Category Archives: Sense of place

Ruby Bridges Mural by Sharon De la Cruz

A Hunt’s Point Walk: Part 2

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.

Cybeale Ross & Paul Lipson of Hunts Point
Cybeale Ross and Paul Lipson
Hunt’s Point Riverside Park
Hunt’s Point Riverside Park

Bright Temple AME Church DSCN9527 DSCN9422 Hunt's Point Townhouses Garrison Sculpture ParkDSCN9479

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 ParkContinue 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.

EXPLORE Hunt’s Point Walk #1 BY CLICKING HERE.

Vito Marcantonio’s New York: illuminating his life

Welcome to the world of Vito Marcantonio who briefly lived in the Bronx at Congressman (later Mayor) Fiorello LaGuadia’s Bronx apartment when he was a NYU law student and is laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery.  Bronx River Sankofa discovered this New Deal-era Congressman as a Bronx story when our very first post on this page was published.  Congressman Marcantonio was a mentor to Evelina Antonetty whose best known for founding  United Bronx Parents.  His legacy demands to be revisited as one who cared about issues that have re-surfaced in modern times–immigration, utility affordability, working-class housing, need-over-greed-policy, civil rights, police brutality, etc.

Note: Where page numbers appear, they refer to illuminating facts from Gerald Meyer’s book Vito Marcantonio: radical politician, 1902-1954 unless attributed to another source.  Learn more about this important 20th-Century legislator at the Vito Marcantonio Forum.

marcantonio at a podium
Vito Marcantonio’s Major Political/ Civic Landmarks

A. Lucky Corner 116th Street and Lexington Avenue, where massive election-eve rallies were held. 15,000 rallied here for Marcantonio in 1948 (p.39).

B. Marc’s district office/ Fiorello LaGuardia Political Association (later Vito Marcantonio Political Association) 247 East 116 Street (now a dentist office).

C. Madison Square Garden (where it stood before the current one) 8th Avenue between 50th and 49th Streets. He rallied with workers there in 1935 (p.25), and was the main attraction in 1948 (p.39) for a campaign speech attended by 18,000.

D. Benjamin Franklin High School—since re-named more than once— 116th Street between Pleasant Avenue and the FDR Drive. One of Marcantonio’s primary mentors, Leonard Covello, was its founding principal. He spoke at its 1942 dedication (p.123).       

E. Marc’s Yorkville district office (where his biographer, Annette T. Rubinstein, worked on his staff) 1484 First Avenue .  In 1956, Rubinstein and associates (The Vito Marcantonio Memorial) edited and published I Vote My Conscience: debates, speeches and writings of Vito Marcantonio (1935-1950).

Imagining Neighborhood As Well As Early Life Beyond Italian Harlem

1. Marcantonio’s childhood home 325 E. 112th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues). This building was replaced by Thomas Jefferson Houses, a NYCHA development.
2. Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church 448 East 116th Street, where Marc received a certificate of baptismal.  He was not observant as an adult like his paternal grandmother who was very active there.
3. PS 85 @ 1st Avenue and East 117th Street where Salvatore John LaGumina’s Vito Marcantonio: The People’s Politician reports he attended elementary school on page 2.
4. Old DeWitt Clinton High School 899 10th Avenue. It is now Haaren Hall on the campus of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Marc graduated with the class of 1921 before attending law school at New York University.
5. Leonard Covello’s House, his primary mentor, 229 East 116 Street.
6. LaGuardia Memorial House (known as Haarlem House when Marc worked there) 307 East 116th Street. His wife Miriam Sanders worked there for many years too.
7. Marcantonio-Sanders House 231 East 116 Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues).
8. Fiorello LaGuardia’s Home, 5th Avenue and 109th Street, is an apartment building known as Stonehedge.

Where Marc Was Last Seen…and Still Rests

F. A massive heart attack overcame Marc on the East side of Broadway by City Hall
G. Giordano’s Funeral Home 1st Avenue and 115th Street (now http://www.firstavenuefuneral.com), where his well-attended wake took place. See p.183.
H. Woodlawn Cemetery  Vito Marcantonio is buried in the Oakwood Section within 50 feet of his mentor, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. The grave site is on the west side of the hill near the intersection of Park Avenue and Myosotis Avenue.

Also, see a 60 minute walking tour of Vito Marcantonio’s Harlem by clicking here!

  Marcantonio_at-political-headquarters-desk

East Harlem Vito Marcantonio Walk and Remembrance

Vito Marcantonio Forum event 8-9-14This photo was taken by Omesh Persaud of The Bronx Chronicle.  Pictured are NYC Council Speaker Hon. Melissa Mark-Viverito (center) surrounded by Forum members (l-r) Gerald Meyer, LuLu LoLo Pascale, Adam Meyer, and Roberto Ragone.

The occasion of a major American progressive’s memorial on Saturday, August 9 compelled me to visit some places that remain from his times.  Come walk with me.  We’ll also recognize others buried within Woodlawn Cemetery who were similar in their ambitions for an expansive democracy.  You are about to enter the world Vito Marcantonio offers me–even if I was born almost twenty years after he expired.

United States Congressman Marcantonio (1902-1954) simultaneously served America’s largest Little Italy and biggest continental Puerto Rican enclave with a significant constituency of African-Americans through the Great Depression, World War II, and early Cold War years (1934-1936 and 1938-1950).  He exemplified a conscience, legal deftness, and administrative fluency for government in the best interests of blue-collar America.  The Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF), organizer of the aforementioned commemoration, has gone far to re-establish his visibility .  This twentieth century people’s politician had a legislative vision and success record that demand to be revisited as similar issues re-emerge in American public life!  The VMF’s website, events, and on-line videos serve to bring “Marc” to life including a taped panel discussion at the Left Form.

Walking San Vito’s Harlem

San Vito of East Harlem    Pray for us…

From the backyard crap game    San Vito deliver us…

From the landlord’s greed    San Vito protect us.  –Gil Fagiani

With the Litany of San Vito playing in my mind, I strolled to sites that would have been familiar to “Marc” (as he was sometimes affectionately called).   Some thought him a saint (San means saint in Spanish and Italian).

Beginning at Malcolm X Boulevard (Lenox Avenue), I walked east on 116th Street through a canyon of newer buildings where a vaudeville theater district (see buildings at 37 and 18 West 116th Street) once catered to the ethnic New York of Marc’s childhood.   My first stop was Lucky Corner where that young lawyer conducted the attentions of his mentor’s voter base.  Marc made this aptly named crossroads at Lexington Avenue and 116th Street a crucial political rallying point for his predecessor in Congress who went on to become the Big Apple’s stellar New Deal-era mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia.  Lucky Corner was Marcantonio’s to command when he too ascended to LaGuardia’s former elected office in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Thomas Jefferson Houses was my next stop.  This New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) development  replaced Marc’s childhood home.  He grew up at 325 East 112th Street where many buildings across from his still stand.  Walking along this development’s northern edge on East 115th Street, the low-rise townhouse and tenement scene on the north side of the street contrasts starkly with much taller NYCHA buildings on the south.  Marc would have seen this early 1950s towers-in-a-park residence replace familiar streets and homes although it opened for occupancy shorty after he passed away.   Perhaps it’s fitting that low cost modern housing for the masses–which he and LaGuardia advocated–would succeed his own former address.  My next stop explored WPA-era improvements to Italian Harlem’s only public park across the street on 1st Avenue.

Thomas Jefferson Park, once graced by a large children’s vegetable garden, was already an evolving experiment in good government in Marc’s day.  Social reformers had helped establish this park in the same decade of his birth.  New municapally-operated green spaces sited within working class districts across America where an expanding civic priority in cities where the settlement house movement and the profession of social work promoted European-immigrants’ well-being.   During Marc’s first term representing East Harlem, the pool and recreation center, that continue to serve thousands today, opened!  It was hailed as “the last word in engineering, hygiene, and construction.”

Benjamin Franklin High School –since renamed more than once–adjoins Jefferson Park (between 114th and 116th Streets) along the FDR Drive, a roadway named for the “President who put America back to work” in the 1930s and 1940s.  Public education pioneer and Marcantonio mentor Leonard Covello served as its first principal.  This building was constructed, after long advocacy, in 1940 and 1941.  At that time, Federal social spending was being subverted by escalating military appropriations as America entered World War II.  True to New Deal optimism, this neo-classical brick and limestone building is a people’s palace of art and amenity.  For example, the large auditorium situated immediately inside its colonnaded main entrance boasts generous seating appropriate for both school programming and civic affairs for different types of audiences.  Over time, the uses of this carefully-designed interior public space have come to form a history of its own.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church (448 East 116th Street) presents a rusticated pale stone facade on 115th St. just steps from the school.  I entered Italian Harlem’s parish church and was impressed by how richly ornamented it was.  There, Catholic narratives are interpreted in ceiling frescoes, stained glass windows, low-relief sculpture, carved marble altars, and life-sized dioramas in niches.  As my eyes adjusted to the sacred light pouring in from all sides, I traced a series of medallions positioned between windows and elsewhere.  They depict fourteen scenes in the life of Jesus including: “The cross is laid on Jesus,” “Jesus is stripped of his garments,” “Jesus consoles the women,” “Jesus dies on the cross,” and “Jesus is laid in the tomb.”  I contemplated San Vito coming under FBI scrutiny, San Vito enduring the Wilson-Pacula Act of 1947, San Vito defending American leftists while steering social spending toward the most vulnerable, San Vito dead on Broadway, and San Vito’s burial sixty years ago.  While Marc was non-observant, he had received a certificate of baptism here.  Wondering what support he enjoyed in life, I next walked to his wife’s (Miriam Sanders) former job where, among other things, she ran the nursery school.

