural across the street (below) reads her words from 1980: “We will never stop struggling here in the Bronx, even though they’ve destroyed it around us. We would pitch tents if we have to rather than move from here. We would fight back, there is nothing we would not do. They will never take us away from here. I feel very much a part of this and I’m never going to leave. And, after me, my children will be here to carry on…I have very strong children…and very strong grandchildren.”
Titi’s daughter Anita Antonetty once provided career counseling services to the youths of Rocking the Boat in Hunt’s Point. Many were pleasantly surprised to encounter a mature Latina deeply aware of Bronx ecology issues and trends. Anita continues to make her mark on the Bronx sustainability front through community boards and beyond.
Our final destination for today’s tour is across from the nearest train station. Please make a right on Prospect Avenue and walk toward the very visible train tracks above Westchester Avenue in the near distance. Just before you reach this refurbished and remodeled Victorian Revival-styled train station, you’ll see 786 Prospect Avenue. You have arrived!
CONCLUSION: Casa Amadeo is regarded as a national landmark. It’s a music store specializing in Afro-caribbean sounds. You can even buy musical instruments there. If you’re lucky, you may visit when a spontaneous jam session is happening live in the back room. The owner, Mike Amadeo, is a musician and composer who is well known in traditional Latin music circles. The elegant Old Bronx building they occupy once houses both Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.
Thank you for walking with us! Bronx River Sankofa invites you to always move forward strengthened by the wisdom of reflecting periodically!
Just Food hosted another well attended conference from April fifth to sixth. This year, it was held at Teachers College of Columbia University. I had the honor of brief interviews with one featured speaker and a farming student who attended. Suga Ray and Raphael Aponte are both attached to Just Food’s Farm School as current student and alumnus respectively. Here’s what they had to say!
Rafael Aponte (Just Food Farm School class of 2012)
Rafael Aponte (age 30) of the Bronx, founded Rocky Acres Community Farm in May 2013 where he’s raising goats, peppers, onions, carrots, potatoes, basil, Mexican herbs, and cilantro varieties perfect for making sofrito. Other offerings like mushrooms are in development for future seasons—stay tuned! The interview below was conducted on Monday, April 7, 2014 at Giovanni’s Restaurant (579 Grand Concourse, Bronx).
Morgan Powell: How did you select your farm’s name?
Rafael Aponte: “Rocky Acres” was already a sign on site. We kept it. I would rather have a more revolutionary name but the neighbors wouldn’t be able to pronounce it. It’s pretty benign but we added the “community” part.
MP: What exposure to plants and farming did you have before Farm School?
RA: My mother maintained a “jungle” of houseplants which I played G.I. Joe in as a kid. We lived together near the Brook Avenue stop of the no. 6 train. At that time, my dad gardened in the Bruckner right-of-way before his garden got bull dozed, but I was not interested in his garden at all. When I got older and got my own apartment near Yankee Stadium, my mom gave me clippings or her plants. I got bitten by the gardening bug and I maintained those plants. Eventually, I was growing chili peppers and basil plants hydroponically. [laughter]
MP: Where did you attend high school and other schools?
RA: LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. I focused on visual arts: printmaking, illustration, graphic arts, and photography.
Illness informs my commitment to farming. My class was the last at the elementary school on the Grand Concourse at 148th Street; it was closed because of asbestos. I attended college before cancer made it impossible to sustain my academics. I’m fine now but it’s not normal to be diagnosed with cancer at eighteen year old. I’ve had asthma since elementary school. I grew up in a polluted environment with highways ringing the neighborhood, an active commercial incinerator, and other things in Mott Haven. Sometimes I have to pace myself to get through farming chores but I’ve learned to expand my lung capacity. It’s getting easier.
MP: How do you identify ethnically?
RA: Ethnically, I’m Puerto Rican. Racially, I self-identify as Black. My father is darker than me. Upstate, there are many places where people never see people of color. I think some people think I’m Pakistani. [laughter]
MP: What motivated you to attend Farm School?
RA: It happened by accident. I was working in after-school education in Washington Heights, helping the youth to prepare for and gain admission to college. I took them to schools all around the region. Somehow, I developed an interest in beekeeping as it was becoming legal within city limits. I attended a conference at Hostos Community College (probably GreenThumb GrowTogether) where many groups were tabling on gardening. There was information about beekeeping there. I subsequently met someone through the Socialism Conference who connected me with Farm School NYC. I don’t think I’d be on a farm now if it had not been for Farm School. That’s where I met Jalal Sabur [seen to the far right in a panel picture that opens this article]. We went on to farm together with my partner Nandi Cohen, a Cornell U. professor, at Wassaic Community Farm.
MP: What is your food sovereignty vision?
RA: I want people to think about producing their own food. I think once you see what goes into your food, it’s paradigm shifting. I also want low income communities to choose where their food comes from. If I can meet them at the right price point to make it sustainable for Rocky Acres Farm, and their getting value for the volume of food they need to consume, I think it’s a win-win.
MP: What’s your strategy to produce and deliver veggies, herbs, and meat to low income communities?
RA: My market is low income residents of Ithaca, NY. New York City is too far away. Ithaca’s a small town and it’s different from the Bronx. It’s more people driven rather than institutionally-oriented. I’ve been talking to my barber about distributing out of the barber shop. In Ithaca, the farmer’s market is very well attended, but not by local people of color. I think it’s not inclusive.
MP: What has been your biggest surprise in farming?
RA: I almost feel my life has separated into before and after farming. I’ve had more than one friend visit me and be scared by the quiet of rural life. Also, there’s a grading system for livestock. It’s made me imagine how enslaved people were graded at slave markets in the past. The experience has grounded me.
MP: You’re seeing things a city person would not typically see. What are some things you wish were common knowledge in the Bronxes of America?
RA: I’ve become a steward of life. Everyone should be a part of that process: seeing seeds develop to maturity. I would like to see a student-centered approach to teaching. My exposure to other learning environments tells me a participatory approach is better than rote learning.
Suga Ray (Just Food Farm School class of 2015)
Suga Ray is passionate about community gardening as a vehicle to grow the best seeds of his beloved Queensbridge Houses on New York City’s East River. Originally from south Jamaica, Queens, his family moved to the iconic Long Island City public housing development when he was two years old. It’s been tradition there, like many neighborhoods throughout the city, to memorialize those who pass away before their natural time with bottles of alcohol and candles. But things are about to change in this corner of New York if Suga Ray has anything to do with it. In concert with a vocal local senior citizen, a more enduring ritual of remembrance is coming into view in the form of new community gardens at one of the largest public housing developments in all five boroughs. What became shabby with time will renew itself with constant love and care in the best traditions of community horticulture—that’s the power of living green that all the money spent on ghetto liquor can’t buy.
These new spaces will serve many needs of a wider cross-section of local residents in all the color and joy of nature. Suga Ray sees these new spaces as therapy for the mentally ill, perpetual job training for an emerging workforce, seasonal work for the formerly enprisoned who need low barriers to career entry and a welcome environment, respite for the bereaved, and enhanced beauty for all to see! He’s dedicated to a multi-generational and multi-ethnic approach that’s already got precedent at Queensbridge Houses. A few modest green patches tended by residents exist. Now it is time to turn up the volume and expand the scale.
Suga Ray’s getting ready to lead this new era in local greening and he’s putting his time and other resources to work. He’s in his first year of training at Farm School with his eyes on the graduation prize for 2015. He’s also looking to share the message of health through life-affirming diet. Food related health and illness are foremost in his mind. A bell went off when an uncle and other cherished elders passed away from diet-related illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. That bell had rung even earlier when he endured may months not able to walk from a pinched nerve that only improved when vegetables replaced meats in his own diet. Nearly four years later, he’s feeling his young age without back pain! Success in such an ambitious venture must mean collaboration so he’s linking up with others.
He’s been appointed International Director to Sacrit Kingz by Nyeesha Williams who earlier founded a national network dedicated to young girls called Sacrit Devahood, Inc. Kingz will be a hub of culinary arts, etiquette, arts and crafts based in New York City. These groups will assemble the resources to raise a greenhouse at Queensbridge and pay the locals who do the work. They’re not looking to re-invent the wheel. Colleagues in Newark (New Jersey), Atlanta (Georgia), Los Angeles (California), and Uganda will be providing technical support where applicable. Stay tuned as this man builds his dream through his entertainment company and his blog.
A riverside park in the central Bronx is the perfect place to reflect on local history. Join the campaign to get the latest West Farms Rapids Park renovation completed because it was over three years behind schedule at the time this article was posted. A brief history can be read at Outdoor Afro. Read below if you want the extended story complete with reproduced texts from varied authorities on the Bronx River and the neighborhood of West Farms! The illustration below by Marcy Kass was made when the park was nearing completion in its first phase back in 1980. Other images in the main text were taken at that time. The pictures that follow (beginning with Works Cited) show the park stalled in development during its third and current renovation.
West Farms Rapids Park, a history
2 Acres 1
The West Farms community is one of many historic settlements along the Bronx River, which is the only freshwater river in New York City. Measuring 23 miles, this blue corridor has been central to the life of the Bronx since pre-colonial days. It winds its way from the heights of Westchester County to meet the East River at Hunt’s Point. Called Aquehung (River of High Bluffs) by the Mohegan Indians who fished and hunted along its banks, the Bronx River derives its name from Jonas Bronck (1600-1643), a Swedish sea captain who settled the mainland in 1639 as the Bronx’s first European resident. Profitable opportunities such as fur trading attracted early European settlers to the Bronx River Valley 2 and the local economy grew through the 1600s and 1700s. Farming and cottage industries 3 developed and flourished until the Revolutionary War, 4 when the river became a shifting battle line between American Patriots and British Loyalists. 5 The De Lancey family estate, now part of the Bronx Zoo, 6 is well documented as a site of 18th century tensions. 7 American troops gained control of the area when British Loyalists evacuated in 1783. 8
During the era between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 9 and again in the 1840s during the construction of the New York & Harlem Railroad, factories sprang up along the Bronx River shores, which harnessed the current to power manufacturing. At one time, at least 12 mills stood between North Castle and West Farms. 10 The Bolton Bleachery operated for many decades on the same site where the Lorraine Hansberry Academy is now situated. 11 These industries brought both prosperity and pollution as they dumped their refuse into the waterfront. In 1896, a report by the New York State Legislature stated that the river had become an “open sewer” and appointed a commission to remedy the problem. After intensive study, the commission recommended that the city purchase the land alongside this waterway and transform it from an unregulated zone of farms, slums and factories into a landscaped nature preserve. America’s first parkway was thus born, 12 allowing the city and state to control activity along the river and providing motorists, bicyclists and strollers with a pleasant venue for recreation and scenic trips.13
The Bronx River Parkway (completed in 1925) protected the watershed as it entered the Bronx Park. 14 However, the Bronx River did not receive dedicated ecological restoration south of East 180th Street until 1974, when Ruth Anderberg founded the Bronx River Restoration Project (BXRR) on the inspiration of then Bronx Police Chief Anthony V. Bouza, who had already launched an intergovernmental dialogue to clean the river. 15 West Farms Rapids (formerly Bronx River Park, originally Restoration Park) marks the genesis of those efforts. 16 The rock-stuffed rubber-tire retaining walls here are a landmark commemorating 1980, when this place became a park. 17 Around this time, BXRR also created the nearby Bronx River Art Center (BRAC) 18 and River Garden, 19 and published the Bronx River Restoration Master Plan, which advocated the ecological revival of the whole waterway, complete with a continuous linear park from the Kensico Dam to its mouth at the East River.
Many hands contributed to these early efforts, including teen-aged and adult workers and community leaders from Lambert Houses, like BXRR treasurer Marcel Woolery, Jr. They were funded by city programs like Summer Youth Employment, Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), local elected officials and Phipps Houses. Other organizations dedicated resources for construction, programming and maintenance. 20 In the 1990s, local residents and workers formed a new coalition to revive this site. Called the West Farms Friends of the Bronx River, members included Michelle Williams, Bernard Tim Johnson, Nessie Panton, Andre Williams, Juanita Carter, Perquida Williams, Sebert Harper and others. They organized riverfront clean-ups, planted the original butterfly garden 21 and worked with the Parks Department to install picnic tables for family recreation. 22 In 1997, HPD gave the city jurisdiction over this park 23 and by 2008 the Parks Department owned it. Also in 1997, Partnerships for Parks convened the Bronx River Working Group, comprised of 20 founding partners, including Phipps Community Development Corporation, BXRR and the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality. This collaboration culminated in 2001 with the creation of the Bronx River Alliance. In 2000, The Transportation Equity Act allocated $770,800 to renovate the park. 24 This mid-Bronx node of the Bronx River Greenway broke ground again in 2008 to improve safety and enhance multi-modal access, featuring a canoe launch, a new butterfly garden, an amphitheater and direct access to East Tremont Avenue where Bronx Street was absorbed into this park and de-mapped. 25 The Bronx River Alliance and community partners continue to maintain this remarkably beautiful and historic site. [End of history summary].