LaGuardia Memorial House, once called Haarlem House though originally Home Garden Settlement, (307 East 116th Street) provides a very visible landmark to Marc’s time on 116th Street because both his final home (231 East 116th St.) and congressional district office (247 East 116th St.) further west remain-at the time of this writing-unsigned.  This social services organization now lives at the base of a 1960s seniors tower within a busy commercial corridor dominated by low-rise prewar darker-toned structures.  In the 1920s and early 1930s, Marc worked in an earlier building then called Haarlem House on tenants’ rights, immigration, education, and other issues.  According to Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician, 1902-1954 by Gerald Meyer, Marc “…helped to perpetuate Haarlem House as a neighborhood forum for liberal ideas and as a center for community organizing.”  This brief tour of Marc’s Harlem helped me see where and what he stood for.   As I took the subway home, my thoughts migrated to Marcantonio’s Bronx resting place and other American progressives at Woodlawn Cemetery worth visiting.

Good Company at Woodlawn

While Woodlawn Cemetery suffers from high turnover among office staff and poor labor relations with staff maintenance workers according to news reports in recent years, it is blessed with dedicated, informed, and generous staff and volunteers in the Woodlawn Conservancy.  Susan Olsen, and colleagues, have been leading memorable tours for over a decade there.  Their on-line, print, and archive resources can help you locate major American figures like labor and civil rights advocate Hubert Harrison, women’s rights champion Elizabeth Cady Stanton, humanist Herman Melville, peace negotiator par excellence Dr. Ralph Bunche, New Deal-era mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and cultural ambassadors Bricktop and Countee Cullen among many others.

Find more related sites by clicking here!

 

About the Author

Morgan Powell founded Bronx River Sankofa in 2011 as a spin-off from the   Bronx African-American History Project (founded in 2003).  He has used the Project’s methods of combining oral history and classical scholarship to assemble an inspiring and  useful history of Bronx African-Americans.  Beyond the thousands reached by his research in televised interviews and walking tours as well as published writing at Outdoor Afro, Sakofa once met over 1,400 members of the public in power point talks and walking tours.  The Honorable Marcantonio first became a specific interest of Sankofa when it was learned in 2014 Marc had mentored the Bronx social reformer Evelina Antonetty.  Antonetty was featured in Bronx River Sankofa’s very first self-published blog and we are happy to expand that research with this introduction to a related great American.

Click on this sentence to enjoy additional memorial photos by Matt Foglino.

Bronx Chronicle article on the commemoration.

Oggi America article on the commemoration.

New Stories of Exceptional Women: the Bronx River as oracle

Bronx River Map courtesy Bronx River AllianceEvery day—both during and beyond Women’s History Month—let’s consider our women’s lives.  This article will take you on a journey of New York City’s only freshwater river to the places where many diverse notables have worked.  Sometimes they are sites where national figures have been kept in sacred memory.  This pantheon of Great Americans can enrich our lives today if we have the courage to hear their voices.

Portraits like Diane Sargent’s (shown below text) will illustrate the lands coursed by the Bronx River (map at left courtesy Bronx River Alliance) in New York City as a network of beauty and conscience.

Sargent is known as a force for good at the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality in the 90s and early 2000s.  She served as project director of the Bronx Greenway Plan (1993) consolidating ambitious goals for the expansion of the Bronx’s many large criss-crossing linear parks. This plan represents three years of collaboration with borough-wide community boards.  It set standards for many subsequent improvements.  Diane owns a real estate consulting business in the Kingsbridge district, is a history buff and environmental justice pioneer. She says, “You can get a lot done if you don’t need to get credit…that’s the kind of person I am…I’m a doer.”

  Madam C.J. Walker

Welcome back to Bronx River Sankofa!  We were born from The BAAHP (Bronx African-American History Project).

The BAAHP is dedicated to uncovering the cultural, political, economic, and religious histories of the more than 500,000 people of African descent in the Bronx.  The BAAHP encourages, promotes, and builds partnerships between Fordham University, the Bronx County Historical Society, and diverse African-descended community leaders, citizens, organizations, and elected officials from around the city and especially in the Bronx.

 

MOUNT VERNON has been home to many prominent citizens of New York State including Phylicia Rashad (actress), Adam Clayton Powell (statesman), Ossie Davis (socially conscious actor), Ruby Dee (socially conscious actress), Robin Givens (actress), Denzel Washington (actor), Sidney Poitier (actor) and New York State Senator Ruth Hassel Thompson.  Ms. Thompson follows in the tradition of her predecessor William White Niles in consistently supporting the Bronx Zoo’s free public programs.  This riverside Westchester County’s heritage includes Malcom X’s wife and children who moved there after his martyrdom.  Dr. Betty Shabazz moved her girls from Queens to a leafy private home where they played outside regularly and were expected to do yard work.  Ilyasah Shabazz (born 1962) is the third daughter.  She has published a coming of age tale entitled Growing Up XIlyasah was once Director of Public Relations for the City of Mount Vernon and has been an executive of CUNY’s Black Male Initiative. Mount Vernon is a great place to study the last century of conditions for the African-American middle class in America as written about in books like Black on the Block.

 

WOODLAWN CEMETERY offers us dozens of African-American twentieth century icons including an international businesswoman, an industrialist, one who lived through Victorian-era America, an international performing artist, and a key patron of the Harlem Renaissance, among others!

Bricktop (a businesswoman)“Bricktop” (Ada Duconge) (1895-1984) Zinnia section

Bricktop was a Harlem Renaissance patron like A’Lelia Walker (daughter to America’s first self-made woman millionaire Madam C.J. Walker).  They both helped finance Harlem Renaissance writers, plays, singers, and visual artists.  She was a legendary singer and nightclub owner known for entertaining the rich, famous and talented in her Paris, Rome and Mexico City jazz clubs. Cole Porter wrote “Miss Otis Regrets” especially for her.  Noel Coward, the Duke of Windsor, Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker and Duke Ellington were among her patrons.  Did you see her homage scene in Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris?

Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) Butternut section

Through her hair and cosmetics business, Ms. Walker amassed the largest self-made fortune of any American woman of any race in her day.  She began selling her products door-to-door, eventually establishing a major corporation in Indianapolis, and moving to New York where she built her beautiful Irvington estate, “Villa Lewaro.” Madam Walker was generous to many charities, donating funds to preserve the Frederick Douglass home as a museum, funding scholarships at the Tuskegee Institute and supporting the NAACP. 

Alina C. Martin (?-1882) is buried in the di Zerega family plot near the Webster Avenue gate to Woodlawn Cemetery.  Martin may have worked the east Bronx DiZerega estate (built after emancipation in New York State) in what is now Ferry Point Park.  Many Caribbean and native-born domestic trades professionals worked the homes and gardens of early industrialists before mass transit transformed places like Hunt’s Point and Throggs Neck into densely settled neighborhoods.

Florence Mills (1895-1927) Arbutus section

Known as the “Queen of Happiness”, she was among the 1920’s most popular entertainers. Mills was a singer, dancer, and vaudevillian who starred in several productions in New York and London. Duke Ellington wrote “Black Beauty” as a tribute to Mills.  Six carloads of flowers were brought to her grave; Ethel Waters was an honorary pall bearer and James Weldon Johnson attended the service.  Over 10,000 people paid tribute to her at the funeral chapel and when she was laid to rest a plane flew over Woodlawn dropping rose petals on her grave.

A’Lelia Walker Robinson (1885-1931) Butternut section

The only daughter of Madam C.J. Walker, A’Lelia used her inherited wealth to promote art and culture during the Harlem Renaissance. Among A’Lelia Robinson’s circle of friends were Countee Cullen, Carl Van Vechten, and Langston Hughes who is reported to have thought that the renaissance died with her.

 

WAKEFIELD and WILLIAMSBRIDGE are important neighborhoods in all of the Bronx for many reasons.  Here, you will find some of the very few public buildings and a park named for African-Americans including a Willie Bowman (Civic leader) school, Albert Tuitt, Sr. (publisher of the Bronx’s last Black newspaper) school, and Agnes Haywood Playground named for a major civic leader of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.  She helped found the Williamsbridge branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People aka The NAACP and attended to wide-ranging social services needs through the local branch of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).

Jessie Collins, BXRR Board MemberOur green profile in this section of the Bronx River corridor is Jessie W. Collins, a Baychester resident and educator who grew up in Alabama.  She settled in the Bronx by her 20s. She was a Bronx River Restoration Project, Inc. (BXRR) board member from 1983 – 2003 making many important decisions about budget and group direction among a board she respected highly.  Ms. Collins is a former Edenwald Houses Community Center administrator who then taught Special Education at J. P. Sousa Junior High School in Baychester through summer 2011.  Her son, now a civil servant, worked for a summer on the Bronx River in the 1980s.  Many youth from Edenwald Houses have worked on the Bronx River over many years partly due to her collaboration with the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program.  Collins remains dedicated to community development via parks.  Today, she leads the Friends of Haffen Park near the New England Thruway in a part of Baychester often called the Valley.  Teaching youth to identify tree and bird species is a focus of this group.

 

NORWOOD/ BEDFORD PARK/ FORDHAM

Having Our Say bookSarah “Sadie” Delany’s (1989-1999) life graced the Broadway stage when her biography Having Our Say: the DeLany Sisters’ First 100 Years captured the American imagination in the 1990s.  That book and play provides us with a rare published account of race in the NYC public school system.  In chapter eighteen, we learn in hilarious detail, that Ms. Delany integrated the teaching staff at Theodore Roosevelt High School on Fordham Road during the Great Depression when the demographics of that neighborhood were very different.  It reads, “I became the first colored school teacher in the New York City system to teach [home economics] at the high school level.”  Her final Board of Education position was at Evander Childs High School–also a Bronx River watershed neighborhood–where she retired in 1960.

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, was published in September of 1993, and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over six months.

 

NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN

Therese Lemelle is the former Art Director (1997-2000) at NYBG.  She wrote the graphic standards for NYBG publications and branding including grounds signage.  She believs in sourcing materials and professional services locally.  To that end, she redirected large printing contracts to a Morris Park (Bronx) vendor among many initiatives while saving the institution money.  Among her many projects in print from that period are illustrated color books including The Conifer Arboretum and A Visit to the Garden.  This adoptive Bronxite has taught graphic design at a mid-Manhattan college among her many distinguished projects.  Originally from Westchester, Therese holds a BA in interior design and Masters in visual communication.  She continues to work in the Bronx, having had a distinguished career including work at the Hostos Art Gallery and with the Bronx Council on the Arts.

Jessye Norman‘s (1945 – ) NYBG projects are summarized in “Were Pollen and Allergies a Problem in Eden, Too?” by Christopher Mason in the pages of the New York Times.  Mason wrote, “Ms. Norman, one of the world’s best known sopranos…[is] a trustee of the garden…[and a] Phalaenopsis…known as the Jessye Norman orchid.”  The story continues “Referring to the concert that Ms. Norman has agreed to give at Avery Fisher Hall a year from now to benefit the New York Botanical Garden, [Gregory Long, garden president] said that her contributions as a board member are highly prized.  ‘When she’s not traveling, she attends board meetings, and we don’t find her to be diva-like in the least…She understands the value of her celebrity to us as an institution, and she’s very generous with it.  There’s no ego about it.  The truth is that no one is more congenial or ready to capitalize on their acclaim in the community than Mrs. Astor and Jessye Norman.'”   NYBG’s Winter 2011 newsletter listeded Ms. Norman among the Distinguished Counsellors to the Board.

 Karen Washington, BUGs

Karen Young-Washington, is a co-founder of the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGs), and active on the boards of Just Food, the NYC Community Garden Coalition, and the New York Botanical Garden.  Sister Washington has lived in the Bronx since 1985 and saw Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer’s legacy project Bronx Green-Up (BGU) begin.  BGU helped her establish the Garden of Happiness (with forty 6′ X 8′ plots) in 1989 on her home block as one of its first efforts.  She also partners with BGU on BX Community Board 6′s community multi-cultural gardener’s association La Familia Verde Garden Coalition The Coalition is associated with a health fair, fire safety instruction, a food pantry, and a Cornell Extension program to teach young scientists about gardening and nutrition.  This native New Yorker has been a physical therapist for over thirty-seven years.  In Greening the Bronx (Bronx Times June 8, 2006; Ciafardini, Bobby), Washington declared “Bronx Green-Up turned me into an activist…my involvement has expanded my horizons.” 

           
ALLERTON – BRONXDALE

At Home in Utopia documentary

Madrue Chavers-Wright (1916?-1989?) was the daughter of a major African-American Chicago journalist, industrialist, and banker who established a rural summer camp for children.  She wrote a family biography called The Guarantee centered on her father, P.W. Chavers.  He was an early advocate for protecting all of our bank deposits through what became the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.  She made her career in social services and was a charter member of the National Association of Social Workers, active with the Social Workers for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, and a Representative to the United Nations.  She was also a Corporate Member of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  This paragon of twentieth-century African-American mobility and civic virtue lived simply in the tan brick cooperative residential tower located at 2410 Barker Avenue between Allerton Avenue and Pelham Parkway.  Her life forces all to consider the complexity of the whole Bronx African-American community because she was NOT unusual.

 

WEST FARMS/ FORDHAM/ TREMONT

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (1930 – 1965) was an African-American playwright and political activist from Chicago for whom biographies have been written.  She is memorialized in the Lorraine Hansberry Academy (originally IS 167, later IS 200, and finally PS 214 and Emolier Academy).  This landmark commands one the busiest intersections anywhere in the Bronx at 1970 West Farms Road, Bronx NY 10460.  She came from a proud family who demanded full access to American society; her father fought residential discrimination and two other relatives were charter members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). 

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry

She lived in Greenwich Village (Manhattan) and Croton on Hudson nearby.  Her husband attended a commemorative service for her shortly after the school opened very much as Paul Robeson visited a junior high school in Mott Haven (Bronx) named for him shortly after it opened.  Distinguished graduates include Princess Jenkins (owner of the Brownstone boutique on 125th st. near 5th Ave.), Vronzella Ross (of Teacher’s Paradise store across the street), Raheim of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Richard Alomar (landscape architect).  This school, originally appointed with wall to wall carpeting, was endowed with excellent music and art programs and an active wood shop during it’s first decade. An alumnus says it was very similar to today’s Calhoun School in Manhattan where they use a progressive approach to education that attends to the intellectual, emotional and social growth of its students as individuals and as members of a larger society.  

 

CROTONA PARK EAST – BRONX RIVER

Genevieve Brooks (later married as Genevieve S. Brooks – Brown) is credited with helping to bring the central Bronx back from the ashes.  She is standing to the far right in the picture below wearing black in front of a Charlotte Gardens home.  Together with an openly gay African-American owner of several Crotona Park East buildings named Eae J. Mitchell, and others, she formed MBD Community Housing Corporation (originally Mid-Bronx Desperadoes) before taking office as the Bronx’s first female Deputy Borough President in 1990.

 Genevieve Brooks

While MBD operates several apartment buildings and has initiated new public parks, and more, their signature project is the Charlotte Gardens housing development.  Charlotte Gardens boasts several blocks of 1.5 – 2 story private houses bordering Crotona Park where mass media recorded urban decay surrounding President Carter’s 1977 visit.  Ms. Brooks helped found Saebury Child Care which is still going strong, however she began her housing activism at the building where she lived around 1960, 1335 Seabury Place on Boston Road.

Her community development work is written about in books like South Bronx Rising.

 

The Chiffons (Doo Wop singers) were one of the top girl groups of the early 1960s. With their trademark tight harmonies, high-stepping confidence and the hit machine of Goffin and King writing songs such as “One Fine Day,” the Chiffons made music that helped define their era.  These ladies began singing together at James Monroe High School in 1960 and lived in the Bronx River Houses.  See their Wikipedia bio for more information!

 Cerita Parker (MOMS)

LONGWOOD/ HUNT’S POINT/ SOUNDVIEW

We humans are intrinsic to nature though modern culture creates undue separations.  Locally-focused progressive groups like Mothers on the Move (MOMs) help moderate that distance.

MOMs member, Rita Veras, works to transform public school inequalities and other social injustices by organizing within a democratic model. She says, when the organization found out that members’ children were not doing well, the organization began to ask parents what they could do to make change.

Today, corrupt Dept. of Education administrators from an earlier period of protracted unaccountability are gone. New leadership administers local schools.  There’s better commitment to distributing resources more equitably. Reading and math scores have risen.

Decent housing, traffic safety and environmental justice campaigns have led to other changes in the neighborhood such as renovated buildings, several redeveloped and new parks, and safer streets. These changes were the result of organizing by MOM – a determined group of parents and community residents who refused to let their community’s children be victims of neglect.

Celia Cruz (1926-2003) The “Queen of Salsa”  from Cuba, once lived at 786 Prospect Avenue above Casa Amadeo, a Latin music store that has retained a sense of heritage since that neighborhood was a crucible of Afro-Caribbean music.  For over fifty years, she performed with highly celebrated bands. Her most enduring performances were with “El Maestro,” the legendary Tito Puente. This Grammy winning artist was known for her flashy stage costumes, colorful wigs and her signature cry, “Azucaar!”  Proud of her African heritage, a large Coptic cross adorns her tomb at Woodlawn Cemetery.

 Tanya Fields - The Blk Projek

Who’s up for good food?  Tanya Fields, 33 years old, is bringing the South Bronx Mobile Market to her community in glorious yummy color!  Her forty foot blue bus covered in fun-loving plant paintings sells fresh locally harvested veggies to points in the southeast Bronx.  The New York Times chronicled this venture of her company, the Blk Projek, in its first several weeks of operation, however Tanya’s not new on the scene.  She wrote about earlier efforts to establish an urban farm in the Longwood neighborhood in The Next Eco Warriors: 22 Young Men and Women Who are Saving the Planet published in 2011.  Yes, she was eventually granted land for her dream in 2013 very near the Simpson Street station of the numbers 2 and 5 trains…urban farmers are invited to join her!

What’s it all about?  The Blk Projek seeks to create economic opportunities that address food justice, environmental justice and public and mental health needs. This  empowers under-served women of color by creating businesses in the forms of small food enterprises, urban agriculture, political education, community beautification and holistic health programs.  By creating wealth and equal access to these enriching experiences, they strengthen and empower society as a whole.

You can see there’s a lot going on down by the riverside…and we only scratched the surface!  The poster immediately below was prepared for a 2013 event at the Langston Hughes Library in Corona Queens where this blog’s focus was first presented to the public in greater details.  Thanks for visiting.