1 At the time of this writing, the temporary construction sign at West Farms Rapids states the site is 2 acres, which likely includes the contiguous riverbed. The sign for West Farms Rapids, circa 2000, stated that the park measures 0.505 acres.
2 The Bronx River Alliance’s “Bronx River Historical Sign” summarizes the economic underpinnings of European settlement in West Farms, including fur trading.
3 Isaac Valentine operated a blacksmith business serving passersby on the Boston Post Road, a street which is documented widely as having had other cottage industries typical of well-traveled intra-settlement thoroughfares of that time. (Ultan, Legacy 4). The Bronx Historian: Newsletter of the Bronx County Historical Society (Vol. 12, No. 4, March -April 1990) features a front page story, “Milestones in the Industrial Development of the Bronx.” This essay states:
Grist and saw mills, which were the Bronx’s first industries, were built in 1680 by John Richardson and Edward Jessup on the Bronx river at West Farms. The grist mill ground the grain into flour while the saw mill provided the staves for the barrels to hold the flour. Then, between 1794 and 1797, a bridge over the Harlem River [at Third Avenue and East 135th Street initiated by Lewis Morris, son of his namesake father who signed the Declaration of Independence] was built spurring the growth of stagecoach lines and eventually industrial and commercial opportunities. One such industry began as the Bolton Bleachery which opened for business in 1820.
4 These four sentences are almost literal excerpts from the original Bronx River Park Historical Sign of 2000.
5 Hermalyn’s “A History of the Bronx River” offers one of many illustrations about how battle lines and held territories shifted during the American Revolutionary War. Additional insights are offered in “The Bronx River Valley and the Revolutionary War” section of 300 Years of Life Along the Bronx River Valley (Greenburgh and Scarsdale).
6 Gardner elucidates the former site of the De Lancey estate in his essay “Portraits of a Bronx Aristocrat:” “When [Peter De Lancey and Elizabeth Colden] married in 1737 [Peter] took her to live at De Lancey’s Mills [-saw and grist-] on the Bronx River near West Farms in lower Westchester (a site now in Bronx Park near 181st Street).” He continues on a later page, “By the end of the Revolution the widowed Mrs. De Lancey had witnessed not only the destruction of her old home at the Mill on the Bronx River but also the plundering of her house at Union Hill (a site now in the Bronx Zoological Gardens).” The article continues:
During the American Revolution her sons served with the British forces: Steven, John, Oliver, Warren and James – all except Peter, who was said to have been killed in a duel in South Carolina in 1771. Her daughters Jane and Suzanna were loyalists; but Alice married Ralph Izzard, a rich young man from the South who sided with the American forces. Her son James became famous, or infamous, as the leader of De Lancey’s Light Horse [alternately De Lancey’s Cowboys], a band of British raiders who terrorized and plundered that unhappy territory in southern Westchester known as “The Neutral Ground.” He was known to the American forces that tried to capture him as “The Colonel of the Cowboys” because of his success in stealing cattle to provision the British army. After he was listed in the Act of Attainder, he was called “The Outlaw of the Bronx.”
7 Many sources confirm that there were multiple American Revolutionary War Battles and camps in the Bronx River watershed and that land claims by the British and Americans were contended throughout the war. Torries: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War by Allen and Ultan’s Legacy of the Revolution are among such works.
8 Bronx River Park sign (2000).
9 We learn about how the disruption in trade created by the War of 1812, wherein the United States declared war on Great Britain, created a market for locally-produced manufactured goods supplied by new factories established on the Bronx River at West farms in Ultan’s The Northern Borough: A History of the Bronx.
10 Bronx River Park sign (2000).
11 A 1916 map by architect Kenneth M. Murchison, “The Plan of the Bronx International Exposition,” taken together with e-mail correspondence on this historical point between Stephen DeVillo and the author, are reinforced with the entry about the Lorraine Hansberry Academy in the AIA Guide to New York of 2000, which describes the site: “A cast-concrete structural frame and dark, rough-ribbed concrete block infill achieves their neat and dramatic geometry. Its site was once the [Bolton, later Bronx] Bleachery, an industry well-remembered because of its negative impact upon the purity of the adjacent Bronx River.” The historical reference to the name change of this facility is cited in The Birth of the Bronx: 1609-1900 by the Bronx County Historical Society, which features an illustration of the factory and states on page 138:
The Bronx Company stands at E. 177th Street and Bronx River, West Farms, in 1890. Once known as the Bolton Bleachery when it was part of the village of Bronxdale, the firm moved south along the river when New York City condemned the Bronxdale property for the establishment of the Bronx Zoo. The Bleachery then occupied this former factory of the Bronx Wool and Leather Co.
12 Timothy Davis’ “The Rise and Decline of the American Parkway” from The World Beyond the Windshield puts the Bronx River Parkway in a historical context of American road-making as the first parkway.
13 This paragraph is excerpted from the original Bronx River Park sign from 2000 with new details of social and design history edited into it.