Exceptional Women poster

 

Diane Sargent helped assemble the BX Greenway Plan. Photo taken 2013.
Diane Sargent helped write the Bronx Greenway Plan. Photo taken 2013.
Bronx Greenway Plan
Bronx Greenway Plan of 1993

Bronx Greenway Plan

Plants and People, remembering the Bronx River’s African-American Heritage

All known records for Bronx walking tour attendance were shattered on March 12, 2011.  Over one-hundred and ten people joined the first tour to outline eras of importance in the history of African-Americans along the Bronx River.  From Soundview north to the Westchester border, many people of African descent have called these landscapes home.  Kicking off at historic Boston Road in the Allerton neighborhood and concluding where the famous New York Draft Riots blew up far from Manhattan, walkers made their own soundtrack.  What sound?  Old time instrument sounds! 

          Plant materials turned instruments carried the beat.  Let’s get in tune with those processed vegetables simple and grand.  Tambourines’ wooden frames and hollow-gourded maracas blended with cracking acorns beneath so many feet along the way.  This place-based tour and related research are known as Bronx River Sankofa*.  Sankofa includes many stories of people’s plant life: ones harnessed to make necessities, medicines, and more.  We will explore and imagine what these plants may have meant beyond pure economics, and how we came to conserve them.

          This blog you are reading is a remembrance.  It will feature both community sketches and personal profiles…as they unfolded in time.  Hear the sounds of times past by clicking on the period headings (i.e. Colonial New York; Revolution, Emancipation, and Civil War, etc.) for each section.  This essay is a combination of Bronx County Historical Society published works and a decade of independent research by a Bronx African-American History Project Community Researcher.      

 Lenape Indian home

1613-1783 Colonial New York

African-Americans have helped shape the society we now call the Bronx since 1670 when the first of them arrived as involuntary laborers from the island of Barbados to work the 1,920 acre Manor of Morrisania under sugar merchants Lewis Morris and family, who brought them.  To imagine that homestead, visit the Valentine-Varian House in Norwood.  That two and a half story Georgian-styled farmhouse with characteristic symmetrical design was established in 1758.  The original owner’s (Isaac Valentine) land extended east to the Bronx River just like the Morris holdings.  Valentine was a blacksmith.  Furnaces were dependent on large quantities of wood to support the fires that melted metal for horse shoes, tools, cooking implements, carriage axles, etc..   According to Prof. Lloyd Ultan, the eight slaves he held were far fewer in number than the Morris family held.  Farming was important at both sites.  Crops of the period included beans, wheat, corn, tobacco, rye, barley, apples, and pears.  In this pre-industrial period, most materials used for all purposes were simple.  Even the component parts of a common boat could be discerned largely by sight and simple inspection.  Here’s another instance in which locally harvested trees were important.  Native pine, hickory and oak species were plentiful.  Some enslaved Africans were boatmen, navigating sloops filled with produce and dry goods up and down the Hudson River.  They worked sawmills and gristmills beginning at today’s 182nd Street.  They cut lumber into logs and ground rye into flour and corn into meal.  There, large grinding stones were powered by the Bronx River.  In an age of simple transport and semi-locally-oriented economies, these early industries were crucial to the lives of all settlers.  The mills of West Farms are one reason it became an early population center amid virgin forests and wetlands elsewhere in what would become the Bronx.  Do you know the Bronx Zoo (Wildlife Conservation Society) on the Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Road?  These 265 acres include much of the former slave-estate of James DeLancey and extended family.  One indicator of the centrality of bound labor to that early economic system comes to us in a run-away notice published by John P. Delancey in the 1813 pages of the West-Chester Patriot (Source: Annotated Primary Source Documents by Anthony C. Greene).   

Natural wealth

1784-1865 Revolution, Emancipation and Civil War

Isaac Varian was the second owner of what we enjoy today as the old stone Museum of Bronx History at 3266 Bainbridge Ave, Bronx, NY 10467.  Holding three involuntary African laborers, he re-established this vast holding, stretching north to Yonkers, as a source of meat for markets along the original Boston Road route, and possibly Manhattan.  Varian was a butcher.  Some portion of the livestock feed—including the crops mentioned earlier—would have been produced on site.  Natural springs and the Bronx River itself would have supplied water. 

Historic Black New York

1866-1916 Raising the Roof: establishing independent churches

A quantity of fireplace timber would have heated the Bronx’s first known independent African-American church during the Victorian era.  Later, carpentry adapted early homes to three more Black churches we can visit today!  Woodlawn Cemetery’s 1882 burial of Alina C. Martin in the DiZerega plot provides a great opportunity to consider Centreville African Methodist Episcopal Church, probably established in the 1850s, which appears on maps by 1868.  That A.M.E. church was sited to the NE of today’s Parkchester development at a provincial commercial center convenient to a good number of African-American service professionals (coach-drivers, horse-tenders, butlers, maids, others) working on the estates of the east Bronx then.  It was a time when newly established commuter trains, ferries, and private ships made many waterfront Bronx communities convenient and desirable to Manhattan’s executive classes on par with Oyster Bay, Long Island.  Martin may have worked the DiZerega estate, Island Hall, in what became Ferry Point Park in the twentieth century.

           The “three more black churches” cited are now over one-hundred years old including: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Butler Memorial Church, and Trinity Baptist Church.

Old school learning

1917-1938 War, Renaissance, and Depression

This too was a heyday of carpentry as ambitious African-Americans began to move to the central Bronx from Harlem, the American south and the Caribbean.  Artist Jacob Lawrence dramatized this period in his Great Migration series.  A privileged minority bought existing wood-frame houses where they exhibited their class identity and aspirations. Between 1920 and 1921, they landmarked their arrival when St. David’s Episcopal Church (founded 1895) erected a building for those too dark for Harlem’s elite St. Philip’s Episcopal Church.  This Mediterranean-derived brick and timber one-level house of worship was designed by New York State’s first registered Black architect Vertner Tandy.  Wooden beams both acquired and custom-built came to hold up community pride as much as weight.   

Carver bust at the Hall of Fame

1939-1965 Getting organized, expanding opportunity

This was the heyday of domestic horticulture for all social classes.  In this period, municipal housing projects had their own tree care crew and larger maintenance staffs.  An expanding middle class of African descendant New Yorkers from various points in the diaspora bought large numbers of private houses in the north and east Bronx and Mount Vernon.  Lawns were neat and flowers were abundant.

1980 poster @ W. Farms Rapids Park

1966-1985 Movement Years

Afro-Caribbean music—largely played with the kinds of instruments that opened this article—was preserved when Casa Amadeo was established in 1969.  Mike Amadeo, music writer and guitar player bought and renamed this existing Latin music shop where one can still find the best of the old and new.  Standing outside after-hours, you can often hear live sessions in the same building once occupied by Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. 

          Earth Day was established in 1970.  Burgeoning eco-awareness was highly visible in a wide array of new or expanded permanent initiatives from the Bronx Council on Environmental Quality to Pelham Bay Park.  Many groups began to focus on restoring the Bronx River.  In 1974, the Bronx River Restoration Project (BXRR) was established by Ruth Anderberg.  BXRR was as committed to documenting and stewarding the plants along the banks as the water flowing between them.  Fred Singleton, Project Dir. assembled summer youth employment program members and Boy Scouts to rehabilitate an original Bronx River Parkway path from 1925.  Their riverside work between Gun Hill Road & Allerton Avenue was captured in a 1983 (August 18 Metro section) NY Daily News article entitled “60 Bronx youths are on right path.”

Historic Charlotte Gardens

1986-1997 Civic Renewal

Let’s talk science and ornamental horticulture!  Jamaican-born Vietnam War veteran Keith Lloyd was the founding curator of the orchid collection at New York Botanical Garden (N.Y.B.G.). He vested four and a half years in the American Air Force, seventeen at Lenox Hill Hospital as a medical technician and twenty years at N.Y.B.G. including studies at its School of Horticulture through 2000.

           Keith’s been a community gardener on the Upper East side in the 90s and loves poetry and literature which he often recited as he worked.  Brother Keith (he prefers being addressed less formally) was aided in his efforts by African-American soprano opera singer Jessye Norman (NYBG distinguished adviser) who donated several orchid specimens and even gave a fundraiser concert for the Garden in1998 at Lincoln Center. Keith’s legacy is large. Today, his work and the projects he initiated helps N.Y.B.G. raise large sum$.  The orchid cases at the Library Building rotunda around which numerous earned income activities are held and a second live display within the Conservatory were begun during his tenure.  Orchids (Orchidacea) are the largest family of flowering plants, with approximately 30,000 species found on every continent except Antarctica. Orchids come in many different sizes, shapes and colors. The Sarah Davis Smith Orchid Collection he cultivated remains vast, featuring representative examples of the orchid flora of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Americas.

Dr. Kobe Abdul-Salim, is an ivy league-trained botanist (graduated circa 2003) who taught a few classes at N.Y.B.G..  A field botanist, part of his research is concerned with associations between plant communities in Africa and South America including St. John’s Wort and Symphomia.  Dr. Abdul-Salim taught classes in the continuing education dept., roughly, between 2004 and 2011.  He is from Harlem and also briefly taught at a mid-western university.

Karen Young-Washington, is a co-founder of the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGs), and active on the boards of Just Food, the NYC Community Garden Coalition, and the New York Botanical Garden.  Sister Washington has lived in the Bronx since 1985 and saw Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer’s legacy project Bronx Green-Up (BGU) begin.  BGU helped her establish the Garden of Happiness (with forty 6′ X 8′ plots) in 1989 (transferred to Parks in 1998) on her home block as one of its first efforts.  She also partners with BGU on BX Community Board 6’s community multi-cultural—her neighborhood is increasingly Latino/a—gardener’s association La Familia Verde Garden Coalition.  The Coalition is associated with a health fair, fire safety instruction, a food pantry, and a Cornell Extension program to teach young scientists about gardening and nutrition.  This native New Yorker has been a physical therapist for over thirty-seven years.  In Greening the Bronx (Bronx Times June 8, 2006; Ciafardini, Bobby), Washington declared “Bronx Green-Up turned me into an activist…my involvement has expanded my horizons.” 

Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference

1998-Present  Fast Changes: steps forward and back

The foods of an exploding immigrant population from continental Africa is bringing the Bronx new spices sold in specialty grocers and restaurants run by these New Yorkers.  Meanwhile, neo-conservative policy at the national and state level reveals its truths in greater dependence on food stamps for more locals. 

          The career of Charles Vasser and the Butterfly Project are emblematic of the Bronx since 1998.  Chuck is the former Director of Community Affairs (promoted from Human Resources Director) at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo.  He was an Executive Committee member and Vice-Chairman to the Bronx River Working Group and a charter board member to the Bronx River Alliance whose articles of Incorporation he signed.

          Chuck worked at the Zoo for twenty years.  He started his career at the South Bronx Development Organization near his native Morrisania.  Growing up, he often visited Crotona Park where he grew vegetables in the community garden which still exists there.  Vasser was a tenant organizer in the 1970s and 1980s and has coached basketball for decades.  This Bronx Community College alumnus was instrumental in founding the Butterfly Project with a student researcher at Fordham University and many others.  The project has seen many plantings of butterfly friendly plants and habitats in community gardens throughout the Bronx as well as a substantial and extensive indoor and outdoor Butterfly exhibit at the zoo (rebuilt in 2004).  Vasser’s impact on regional pollinator-friendly gardening exceeds beyond the Bronx thanks to his leadership role in the Butterfly Project Pollinator Curriculum Guide, published by the Open Space.  

          Chuck lives in the Soundview neighborhood where he raised his daughter and son.  Read his Community Green blog to step into his wonderful green world. 

          This essay was inspired by the Zulu Nation’s fortieth anniversary (1973-2013).  Its founder Afrika Bambaataa developed and continues to promote a theory of Hip Hop in which the fifth of five elements is knowledge.  Knowledge, says Bambaataa, is as important as the better known Bboying, MCing, Graffit, and DJing.

*The word Sankofa comes from the Akan language of Ghana that translates in English to “go back and get it.”  Many groups of African descent use this word and symbol to describe the journey of drawing strength and wisdom from the past in order to move forward.

James Baldwin, dedicated Citizen and Novelist/Playwright/Cultural Critic provides the guiding philosophy of Bronx River Sankofa:
“History does not refer merely or even principally to the past.
On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, that we are unconsciously controlled by it,
and that history is literally present in everything we do.”

University Heights: African-American and Women’s History in Art!

Great women, American Indians, African-Americans, and Latinos/as—from the Bronx to the national stage—are highlighted in P.S.15’s Hall of Fame Gates.  Taking a tour of the University Heights neighborhood by Fordham Road, bordered to the west by the Harlem River, draws you here.  You’ll find two monumental bronze gates commissioned in the early 1990s by our city’s Percent for Art program.  They were designed by retired Kent State University art professor Brinsley Tyrell and feature thirty-six clearly identified individuals!

Hall of Fame Gate @ PS15

Featuring 18 women (two with Bronx stories), 11 African-Americans (two with Bronx connections), 7 Latinos, 1 Asian-American and 2 American Indians, this modern public art piece can be viewed by anyone from the sidewalk 24/7!  Click on the hyperlinks by each person listed further in this article to learn their bios.  The Hall of Fame Gates was created with a view to updating the concept of the better known and much older Hall of Fame for Great Americans across the street at Bronx Community College (originally New York University Uptown).  Here you will find closer parity between female and male figures, a large number of African-Americans and Latinos and substantial space given to American Indians including Jim Thorpe, Chief Little Turtle and many un-named souls climbing vertical strands on the east side of the street.  Many 20th century icons like choreographer  Martha Graham await your attention.  Brinsley Tyrel was very sensitive to the fact that his pair of gates were part of a school.  He depicts many of the famous and/or noteworthy little known Americans (see them listed below) as they looked in childhood or young adulthood.  That perspective makes the whole composition very accessible and fun!

Chief Little Turtle

This masterpiece consists of two tall gates on opposite sides of Andrews Avenue south of West 183rd Street.  Its four panels feature:

West side of the street/ left gate panel

Margaret Sanger, Nurse/ sex education activist

Gloria Estefan, Singer/ businesswoman

I.M. Pei, Architect

Herman Badillo, Politician

Rachel Carson, Scientist/ author

Colin Powell, Statesman

Tito Puente, Musician/ entrepreneur

Harriett Tubman, Abolition movement leader

Albert Einstein, Scientist/ humanitarian

Florence Sabin, Medical doctor/ pioneer for women in science

 Marian Anderson

West side of the street/ right gate panel

Antonio Novello, Past Surgeon General of the United States

Pearl Buck, Writer/ novelist

Ralph Nader, American progressive

Louise Nevelson, Artist

Jesse Owens, Track and field great

Nate Archibald, Basketball legend

Cesar Chavez, Labor leader/ catholic activist

Chief Little Turtle (first detail photo above), Indigenous leader

Marian Anderson (second detail photo above), Classical singer

Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court Justice

Mary Bethune, Educator/ civil rights leader

  Roberto Clemente

 East side of the street/ left gate panel

Jim Thorpe, Athlete (Native American)

Eleanor Roosevelt, Humanist

Edward R. Murrow, Journalist/ media critic

Ella Fitzgerald, Singer/ American popular music icon

Faith Ringgold, Fine artist/ folk artist

Amelia Earhart, Aviator/ progenitor of women’s rights

Detail of west gate

East side of the street/ right gate panel

Martin Luther King, Jr., Statesman/ author

John F. Kennedy, Politician

Antonia Pantoja (feature photo at the top), Puerto Rican social worker and visionary

Roberto Clemente (third detail photo above), Baseball great/ humanitarian

Guion S. Bluford, Astronaut (African-American)

Sally K. Ride, First American woman in space

Helen Keller, Blind education pioneer

Jim Henson, Media producer/ children’s education advocate

This information was compiled by Morgan Powell in 2005 and 2006 (photos taken in 2014) including mail and phone interviews with sculptor Brinsley Tyrell (who preferred the original Hall of Fame busts before those older sculptures were polished under CUNY management).  Tyrell purposely left his gates unpolished.  He intended his artworks to oxidize green in the elements to make them easier to maintain.  He related that the process of establishing who would be in the this new Hall of Fame (gates) came out of many meetings with the local community board and through write-in suggestions from others in the Bronx.

E. Gate at P.S. 15
P.S. 15 Hall of Fame Gate on the east side of Andrews Avenue

Part II: The Mountaintop: What Bronx Community College Means

Yes, this a very detailed history.  A brief BCC campus overview can be found at Outdoor Afro.  Come back/stay if you want a closer look at our unique built heritage!

This article will celebrate and tour many of the buildings of the Bronx Community College campus overlooking the Harlem River in the NW Bronx.  Bronx neighbors, artists, architecture enthusiasts, and lovers of all things urban are sure to find something of value here.

The preceding article, entitled ”The Mountaintop: What Bronx Community College Means,” showed us which college president oversaw this school’s ascent to University Heights from scattered buildings along Jerome Avenue.  Now, we will explore the more popular buildings of this center of learning.

BCC Bird's eye view

Contents

General Campus Description

The Marcel Breuer Legacy

List of Breuer-designed Buildings

The Stanford White Legacy

List of White-designed Buildings

More Noteworthy Buildings

Selected Bibliography

General Campus Description

The Bronx Community College (BCC) campus, formerly New York University’s undergraduate schools of engineering and arts, consists of thirty-one buildings.  This forty-seven acre National Historic Landmark has evolved under the care of several managers beginning with wealthy nineteenth century home owners.  Today’s students know those former homes as South, Butler and MacCracken halls as well as Altschul House beyond campus gates.  The period in which the landscape was consolidated into a campus for higher education followed the acquisition of William T. Mali’s estate by New York University in 1892.  BCC acquired all of the buildings within the gates of the former NYU University Heights campus much later.  Interestingly, most Heights campus buildings outside the college fence were not purchased by New York State for the use of the community college and are operated today as privately owned housing or have been replaced by new structures and land uses.  Such was the fate of a number of fraternity houses now enjoyed by neighbors as private homes.  BCC held its first classes here on Saturday, September 8, 1973. 

The earliest period of existing buildings includes three mansions from a time when the commuter railroad we now call Metro-North was a primary means of transport into Manhattan and suburban life became an option for the well off as well as the tradespeople who served them.  The campus was designed and planned with the Greco-Roman tastes of the founding architect Stanford White (1853-1906) of the nationally renowned firm McKim, Mead and White.  Much later, a contrasting although somewhat deferential master plan with very different structures came from the architectural studios of Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) who started his career as a painter, sculptor and architect in pre-war Germany at the Bauhaus school along with many distinguished modern designers.  Much comment has been made over the years about the differences of style between these two dominant designers.  Breuer reflects on this in a 1957 letter reproduced in the book Marcel Breuer, Architect:

“The problem of harmonizing a new building with another architectural style surrounding it comes up again and again.  I had to face this situation not only with Hunter College, but in my Embassy Building at The Hague, Holland, and the UNESCO Building in Paris.  As a matter of fact, thoughts in this direction were somewhat more justified in the latter two cases, because the surroundings are truly historical and not, to begin with, an imitation style.  My own point of view is that no such thing as “harmonizing” exists, and that everything harmonizes if it is on a certain level.  The best example of this is the Piazza San Marco in Venice.  It would be difficult to imagine more clashingly varying styles than are represented there, three of them next to each other, and resulting in the most photographed and visited place in the world.  There are certain means of architecture which can be used as connecting bridges between “styles” and “periods.”  For instance, the material used for the facing of a building, or the general feeling of scale (larger or smaller scale as the case may be) though even these means of architectural expression should not be used to “harmonize” without realizing the inherent danger of falsification of ideas” (Hyman 144-145).

We see Breuer attempting to bridge his modern style with the traditions he found.  He adopted Stanford White’s color scheme of tan Roman brick and used unpainted concrete to substitute for carved limestone.  His rubble stone retaining walls bear precedent in the rocky foundations of the converted country homes of Schwab (South Hall), Mali (Butler Hall) and Andrews (MacCracken Hall).

 Marcel Breuer

The Marcel Breuer Legacy

Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) was a German-trained architect from Hungary who became a widely respected teacher and working architect with many international commissions as near-by as the Whitney Museum of American Art (Manhattan) and less close projects like the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Scientific, Economic and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  He was also a furniture designer and lived comfortably during the global depression of the 1930s from royalties on a metal tube cantilever chair he designed.  He and his firm left other marks on the Bronx at Lehman College where an associated architect from his firm is responsible for Shuster Hall and the former library now acting as art class and gallery space dating to 1960.  Brutalism is his dominant style characterized by raw expression of forms, functions and especially materials.  His rubble stone walls erected along clean lines were a life-long trademark and are forceful at BCC.  His first Bronx projects were among his earliest in all of New York City. Most dates of construction given in this blog are from the book Marcel Breuer, Architect.  Cornerstones at Colston and Polowczyk may read differently.

 

List of Breuer-designed Buildings

Meister Hall

[Morris] Meister Hall/ Originally Technology II

Date: 1967-70

Further reading: Marcel Breuer, Architect and Marcel Breuer, A Memoir

Morris Meister was the first President of Bronx Community College and a former Principal of the Bronx High School of Science.

Distinction: Last Breuer building to be built at University Heights campus.  This building was designed for use as engineering and science laboratories and classrooms among other functions.  It may be the most independent statement, in scale and aesthetics, by Breuer, on campus owing the least in inspiration to the original Stanford White designs it shares the quadrangle with.  Extensive use of undressed cinder blocks and concrete make this a purely Brutalist design.  The intimate Schwendler Auditorium in the basement provides a clear style contrast point when compared with the neo-classical Gould Memorial Library Auditorium (restored around 1999 by BCC).  This building provides an important opportunity to compare and contrast Breuer’s later work at BCC with other commissions internationally because it contains his trademark deeply sculptured walls in precast concrete.  Robert Gatje, once an associated architect in the Breuer firm writes in Marcel Breuer, a memoir “…these signature ‘folded’ concrete walls were first created for an IBM property on the French Mediterranean in 1960 and later employed for a similar design at SUNY Buffalo’s Chemical Engineering Building.  In these and other buildings, creative vibrancy is expressed by the progressive differences of a familiar approach to sheathing a building while accommodating and subtly revealing the functions within.”  See Frank’s comment below this article for a discussion of this building’s relation to the NYU campus’ radio station.   


 Begrish Hall

[Frank and Lillian] Begrisch Hall

Date: 1959-61

Note: Begrisch lecture hall has a precedent in Konstantin Melnikov’s Workers’ Club, Moscow (1927-28) which Breuer knew of (Hyman 199).  Breuer enjoyed the play of light on textured (Begrisch) and molded (Meister) concrete.  In her Breuer book, Isabelle Hyman reproduces his sentiments: “The greatest esthetic design potential in concrete…is found through interrupting the plane (surface) in such a way that sunlight and shadow will enhance its form, while through changing exposure a building will appear differently at various moments of the day” (p.155).  Although this building has won awards it has also been a source of criticism for detractors of modernism.  It retains its original name attributed to NYU donors.

Further reading: Marcel Breuer, Architect

Distinction: This reinforced concrete hulk was the first fully air-conditioned building on campus.  Its two lecture halls are supported above a semi-open covered plaza by two cantilevered trusses on the east and west elevations.  It was the first in the United States to employ a technology that allowed professors to face their students and have words, drawings, normal and microscopic slides projected by the teacher on a large screen while lights were on and in full clarity.  The building was also equipped for television broadcasting.  (Source: “New York University Changes the Face of Bronx Campus.”   Bronxboro  Winter edition.  1963.)

 Carl J.P. Hall

Carl J. Polowczyk Hall/ formerly Gould Hall of Technology

Date: 1959-61

Further reading: Marcel Breuer, Architect.  Isabelle Hyman writes on page 199 that this building for science was specifically designed to support the departments of physics, electrical engineering and mathematics.

Note: The main stairwell is impressive in its composition of forms and materials.  Modernism is often criticized for being cold; Breuer gives us warm, smooth wooden handrails to guide us from floor to floor.  Looking up, you see a distinctive partnership of materials in the construction of the terrazo floors, steel reinforced cast-in-place concrete supports and walls of contrasting plain mosaic tile by other walls composed of cinder blocks.  This building shares a view with Butler Hall’s red brick; Breuer adds to this study of brick bonds (patterns) by creating vertically oriented patterns in exterior walls.  Less subtle is the soaring canopy on the east façade which reaches out to protect visitors.  Compare with his equally assertive but less organic canopy downtown at the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

 Colston Hall

[James A.] Colston Hall/ formerly Julius Silver Residence Hall

Date: 1961

Note: Colston Hall was built as a coed dormitory with different sections separating male from female dorms in a seven-story tower meant to house six-hundred students in double rooms.  The adjoining building, nearest the Hall of Fame, was designed to accommodate a student lounge above a kitchen and dining hall.  James A. Colston was BCC’s second president, first BCC president at the Heights campus and first African-American president of any college in New York State.  According to a NYU data sheet entitled “Residence Halls-Heights” attributed to “Jones,” Julius Silver was a NYU alumnus who graduated in 1922 and partly financed the building which was named for him shortly after its opening.

Further reading: Marcel Breuer, Architect and Marcel Breuer, A Memoir

DSCN8204

The Stanford White Legacy

Architect Stanford White (1853-1906) was a native New Yorker whose social life was as much a spectacle as his design career.  He was a master of ornament who worked on building interiors as well as total design of structures, even books and ceremonies as with the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus in America.  He was a partner in the firm of McKim, Mead and White along with Charles McKim who designed Columbia University in Manhattan around the same time to chunkier, darker-toned effect.  Their designs are similar in that they worked in a beaux-arts mode freely referencing and combining Italian and other classical models. 

Both campuses’ central libraries command attention on grassy quadrangles intended as campus centerpieces.  White designed the University Heights campus as a mature architect and drew a master plan of nineteen buildings of which five were constructed.

            It’s important to remember that White’s firm was associated with a new vision in American town planning called the City Beautiful movement impressed on the American public at the Columbia Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, Illinois.  The original campus was master-planned even with the purchase and careful control of development on its perimeters and with respect to access to public transportation and local open space (ie. Aqueduct Walk, University Woods Park on Sedgwick Avenue—that street being a main access to the college in the earliest days— and a long gone Harlem River boat house for water sports).  At that time, the Bronx was newly part of New York City.  New Yorkers knew the area—quickly becoming ‘University Heights’— as the “North Side,” “Annexed District,” “Fordham Heights” or “the 24th Ward.”  This land between the Harlem and Bronx rivers was added to New York County on January, 1, 1874.  Before that, the land that became University Heights was in the Town of West Farms in Westchester County.  Read The Bronx by Evelyn Gonzalez to understand the phased annexation of the Bronx by New York from Westchester County. 

            CUNY professor emeritus William Gerdts illustrates the tenor of the neighborhood in Stanford White’s time by quoting his age peer writer Jesse Lynch Williams in Impressionist New York: “There is a different feeling in the air up along this best-known end of the city’s water-front.  The small, unimportant looking river, long distance views, wooded hills, green terraces, and even the great solid masonry of [the] High Bridge…somehow help to make you feel the spirit of freedom and outdoors and relaxation.  This is the tired city’s playground.”  This landscape of well being was the ground in which McKim, Mead and White carved out our educational acropolis under the leadership of NYU Chancellor H. M. MacCracken.  The most celebrated element of this original scheme is the Hall of Fame for Great Americans and neighboring group of buildings about which much has been written.”  See Further reading. 

Most dates of construction for Stanford White-designed buildings were drawn from various New York Times articles where the development of this campus was closely reported.


List of White-designed Buildings

Gould Residence Hall

Gould Residence Hall

Date: 1896

Distinction: Early dormitory for a NYC non-sectarian college.  Butler Hall was the first NYU Uptown dormitory (1894-1898).   

Further reading: “Plans for a residence Hall approved by the Council of the University of the City of New York—Site and Appointments.”  New York Times  18 Feb. 1896: p.14.  Excerpt: “The hall is designed for 112 [male] students, and contains in its four stories 48 studies, each with an open fireplace; 64 bedrooms, accommodating 112 beadsteads; 8 bathrooms, 128 clothes closets…  In the basement, which is largely above ground on the east side, will be a music room, two bicycle rooms, two college periodical rooms, and other attractive appointments.”  An NYU archives data sheet entitled “Residence Halls—Heights” attributed to “Jones” states, “In 1963, this was completely remodeled and renovated to accommodate 163 women.”  