14 The “Map Showing Bronx River Parkway” on page 22 from the 1922 Report of the Bronx River Parkway Commission clearly indicates what everyone involved with the River experiences: a principle mission of the parkway’s creation was to address aesthetic, zoological and hygiene concerns within Bronx Park, where the Bronx Zoo (New York Zoological Society) is located. It is also no accident that this gift of the City Beautiful Movement came about not long after the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which showed American designers, builders and leaders that neoclassical principles of city planning could address some of the misfortunes of unplanned growth in America’s increasingly industrialized cities. Nevertheless, the specific inspiration for the parkway came from Inverness, Scotland, where Norwood resident, NYS Assemblyman and New York Zoological Society Board of Governors member William White Niles, wrote the following in 1929:
In , I went abroad with Dr. [William T.] Hornaday, the director of the New York Zoological Society. He had occasion to visit Mr. [Andrew] Carnegie at Skiebo Castle and I accompanied him as far as Inverness, where I remained for three days while he was visiting the Laird of Skiebo. Having nothing better to do in his absence, I spent most of my time in walking about the vicinity, and on one occasion, coming upon a little park which bordered the River Ness beyond the limits of the City, I followed the river down through the city, and was greatly surprised to find the water as it issued from the limits of the city as clean, so far as appearance went, which was the only test that I applied, as it was when I entered the city. My astonishment was due to the fact that I had rather assumed that a stream could not go through a built up community without being defiled. I was familiar with many streams running through cities in America, but recalled no instance in which the sewerage and much of the refuse of the city was not dumped into the stream and its banks devastated and shorn of all beauty and in most instances, disfigured and rendered offensive by public dumps, dilapidated structures, coal yards and other unattractive activities. When I returned home I happened, on one occasion, to be walking through the northerly part of Bronx Park along the Bronx River and continued northward beyond the Parks’ boundaries still along the River, and was distressed to see the conditions prevailing there, which had never before impressed me so unfavorably. I determined to make an effort to see if something could not be done to improve matters. I was at the time a member of the Executive Committee [(1897-?)] of the Board of Governors of the New York Zoological Society, who, it seemed to me, should be interested in the project because of the fact that the Bronx River formed a most interesting and picturesque feature of the Zoological Park, and the serious contamination of the water would be most prejudicial to the Park. In 1904, if my memory serves me right, we had a very dry summer and the water in the stream was much reduced in size and the pollution became more and more apparent. Director Hornaday had his attention called to the matter by a serious disorder that developed among the water fowl, who were permitted to use the river, and on examining into the cause of this disorder, he became convinced it arose from the polluted condition of the river. He then very ardently championed my proposition that we should take steps to remedy the existing conditions, and so impressed Mr. [Madison] Grant [Columbia University-trained lawyer and member of the Boone and Crocket Club (elite hunters)] that he finally said that if I would draft a bill to be presented to the Legislature that he would support it and do his best to procure the support of the Zoological Society. During this period I discussed the matter with Dr. [Nathaniel Lord] Britton of the Botanical Society and found him also interested and obtained the assurance of his support…
Niles already had a history of working a bill through the New York State Legislature to improve this part of the city. We learn in Gathering of Animalsthat he introduced a bill in Albany drafted by Andrew Haswell Green that created the New York Zoological Society (Bronx Zoo) while he was a New York State Assemblyman to the North Side (when the lands that became Bronx County west of the Bronx River were still an extension of New York County). Niles became interested in establishing a new zoological park for New York – a small Central Park Zoo already existed – inspired by many he had seen in Europe, probably including London and Berlin examples. His bill passed in Albany, with amendments, on April 26, 1895 (Bridges 7-10). A substantial stone and concrete monument to W.W. Niles can found at Bronx Boulevard and East 226th street, which was built in 1938. His fellow Zoo founder and partner in the Parkway project, Madison Grant—who believed in racial hierarchy—of Manhattan, was not mentioned there.
15 A 1974 article in the Catholic News, among many concurrent writings, clearly establishes Bronx Police Chief Anthony V. Bouza as the initiator of efforts to clean the Bronx River south of the Bronx Zoo, which inspired Ruth Anderberg to a loftier ambition: creating a non-profit to “restore” the river along its full length. Bouza is quoted to have framed the purpose of this effort as a way “to symbolize the need for every citizen to do something about his environment” (1974). The Bronx River Master Plan of 1980 published by the Bronx River Restoration states on its first leaf: “Dedicated to the New York City Police Department, its Bronx Borough Commanders and Bronx Community Affairs Section. They started the whole thing in the first place and have been supportive ever since.”
16 “West Farms Rapids (formerly Bronx River Park, originally Restoration Park) marks the genesis of those efforts,” is a statement derived from the following sources and confirmed elsewhere. The concept of mini-parks (new small parks for residential and commercial districts co-sponsored and often designed with non-municipal partners) exploded onto the New York City landscape during two mayoral terms of John V. Lindsay (1966 – 1973). When planning and building this park between 1978 and 1980, “Bronx River Restoration” was the working name of the organization. Their self-published and self-printed newsletters called the Bronx River Current trace this process. The Spring 1980 edition of the Current included a dedicated back page, “Park Name Contest” form, complete with an illustration of the site, including: the stone bridge over East 180th Street, abstractly rendered mid-rise buildings exactly where the Lambert Houses are, and a park enjoyed by human figures in active and passive recreation on the west bank of the Bronx River. We learn how and what name was assigned to the park in the Autumn 1980 edition of the Bronx River Current, as written by Norma Torres:
Searching for a name for a new park can be a complex and surprising activity. BXRR Conducted a park naming contest for several months before arriving at a suitable name for the new mini-park now being completed by BXRR at E. 179th Street and the Bronx River. Our efforts were aided by more than 60 suggestions made by the children of the neighboring areas. After much discussion the jury agreed on Restoration Park as the best suited name. Those involved in the decision-making process included Edwin Martinez, District Manager of CPB #6, Sonia Edwards also of CPB #6, the staff of BXRR and a number of community residents. The winning name was the brainstorm of young Avanti Mosalez, age 7, of Lambert Houses. In investigating how he came to select the name we found out that Avanti had inquired as to the meaning of “Restoration.” After much thought he decided that making the Bronx River new again was good, and Restoration Park a suitable name. Appropriately enough, young Avanti enjoys swimming, karate and going to parks. Thank you, Avanti, for helping us find a name of great dignity.
I call this park the genesis of those efforts for three reasons: a) Barbara Stewart’s “A River Rises” 2000 article in the New York Times recounts the beginning of concern for the Bronx River in West Farms by Ruth Anderberg; Stewart wrote:
Ms. Anderberg, a small, animated woman with a gift for storytelling, first saw the river’s trash-choked southern part on a bus to the 1964 World’s Fair. I thought: ‘What a shame! What a crime!’” she said. “Up at the botanical garden, the river was so beautiful and placid. Down there, it was a disgrace.
Through two interviews I conducted with Ms. Anderberg, confirmed by her Story Corps interview of 2008, I know her to have waited for that same bus where a contemporary bus from Flushing, Queens continues to make a loop here at East 180th Street, almost between River Park (separated from the Bronx Zoo only by a fence) and what has evolved into West Farms Rapids (Story Corps is a national nonprofit dedicated to recording and collecting stories of everyday people: http://www.storycorps.org). b) A New York Daily News article from 1976 depicts Anderberg telling the Bronx River Restoration story on the east bank of the Bronx River with IRT tracks in the near background and the back of what would become the Bronx River Art Center visibly occupying the frame between herself and the west bank, and c) “Refuse in Bronx Restoring River” from the New York Times in 1979 captures a moment when the signature rock-filled tire retaining wall at West Farms Rapids was being installed while west bank features were also in development. The accompanying photo by Robert M. Klein for the New York Times captures the energy of this site.
17 “Restoration’ Mini Park Ground-Breaking Held,” a 1979 article in the pages of the Bronx Press-Review supports other documents confirming the authenticity of Bronx River Restoration’s invitation to their naming ceremony for Restoration Park at noon on Saturday, August 9, 1980, as part of a two-day River Festival.