 Hall of Fame Painting

Hall of Fame for Great Americans (painted here by Danny Hauben)

Website: www.bcc.cuny.edu/halloffame; phone: 718-289-5170/5180.

Dates: Design through completion 1892-1912.  Dedicated May 30, 1901.

To see the Bronx as a microcosm of America is a theme of the Bronx County Historical Society.  The Hall of Fame for Great Americans helps tell that story on multiple levels.  This is America’s original Hall of Fame.  It includes many sculptural likenesses of popular Americans through the first half of the twentieth century.  Less well known, is that the sculptors of those precious images were often highly revered in their own right.  While Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a sculptor, is also a Hall of Fame inductee—complete with bust and Tiffany plaque—at least seven of the others are also collected in our nation’s National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C..  Their names are: Frederick William MacMonnies, Jean-Antoine Houdon,  Walker Kirtland Hancock, Herbert Adams, Jo Davidson, Daniel Chester French, and Edward McCartan.  Richmond Barthe (African-American) and a few female sculptors like Malvina Hoffman and Anna Hyatt Huntington are also represented.

Distinction: Below the al fresco colonnade was once a corresponding museum and archives for the Hall of Fame.  (source: Your Hall of Fame, NYU Press).

Further reading: “Hall of Fame Dedicated: Tablets of great men unveiled with appropriate ceremony.”  New York Times  31 May 1901: p.3.  The category Septimi means Seventh Class and refers to miscellaneous professions.

Note: This limestone structure with a granite base has a Guastavino tile ceiling like parts of Grand Central Station in Manhattan.  It is believed to be an inverted interpretation of St. Peter’s Square welcoming the faithful to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy designed by baroque sculptor and painter Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680).  Sedgwick Avenue was originally the main approach to the campus which would have made the view of this structure a defining one.

Stanford White trioL-R: Language Hall, Gould Memorial Library, Philosophy Hall

Language Hall

Date: planned 1892-1894/ opened October 1895

Floor plan: “…gives each professor besides his classroom a room for the department library and advanced work” according to “Ready for Educational Work.”  New York Times  7 Sept. 1894: p. 9.  By the time BCC acquired this campus, Language Hall was already renovated for executive work space. 

Distinction: Believed to have been modeled after the Athenian Temple of Nike.

Source: “New York’s Hall of Fame and What it Stands For.”  New York Times  7 Sept. 1913: p.SM11.

Gould Memorial Library

Date: planned 1892-1894/ broke ground 1895/ completed 1899

Distinction: Designed after the Pantheon  (translates in English to Temple for all Gods) in Rome.  See the inscription on the library’s eastern elevation above the entry doors, “LIBRARIES ARE AS THE SHRINES WHERE ALL THE RELICS OF THE ANCIENT SAINTS FULL OF TRUE VIGOR ARE PRESERVED AND REPOSED.”  Like the Pantheon, GML has bronze doors (installed in 1921) and spectacular interior space lit from the dome.  This building was a gift of NYU alumnus Helen Gould in honor of her father Jay Gould, railroad speculator, who is buried in grand style at Woodlawn Cemetery, also in the Bronx.

Further reading: “It’s buildings opened: exercises at the University of the City of New York.”  New York Times  20 Oct. 1895.  Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President and builder, planned the University of Virginia’s campus with a central, domed library and radiating promenade and colonnades leading to complimentary buildings almost a century before Stanford White.  Read about and see this precedent in Hugh Howard’s Book, Thomas Jefferson Architect, published in 2003 by Rizzoli International Publications of New York.

[Cornelius Baker] Philosophy Hall

Date: planned 1892-1894/ built 1912-1913

Distinction: modeled on the Temple of Nike in the Acropolis of Athens, Greece.

Note: The harmonious though restrained design acts as a foil to GML. Although many of the buildings built on campus after the death of Stanford White were carefully drafted after White’s neo-classical hand, this is the only one taken directly from his designs; it was financed by the widow of a generous NYU benefactor in honor of her father.  Other attempts to complete White’s vision are exemplified by the placement though not design of Loew Hall.  White envisioned a residential cluster off University Avenue to accompany Gould Residence Hall.

 

Ohio Field, named for The Ohio Society which raised a modest amount of money toward the Heights campus building campaign and to which several NYU professors and NYU Chancellor MacCracken belonged.  This is the athletic field behind the Brown Student Center.

Date: 1892-1912 Designed by the firm Olmstead and Vaux (designers of Central and Prospect parks in NYC).

Distinction: formed the large athletic and ceremonial space desired but impossible to create at Washington Square campus in Manhattan.

Further reading: “Its Buildings Opened.”  New York Times 20 Oct. 1895: p.3  This article tells the story of the naming of the field as told by NYC Mayor Strong.

Note: In 1953, the Student’s Center replaced bleachers from which sports were  cheered further bisecting the open green between Gould Residence Hall and Gould Memorial Library occupied by the grassy quadrangle to the west and Ohio Field to the east.  The Ohio Society was a major contributor to the building of General Grant’s Tomb in northern Manhattan.

 Havemeyer Lab

[William F.] Havemeyer Lab

Date: planned 1892-1894/ opened 1895

Distinction: Devoted originally to Chemistry, each floor was designed for a “different division of chemical work,” according to “Ready for Educational Work.”  New York Times  7 Sept. 1894: p.

Later designated for the Biology Dept.

Additional Source: “New York’s Hall of Fame and What it Stands For.”  New York Times  7 Sept. 1913: p. SM11

Note: According to the unpublished paper A Historical Tour of the Heights by Steven L. Carson, Havemeyer was once surrounded by trees planted by internationally famous persons.  This included physicist Albert Einstein whose name and countenance were carved into Hall of Fame Gate by Brinsley Tyrell, installed 1996 across from Ohio field at PS/MS 15 (2195 Andrews Avenue).

 

More Noteworthy Buildings

Loew Hall

[Marcus] Loew Hall/ originally Loew Residence Hall

Date: 1955

Architects: Eggers and Higgins.  They also designed the Roscoe C. Brown Student Center.

Style: This mid-20th century institutional modernist building is supported by a steel superstructure and concrete.  The brick exterior with ceramic accents serves as environmental protection for the interior and does not support the building.  The color was chosen to harmonize with the campus.

Note: According to various New York University press releases of the period, this facility was designed to house 225 students and 4 proctors to watch over them.  The sunken rooms off the north and south foyers were originally lounges.  There were also rooms for study.  Two communal toilets and showers were shared by each floor.  Safety and health services offices have been located here since opening day.  NYU alumnus Arthur M. Loew (class of 1918), financed one-third of this building’s construction costs as a memorial to his father Marcus Loew, President of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.  The name Loew continues to be associated with the motion picture industry.  Source: various NYU Archives documents.  See Frank’s comment below this article for a discussion of this building’s relation to the NYU campus’ radio station.          

 Alumni Gym

Alumni Gymnasium/ originally New Gymnasium

Date: Phase I, 1931; Phase II, 1950

Style: Free Romanesque

Phase I Architects: Gavin Hadden, Engineer and Architect; McKim, Mead and White, Consulting Architects: Fiske Kimball, NYU Architect

Phase II Architects: Rose and Rose; McKim, Mead and White, Consulting Architects; Fiske Kimball, NYU Architect.

Note: The original gym was described as “constructed in part out of the substantial barn already upon the grounds.  It is of wood, on stone piers, with a slate roof, and measures 100 feet long by 65 feet wide.  The gallery contains a track upon which twenty laps make a mile…” from “Ready for Educational Work: four new buildings for the City University under roof.”  New York Times.  7 Sept. 1894: p. 9.  The article continues that four lawn tennis courts had replaced a former garden.  According to various NYU Archives documents, especially a press release dated 27 May 1950 entitled New York University to Dedicate New Gym, the current gym had to be built in stages because construction costs continued to rise in the 1930s and through World War II.  The building’s first phase included two basketball courts, showers, lockers, and student assembly rooms on three floors and had no decorative facing.  The building was expanded and reopened in 1950 with the decorative face in romanesque style we see today.  Now deeper in the back and at least one story taller, it featured a “basketball court of maximum size, a swimming pool with six racing lanes…an exercise room, a wrestling room, two team rooms, a locker room, and offices for the coaching and administrative staffs.”  The new building provided for “ticket sales rooms and checking facilities for spectators…and folding bleachers to accommodate approximately 1,100 spectators” (NYU Archives).   

 Nichols Hall

[William H.] Nichols Hall (formerly University Heights High School/ originally Nichols Building for Chemistry)

Date: Construction began in April 1926

Architect: Augustus M. Allen; Victor Krauss, Engineer

Style: Renaissance revival

Note: Beyond the elegant travertine vestibule is a richly ornamented foyer.  It contains brass sconces for lighting, marble walls, ornate terrazzo floors, sturdy solid wood doors with brass handles and neo-classical mouldings in the ceiling originally painted all white, now highlighted with gold.  Nichols was a major figure in chemistry and chairman of the board of the Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation and a member of NYU’ Council.  He graduated from NYU in 1870 and donated this building in his final years.  According to an unattributed folio entitled A Temple of Well Being in the collections of the NYU Archives, the building had a chemistry library on the fourth floor, at least twenty-five laboratories for two-to-six persons and a number of large labs for chemical engineering, organic and inorganic chemistry.  Today’s first floor lunchroom is partitioned from what was originally a ballroom. 

 Guggenheim Hall

Guggenheim Hall/ originally Daniel Guggenheim School of Aeronautics

Date: 1925-6

Style: Renaissance revival

Architect: Unknown. 