18 The timeline establishing when the Bronx River Art Center (BRAC) was developed is found easily in numerous documents including the 1980 Bronx River Restoration Master Plan, which shows that the Center and its programming was launched before the Restoration Park was complete, as indicated in The Bronx River Current from Autumn 1980. The fact that BRAC was formed from Bronx River Restoration’s efforts is found easily by reviewing the history page of Bronx River Art Center’s website, which stated as of Nov. 11, 2010: “Bronx River Art Center was founded… to bring professional arts programming to a culturally underserved population. For more than twenty years (including several years of arts programming under the umbrella of the first Bronx River Restoration project).” The BRAC had a number of provisional names in the early days and so the date they give as their founding is the year they formalized into a stand-alone non-profit with the name we know today, whereas they had been known by at least four other names before, including the Environmental Arts Center (See Bronx River Current Autumn 1980 for that early name).
19 River Garden is an official Parks and Recreation of the City of New York Community Garden at Devoe Avenue and East 180th Street that was started by Bronx River Restoration. Bronx River Alliance Board Member and former South Bronx Open Space Task Force (SBOSTF) student-volunteer Dart Westphal e-mailed the author that this place was established after 1978 and that garden supporters included Phipps, neighborhood residents from the east side of the river, and the former SBOSTF. River Garden made the pages of the Bronx Press-Review in 1987 with an article entitled “Students Launch River Cleanup.” Part of it states:
Eight High School students and two teachers, working under the direction of Bronx River Restoration staff, spent the afternoon scraping and painting fencing, cutting back overgrowth and removing litter from a terrace above the river [at East 180th street]. The area adjoins Bronx River Community Garden[now River Garden] and overlooks Lambert Houses and Restoration Park, one of the Bronx River Restoration’s first projects.
20 Data was collected during the author’s two interviews of Ruth Anderberg on Feb 21, 2006 and October 18, 2010. Among rank-and-file summer workers, a number of leaders hailed from Lambert. Marcel Woolery Jr. of Lambert was a long-serving treasurer and one-time assistant treasurer to Bronx River Restoration, and was active as late as 2000. Woolery (now deceased) is cited as celebrating progress alongside Ruth Anderberg at a Bronx River celebration in the Snuff Mill of the New York Botanical Garden, as documented in City News (March 6, 1999), wherein Michael Horowitz wrote of him in the article, “Con Ed, Activists Celebrate Progress in Bronx River Cleanup:”
Woolery, a tenant leader at the time who lived at Lambert Houses in the West Farms area at the time, recruited youngsters for the effort at the urging of Anderberg. “I remember how we got into the river, with our hip-length boots, and cleaned out portions of the river by hand,” Woolery noted. “We went to an Environmental Education Center in the Poconos to learn how to clean up the river.” Woolery added, “I remember my father joining us in cleaning up the river time and again. [Anderberg related in her personal interview that Woolery, Sr. had been an excellent foreman and remarkable worker for BXRR over many years even though he had already retired from his career as a food processing worker in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Woolery Jr.’s wife and children became reliable workers with BXRR]. He lives in the Southern Boulevard area. He’s 91 years old now, and he only recently stopped working on the river.
Other Lambert residents like Nessie Panton and Juanita Carter live or have lived in Lambert Houses. There is a street named “Ma Carter’s Way” on Bryant Avenue between East 180th and East 181st Streets, providing passage between West Farms Veteran’s Cemetery and part of the Lambert Houses complex, with a Baptist church at the northern end. Avanti Mosalez, who gave the park its first name, also lived at Lambert too. It is important to recognize that Lambert provided leaders as well as workers.
21 The introduction and subsequent care of a butterfly garden by members of the West Farms Friends of the Bornx River is not exclusive of credit due to Phipps CDC because many, although not all, members were also Phipps employees, like Perquida Williams and Sebert Harper, who had different opportunities to aid this work from both personal, civic and agency-based participation standpoints. The exact planting date for this butterfly garden is captured on page 27 of Photographic History of Drew Gardens under the heading, “Saturday, October 24, 1998 – Fourth Annual West Farms Clean-Up.” The accompanying narrative states, “Workers piled up bags and bags of litter, planted a butterfly garden and helped build a rock garden.”
22 The existence of the West Farms Friends of the Bronx River is documented in Partnerships for Parks literature from the late 1990s about the Bronx River; Partnerships for Parks Bronx River BiWeekly, (6.8.99 & 6.22.99) posts the following event: “July 10. Bronx River Waterfall Tour. Join Save the Sound and West Farms Friends of the Bronx River for a scenic tour of waterfalls and gardens…” The names of the members were supplied during a January 2011 interview the author conducted with Miss Nessie Panton and later confirmed by Perquida Williams of Bronx Community Board Number 6. Miss Panton is variously distinguished as a force for good in West Farms in many relevant roles, such as long-term community gardener at River Garden, original Lambert resident, current volunteer with the Bronx River Alliance and former Bronx Riverkeeper, and member to the West Farms Friends of the Bronx River. Furthermore, Phipps has already received acknowledgement in that very paragraph, because this document must be tightly-worded if it is to fit within DPR Historical sign standards (based on limits carefully studied with “The Forests of New York City” sign at Bronx Park). More local residents and/or workers who helped improve the Bronx River in West Farms were named by Rosemary Ordonez-Jenkins, LMSW, Assistant Executive Director for Adult Services to Phipps Community Development Corporation, in an e-mail to the author on Tuesday, January 18, 2011. She wrote:
Some of the Lambert Residents that assisted with the Bronx River were: Maritza Martinez, Sandra Carter [Juanita Carter’s surviving sister], Margaret Allen Edwards (deceased), and Roselyn Johnson [former Bronx Community Board Number 6 Chairperson] who lives one block away from Lambert Houses. Drew Hyde, deceased, [a patrician patron of Phipps and former Phipps CDC West Farms Planning Director, for whom Drew Gardens is named], Raymond Emmanuel [former Comprehensive Community Revitalization Program Project Manager, who supervised Sebert Harper (public horticulture and nutrition) and Michelle Williams (outreach and civic engagement)], and Alice James Jenkins [all] previously worked for Phipps Community Development Corporation and were involved with the Bronx River.
Some of these individuals are shown in a group photo from page 6 of Photographic History of Drew Gardens, taken at Drew Gardens.Bronx River BiWeekly, the newsletter of the Bronx River Working Group, compiled by Jenny Hoffner, identifies Bernard Johnson as Chair of the group. This specific citation, from the article “West Farms Meeting and Potluck” from the September 23 & 26 edition, bears relevance to what we now call West Farms Rapids. It states:
The newly formed Friends group will hold their fourth meeting on September 24 to share their concerns and solicit feedback from the larger community. The Friends will also host a potluck in the park on September 26 to involve more interested community members in their efforts and to invite people into the park. Both events will be held in Bronx River Park at 179th Street and the River. For more information contact Bernard Johnson, Chair, at 718-542-0952.
The Bi-Weekly of August 4, 1998 states:
August 13. West Farms Friends of the Bronx River Meeting. The newly formed West Farms Friends of the Bronx River will be holding their third meeting to share ideas for proposed changes to Bronx River Park and to solicit feedback from members of the larger community. Representatives from the 48th Precinct, NYC Parks and Recreation, and Phipps CDC will participate as well. The meeting will be held at Lambert Houses Community Center at 6pm. For more information contact Bernard Johnson at 718-542-0952.
Lower, an article subheading, “West Farms Friends of the Bronx River” beneath the heading of “News” states:
At the second meeting of the Friends, issues discussed included safety concerns in Bronx River Park, a newly acquired park at 179th Street and the Bronx River. The group has plans to take back their park from prostitutes and drug users that currently occupy it. They will be tabling at West Farms’ National Night Out Against Crime and Violence to inform community members [of] their efforts…
23 The date of responsibility transfer comes from the Bronx River Park sign circa 2000. The date of ownership transfer comes from conversation with Bronx River Alliance Board Member, Dart Westphal, during the groundbreaking of Starlight Park (October 14, 2010) and was confirmed by the author in conversation with HPD’s Borough Chief Ted Weinstein at a Bronx Community Board Number 6 meeting on December 8, 2010.
24 The Bronx River Park historical sign circa 2000 shows us that the current renovation of West Farms Rapids is its third design life. The text states, “In 2000, the Transportation Equity Act allocated $770,800 to renovate the park, [re-]construct a bike and pedestrian path, clean and reconstruct the river with landscaping, fencing, lighting, site furniture, planting and signage.” Limited by its small budget, this upgrade reinforced the 30-year old Bronx River Greenway node in simple ways so that the new solid ornamental fencing we see today replaced that era’s ordinary chain link fencing. Likewise, the new stylized entry at East 180th Street is more welcoming that the chain link gate that it has replaced. The Bronx River Biweekly, published by Partnership’s for Parks Bronx River Working Group Project, provides a slightly more expansive description of this 2000 iteration of the park’s history on April 11, 2000.
25 Partnerships for Parks’s Bronx River Biweekly newsletter for the Bronx River Working Group posts a Greenway Team Update on August 29, 2000 that “a proposal for the de-mapping of Bronx Street was tabled by Colleen Alderson of Parks Planning who has determined that Bronx Street (a dead end street adjacent to the Bronx River Art Center) is no longer mapped a city street. According to records at the Topographical Unit at the Bronx Borough President’s Office it was de-mapped in 1970 as part of the Bronx Park South Urban Renewal project.”
“A New Name for a New Park.” Bronx River Current: Periodic News of the Bronx River Restoration. New York: Bronx River Restoration, Autumn 1980: Vol. 3 No. 2: p 3
Allen, Thomas B. Torries: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War. New York: HarperCollins, 2010
Anderberg, Ruth M., Founding Executive Director to Bronx River Restoration. Interview. Story Corps. December 1, 2008
Anderberg, Ruth M., Founding Executive Director to Bronx River Restoration. Telephone Interview with Author. February 21, 2006
Anderberg, Ruth M., Founding Executive Director to Bronx River Restoration. Personal Interview with Author. October 18, 2010
Board of Estimate and Apportionment of the City of New York and The Board of Supervisors of the County of Westchester. Report of the Bronx River Parkway Commission. New York, 1922
Bridges, William. Gathering of Animals: An Unconventional History of the Zoological Society. New York: Harper and Row, 1966
Bronx River Alliance. “Bronx River” historical sign text. New York: Transmitted 2010 (date of origin unknown)
Bronx River Restoration. Bronx River Master Plan. New York: Bronx River Restoration, 1980
Bronx River Restoration. Energy Moving Forward in the Right Direction. New York: Bronx River Restoration, (1978)
Bronx River Restoration Invites You to Our First First River Festival. Invitation with Program. 1980
Duddy, James. “Bronx River Flows Again.” New York Daily News November 14, 1976
Gardner, Albert Ten Eyck. “Portraits of a Bronx Aristocrat.” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (April 1959): pp 205-208
Greenburgh Nature Center and Scarsdale Historical Society. Bronx River Retrospective: 300 Years of Life Along the Bronx River Valley. Exhibition Catalogue. Greenburgh Nature Center, Scarsdale Historical Society and the Bronx River Restoration Project, October 2 – November 27, 1983
Hermalyn, Gary. “A History of the Bronx River.” Bronx County Historical Society Journal Volume XIX (Spring, 1982): p 4
Horowitz, Michael. “Con Ed, Activists Celebrate Progress in Bronx River Cleanup.” City News March 6, 1999: p 7
Mauch, Christof and Thomas Zeller, Eds. The World Beyond the Windshield: Roads and Landscapes in the United States and Europe. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2008
“Milestones in the Industrial Development of the Bronx.” The Bronx Historian: Newsletter of the Bronx County Historical Society. March – April 1990
Niles, William W. Letter to Jay Downer, Westchester County Parks Commissioner. March 6, 1929
Parks and Recreation of the City of New York. “Bronx River (West Farms) Park” Construction Sign posted at West Farms Rapids. New York: Date Unknown
Parks and Recreation of the City of New York. “Bronx River Park” Historical Sign. New York: 2000
“Park Name Contest.” Bronx River Current: Periodic News of the Bronx River Restoration. New York: Bronx River Restoration, Spring 1980: Vol. 3 No. 1: p 8
Phipps Community Development Corporation. Photographic History of Drew Gardens. New York: Quinn Miller Associates (circa 2000).
“Plan of the Bronx International Exposition.” Map. Kenneth M. Murchison, Architect. New York: Self-published, 1916
“Refuse in Bronx Restoring River.” New York Times. August 6, 1979: p B3
“Restoration Mini Park Ground-Breaking Held.” Bronx Press-Review. December 6, 1979: p 15
Sheridan, Chris. “Bronx River Clean-Up Adds Soldiers to Its Campaign.” Catholic News. April 25, 1974
Latinos on the 6 Train Line: A Tour of BX Latino Environmentalists and More!
Let’s enjoy a few of the hundreds of places overfull with environmental, cultural, and advocacy history (1970s to the present) worth savoring along the Pelham Bay/ no. 6 train line in the Bronx, NY! This journey builds on the scholarship of people like Elena Martinez who produced the landmark map and documentary on 20th century Bronx Latino music called From Mambo to Hip Hop. Where she walks us through a century of rhythms and song, Andre takes us to additional sites of place making and centers of action for Bronx Latino environmentalists. Sometimes they intersect. Orlando Marin (associated with 52 Park) performed at one of the Bronx River Restoration’s first block party/ river celebrations in the mid 1970s (probably at 179th St. by the river! Hundreds more Latinos have made both big and small environmental progress in the Bronx so this is simply an introduction. It is hoped that more writing for everyday people will be produced that goes beyond individual profiles and celebrates these great Americans as a group to better know, love, and learn from! Enjoy your trip!
2014 is the 40th Anniversary of the first group dedicated to cleaning up and welcoming the community, through post Earth Day programming, to the Bronx River. While they dissolved their board and stopped programming a little over a decade ago, their vision and work set the foundation for all we enjoy today and continues to inform current progress. Bernie Hernandez (video above) of Aspira and Patrick Sands of Sands House came through Bronx River Restoration and each now do intensive community development work!
Profiles of Places and People
Pelham Bay Park
Jorge Santiago of Co-Op City loves Pelham Bay Park and has been exploring its natural and archeological treasures for several decades! He was instrumental in founding Givans Creek Woods Park in the Northeast Bronx. Jorge’s a long-time advocate of Bronx ecology where he has long joined forces with fellow locals through the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality and other organizations including his community board. He is also an indirect however real co-founder of the Bronx River Alliance. Further, he was a catalyst to river restitution grants administered by the NYS Attorney General’s office.
Photo description: While there have been many articles in local Bronx newspapers about Jorge Santiago, almost none appear in web searches. His only known reference in a book comes tangentially surrounding the Bronx War Memorial of Pelham Bay Park built in the 1930s. That book is The Bronx in Bits and Pieces by Bill Twomey which Andre is shown reading at the Pelham Bay Park station ramp to the park.
Bobby Gonzalez, poet and folklorist performs and blogs the Bronx. See how at http://www.bobbygonzalez.com/ . He’s the event coordinator and master of ceremonies for the annual Bronx Native American Festival which takes place at Pelham Bay Park in September. He is also a past member of the board of directors of The Storytelling Center, Inc. of New York.
Bobby is a dynamic speaker specializing in encouraging audiences of all ages and backgrounds to succeed, fulfill their full potential and adjust to a changing world by becoming more aware of the rich history and accomplishments of their ancestors. In his lectures and workshops Bobby urges his listeners to be more sensitive to the various cultures and belief systems of their neighbors and colleagues.
He wrote “The Last Puerto Rican Indian: A Collection of Dangerous Poetry.” These verses reflect on five centuries of dramatic upheavals and heroic triumphs for Native Peoples in North, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.
Bobby González seeks to empower his audiences by encouraging them to embrace their heritage and use this knowledge to create a dynamic future. As an individual proud of his Native American, Latino and African ancestry, Bobby is a messenger of hope, pride and love of diversity. Find his work on Facebook too.
Near Middletown Road
Do you see the Herbert Lehman High School campus in the distance? Snow covers the Hutchinson River Parkway bike path to the left where many Bronxites bike for recreation and to work! This site is between Middletown Road and Westchester Square. Rich Gans is a long-time advocate of biking city-wide. He can be seen leading rides during the annual Tour de Bronx and plays a prominent role in the Transportation Alternatives Bronx Committee which advocates for safer streets for bicyclists, pedestrians, and all public transit riders. Hatuey Ramos-Fermin of Boogie Down Rides also volunteers with the TABC and the Bronx River Alliance’s Greenway Committee. Both men trace part of their heritage back to Puerto Rico!
Westchester Square/ East Tremont Avenue
Angel Hernandez of the Bronx County Historical Society is no stranger to adventure. He was in the Outward Bound program in his teens and loves the great outdoors. Exploring at a local level before graduating high school, he made himself familiar with the collections and interior of the Huntington Free Library (shown at left) as well as the graveyard to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Both sites are just outside the Westchester Square stop. The library is open by appointment and welcomes you to its free monthly power point talks called the East Bronx History Forum. See this Lehman College graduate’s work.
B.A.A.D! (Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance) is located at 2474 Westchester Avenue in a stone building in the grounds of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. BAAD! was founded in Hunts Point in the late 1990s by Arthur Aviles (dancer/choreographer) and Charles Rice-Gonzalez (activist/novelist/marketing expert). Both Arthur and Charles were key to the first Golden Ball Festival in 1999 and are associated with numerous river developments before and since that date including hosting classes for river worker training and much more! Arthur danced the whole length of the festival from Westchester County to the Bronx while Charles took the huge responsibility for organizing promotion, in partnership with Partnerships for Parks, of this historic and well documented watershed in Bronx history. Bronx River Sankofa first learned of their love for the river in 2003 seeing photos of the river and surrounding communities on display at their former American Bank Note Building space. Those iconic images were taken by Arthur. Over the years BAAD! has been a vital venue for Bronx L.G.B.T.Q. artists working in dance, performance, dramatic theater, film and free public/civic events. BAAD! is a Bronx-based arts organization that creates, produces, presents and supports the development of cutting edge and challenging works in contemporary dance and all creative disciplines which are empowering to women, people of color and the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community. Find their work on-line!
Castle Hill Avenue
Ed Garcia Conde is a popular blogger and ambassador of the Bronx’s Melrose community who increasingly reports on events farther and farther from his home base of Melrose. Welcome2TheBronx has joined his earlier Welcome2Melrose web pages. While green issues are not a dominant theme to his writing, they are present. More importantly, he is creating a broad body of local documentation of the Bronx as lived by Generations X, Y and millennials with great re-blogging and periodic features on older Bronxites.
Photo description: Ed and friends at the former South Bronx Food Co-op once located near the busy commercial district of The Hub.
G.I.V.E. began in 2010 and has gotten bigger and better ever since. Their blog tells how they started. Newbold Avenue’s intersection with Virginia one block from the Parkchester train station is one place you’ll see G.I.V.E. in action! Located behind the C-Town Supermarket, they began as a block beautification project and grew into a new culture. They plug local youths from many cultures into volunteer work. G.I.V.E. teaches them through active involvement to take care of the Bronx while developing social skills and learning job skills! G.I.V.E. seeks to cultivate awareness of urban environmental issues through volunteerism, education, activism, and hands-on experiences. Their ever-growing beautification work includes the Yankee Stadium area, Starlight Park and beyond. See how they’re growing on Facebook too!
St. Lawrence Avenue
This is your train stop if you want to see where Justice Sonia Sotomayor grew up. The New York City Housing Authority development where she lived is within a short walk and they now bare her name. Hear and see this distinguished Bronxite speak about her origins and be inspired!
Photo description: Andre holds the June 8, 2009 Time Magazine cover featuring US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Morrison Avenue/ Soundview
Andre is holding one of the few known printed accounts of the Bronx River’s rehabilitation that features a number of Latinos with deep involvement in profiles, mentions, and pictures. Page 153 (shown) of Groundswell: stories of saving places, finding community includes impressions from and of Alexie Torrez-Fleming who founded YMPJ. Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice operates a few blocks away and is a faith-based teen-focused program that address a wide range of social issues while providing practical support like tutoring, housing services, and more.
Velo City and Friends of Soundview Park deserve to be associated with this key train station which facilitates access to Soundview Park. Velo City was founded by three women of color who are each urban planners. See their portrait against the MTA map at the top of this blog. They use bike culture (touring, maintaining, etc.) as a means to open up career considerations and civic awareness. Teens enjoy their programs in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Friends of Soundiew Park was among the most active Bronx park groups at the time this blog was published. Long-time Soundview neighborhood resident Lucy Aponte, who is a fine artist and Poe Park Visitor Center administrator, is among the core members. Carlos Martinez, of Queens, through Partnerships for Parks, provided solid administrative leadership through 2014.
Omar Freilla worked for many years with others to get the open space you see in the background, Concrete Plant Park, re-built into something more pleasant and green you would find today while he worked at the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance followed by Sustainable South Bronx before creating Green Worker Cooperatives in 2003.
He was creative in his advocacy, often drawing the community to the site before the city accepted it as a potential park through his live Afro-Caribbean folkloric music. He is a drummer, singer and dancer. He also wrote about the adjacent highway, the Sheridan Expressway, in an anthology called Highway Robbery.
Omar is the second male from the left in this group portrait from the Groundswell book, page 144 showing many Bronx River advocates active in the 1990s and early 2000s. Some have continued on while others now work elsewhere.
Hunts Point Avenue
Maria Torres is a co-founder of and continues to help manage The Point, a youth-focused community development organization and performing arts/ civic center. She can be seen first from the left in this group portrait (click for a closer look). Like many of her co-founders, she came from the now defunct Senaca Center once located on Hunt’s Point Avenue which served hundreds of youths from Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx. Numerous youthful change agents find community and develop further at The Point. A great place to see some of them is in the A.C.T.I.O.N. (Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood) program (find details on more teen programs here).
Casita Maria sponsors South Bronx Cultural Trail tours which begin at their home base near this station. Learn more about how Casita Maria helps build a sense of place through the City Lore website!
E. 149th Street
Dra. Evelina Antonetty Way is marked by an official NYC street sign unveiled in 2011. It is located at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and E. 156th Street.
Take time to reflect and be empowered by the legacy of Dr. Evelina Lopez Antonetty (1922-1984) near the East 149th Street station. “Titi” or “Auntie,” as she was often called, formed United Bronx Parents and was a force for establishing bi-lingual education locally and nationally. Among her hundreds of accomplishments, she protested, periodically shut down filming for, and got twenty jobs for local minorities in the filming of Fort Apache, a fictional film set in the Bronx. Her mural across the street (shown here) reads her words from 1980: “We will never stop struggling here in the Bronx, even though they’ve destroyed it around us. We would pitch tents if we have to rather than move from here. We would fight back, there is nothing we would not do. They will never take us away from here. I feel very much a part of this and I’m never going to leave. And, after me, my children will be here to carry on…I have very strong children…and very strong grandchildren.”
Titi’s daughter Anita Antonetty once provided career counseling services to the youths of Rocking the Boat in Hunt’s Point. Many were pleasantly surprised to encounter a mature Latina deeply aware of Bronx ecology issues and trends. Anita continues to make her mark on the Bronx sustainability front in her long standing advocacy through community boards and beyond.
E 143rd Street/ St. Mary’s Street
Some of the people who lovingly care for a public park near our last stop, 52 Park, attended Samuel Gompers high school (across the street) over three generations. 52 People for Progress was founded in 1980. This volunteer organization fuzes cultural affirmation, preservation and more with park stewardship. See where they thrive on Kelly Street and Leggett Avenue. There’s much more history at 52 People for Progress’ Facebook page too.
Congressman Jose E. Serrano’s 2005 essay A Greater Sense of Pride says it all. This ten page booklet expresses his environmental justice philosophy and details some of his legislative accomplishments with respect to air quality, parks and more. His opening letter says it all:
It is no secret that our government treats poor communities unequally, but environmental injustice poses a particularly sinister threat. Environmental problems may not make headlines or grab our attention like a war, but persistent environmental hazards in the Bronx are taking the lives of our children just the same.
Those of us in the Bronx don’t need statistics to convince us that a link exists between poverty and exposure to environmental harm. Our neglected landscape—marred by sewage plants, waste transfer stations, scrap metal yards and power stations—provides ample evidence that the most economically vulnerable among us bear the brunt of our society’s environmental ills.
Relief for our lungs is not the only thing at stake for the Bronx as we wrestle with these issues. The often overlooked presence of noxious polluters and environmental eyesores in places where we live, work and play have taken a heavy toll on our economy, our ecosystems, and our physical and mental well-being. Residents of low income communities not only are less able to ward off harmful activities that encroach upon their neighborhoods, but they often also lack the necessary resources to enforce what few protections they should receive under existing laws.
Fortunately, more and more of us are coming to recognize that a clean and safe environment is not a luxury reserved for the privileged, but a right due to all Americans regardless of their wealth, income, race, or ethnicity. This trend is promising as we continue to build on our community’s past successes. Only through our continued vigilance will we finally achieve true environmental justice for ourselves and future generations.”
Bernie Hernandez was a teen in the 1980s when this photo was taken in Bronx Park. The location is the east bank of the Bronx River just south of Gun Hill Road. Bernie of Aspira has worked on Bronx environmental issues for over twenty years. He started as a teen-ager with the Bronx River Restoration, founded 1974, (precursor to the Bronx River Alliance, founded in 2001) and went on to run in-school recreation and educational programs after getting a degree in business administration. He has periodically brought school children to the Bronx River during his years as an after-school program administrator. He is now a Beacon program director in a school near Brook Park. In an early 2014 video, he discussed his current work. Andre Christopher Rivera, a college student and accomplished Bronx environmentalist, conducted the interview. He recalls the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition (city-wide greening group), City Volunteer Corps (defunct model for national AmeriCorprs), the Bronx River Art Center and the Bronx River Restoration headed by its last executive director Nancy Wallace.
Aspira’s mission is to foster the social advancement of the Latino community by supporting its youth in the pursuit of educational excellence through leadership development activities and programs that emphasize community dedication.
3rd Avenue/ 138th Street
The women of La Finca Del Sur (community garden), co-founded by Nancy Ortiz-Surun, prides itself on being New York City’s first women run farm. Learn more through their blog and Facebook page.
Thank you for reading this post completed on February 23, 2014.