This is a good place to compare and contrast different brick facings within the engineering quad.  See different attempts to mimic Stanford White’s original composition of straw, gold and tan roman bricks in New, Bliss, Guggenheim and Sage halls, even Meister Hall.  This building is now used for automotive programs and music.  The 1963 winter edition of the defunct magazine Bronxboro, in a profile entitled New York University Changes Face of Bronx Campus, wrote “The Aeronautical Engineering Laboratory is being remodelled and a new supersonic wind tunnel capable of simulating speeds of more than four times the speed of sound has been installed.”  The article continues, “In addition to academic work, the faculty and staff at University Heights are active in scientific research and annually bring to the Bronx campus more than $14 million in research grants and contracts.  Research ranges all the way from liberal arts to the space age engineering and scientific fields.”  There was a separate campus building for musical instruction prior to 1973.

 Bliss Hall

Bliss Hall (continuous Home to BCC’s Art Department since 1973)

Date: 1936

Style: Renaissance revival

Architects: Unknown; designed for civil engineering & meteorological instruction.

This building once housed a weather station and several labs.  The ceilings of the first floor are notably high.  Post-design blueprints in the NYU Archives show a “Conc. Lab” where the Hall of Fame Gallery is today.  The room occupied by Project H.I.R.E. is labeled “Mechanical Lab.”  The first floor contained a “Mat. Test Lab” occupying much of the southern portion of the first floor with a modest “Photo Room” by the rest rooms.  The other floors were designed with three drafting rooms, seventeen offices, and four classrooms.

 Sage Hall

Sage Hall/ originally Sage Engineering Building

Date: 1918-21

Style: Renaissance revival

Architects: Crow, Lewis and Wick (See Hall of Fame for Great Americans).

Note: This building was built at the southwestern edge of an “Engineering Quadrangle.”  The University Heights campus once included science department buildings elsewhere however Bliss and Guggenheim halls are surviving buildings from that cluster within the School of Engineering Science of NYU at the Heights.

 South Hall

South Hall/ originally Gustav H. Schwab House (German)

Date: 1857

Style: Asymmetrical villa by a builder named Truby (Twomey).

Note: South Hall was not acquired as part of the academic campus until 1908 when it was purchased by NYU from the Schwab family according to NYU, 1832-1932, edited by Theodore Francis Jones.  It is captioned in 1930s-1940s NYU booklets as “South Hall Dormitory: College Infirmary.”  In later NYU Archives documents through 1971, it is designated “School of Engineering and Science Administration.”

Further reading: White, Lucy Schwab.  Fort Number Eight: The Home of Gustav and Eliza Schwab., 1925. This book references life at the Schwab house and a cemetery for the enslaved from the former Archer Estate (owned earlier still by Adrian Van der Donck) once west of today’s Sedgwick Avenue.  According to Bill Twomey’s Do You Remember column in the Bronx Press Reporter of November  2, 2006, The Schwab estate began as eight acres purchased at one thousand dollars per acre.  In 1869, eight additional acres were purchased at $2500 per acre.  It was common in the nineteenth century for elite houses to be named.  The moniker Fort Number Eight was adopted from the British fort that occupied the site during the American Revolutionary War.  Permanent memorials to that war camp are parallel to South Hall at the summit of grassy Battery Hill.

 Butler Hall

[Charles] Butler Hall, after the President of the Council of NYU during the Uptown founding period/ originally William T. Mali House (Belgian)

Date: 1857

Style: (compact red brick) by a builder named Truby (Twomey, Bill.  Do You Remember—The Little Boulder at Fort No. 8.  Bronx Press Reporter.  November 2, 2006)

Note: Renovated by 1894 as a dormitory for 40 students with bathrooms in the basement and steam heat in every room according to “Ready for Educational Work: four new buildings for the City University under roof.”  New York Times.  7 Sept. 1894: p. 9. According to NYU Archives files, it was converted to offices and classrooms, especially for the study of Biology after 1898 when Gould Residence Hall and local fraternities had come to satisfy dormitory needs.

 Brown Student Center

Roscoe C. Brown Student Center/ originally [Frank J.] Gould Student Center (Roscoe Brown was a BCC president; Gould was a donor).

Date: 1953

Style: Mid-century institutional modern

Note: Designed by Eggers and Higgins, contains a mini performance space and cafeteria as well as student government offices and a book shop.  A day care center occupies the south wing.  Originally headquarters to a daily student newspaper.  BCC’s first headquarters of the Communicator, a student newspaper later relocated to Meister Hall and other locations since.

 MacCracken Hall

[Henry Mitchell] MacCracken Hall/ formerly Loring Andrews House, subsequently the New York Skin and Cancer Hospital as per the Loring will/ originally George B. Butler House

Date: circa 1860

Style: Victorian with post construction renovations.

Note: NYU Chancellor from 1891-1910, MacCracken was a former professor of philosophy.  He and his wife moved into this gracious house in spring 1894 according to “New York City University.”  New York Times.  30 April 1894: p.9.  He bought the house as a private residence although it was used for periodic school business and social events; NYU acquired the site in 1925.  Loring Andrews., an Anglo-American, was a leather tanning merchant who endowed NYU professorships to the tune of $100,000.  Under NYU ownership this three-story building housed the history, speech and other departments during different periods.  WNYU broadcast from MacCracken Hall until Meister Hall (then Technology II) was built.  See Frank’s comment below this article for a discussion of this building’s relation to the NYU campus’ radio station.

 Altschul

[Louis and Jeanette] Altschul Hall, a.k.a. BCC Child Development Center, formerly [Richard W.]  Lawrence House (name was changed in 1960 by NYU and kept by BCC).

Date: Pre-war (WW II).  Multiple interior renovations.

Style: Neo-Tudor

Note: An untitled NYU press release dated 16 November 1960 announces a renovation of the “12-room structure to house the three religious organizations on campus—the YMCA, the Jewish Cultural Center and the Newman Club.  Each of the organizations will have independent space for varied activities, and there will also be quarters for joint affairs.  Palisades Handbook, published by New York University in 1940-1941 describes Laurence Hall (old name) as “the student activities center for the Heights.  Recently renovated with funds appropriated by the Student Council, it contains, in the basement, a cabin room for informal luncheons; on the first floor, the offices of the National Youth Administration branch at the Heights and of the Lawrence Hall staff, and a large drawing room; and on the second and third floors the office of student publications.”  The earlier name of Lawrence House derived from the former owner and resident who was a trustee and benefactor of New York University.


Selected Bibliography

Lowe, David Garrard.  Stanford White’s New York.  New York: Watson-Guptill,

            1999

 

Dolkart, Andrew S.  Guide to New York City Landmarks.  New York: John Wiley

            and Sons, 1998

 

White, Norval, and Elliot Willensky.  AIA Guide to New York City.  New York:

            Three Rivers, 2000

 

The WPA Guide to New York City: The Federal Writers Project Guide to 1930s

            New York.  1939.  New York: New Press, 1992.

 

Gatje, Robert F.  Marcel Breuer: A Memoir.  New York: Monaceli Press, 2000.

 

Hyman, Isabelle.  Marcel Breuer, Architect: the Career and the Buildings.  New

            York: Abrams, 2001.

 

White, Samuel G., and Elizabeth White.  McKim, Mead and White: The

            Masterworks.  New York: Rizzoli, 2003.

 

View onto the elite residential life of the pre-campus period via Gustav Schwab:

Ultan, Lloyd and Barbara Unger.  Bronx Accent: a literary and pictorial history of the borough.  Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2000 pp.35-37

 

This document was inspired by the following article:

            Gray, Christopher. “Not What Stanford White Envisioned, but Notable.”

            New York Times 26 Nov. 2006: RE9

 

Cancel, Luis R., Timothy Rub, Evelyn Gonzalez, and Richard Plunz. 

Building a Borough: Architecture and Planning, 1890-1940: An Exhibition Catalogue Sponsored by the J.M. Kaplan Fund.  New York: Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1986.

 

Perspectives on American Sculpture before 1925: A Symposium Sponsored

by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed.  Thayer, Tolles  26 Oct. 2001.

         New Haven: Yale UP, 2003.  Note: Data on the L.T. Scherman bust.

 

Johnson, Robert Underwood.  Your Hall of Fame.  New York: New York UP, 

            1935.

 

Morello, Theodore, ed.  The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at New York

            University.  New York: New York UP, 1967.

 

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans (pamphlet).  New York: Bronx Community

            College.

 

McEvoy, Dennis.  The Hall of Fame for Great Americans (pamphlet).  New York:

            Bronx Community College, 2003.

 

Gerdts, William H.  Impressionist New York.  New York: Abbeville Press, 1994.

See: p. 175 for description of Stanford White-era University Heights and pp.196-197 for descriptions and reproductions of GML in period fine art.

 

Gonzalez, Evelyn.  The Bronx.  New York: Columbia UP, 2004.

 

Twomey, Bill,   The Bronx, In Bits and Pieces; iUniverse; Lincoln, Nebraska;

            2003; pages 98 and 99

 

Twomey, Bill,   The Bronx Times Reporter; Bronx, New York; October 5, 2006;

            page 41

 

Twomey, Bill,   The Bronx Times Reporter; Bronx, New York; November 2,

            2006; page 47

 

Special thanks are offered to the NYU Archives for making available the most complete set of documents on the architecture and design of the University Heights campus and to Bronx Community College’s Library for its on-line subscription to historic and contemporary New York Times articles.


Morgan Powell is a Community Researcher with the Bronx African American History Project.  As a landscape designer and sustainable agriculture activist for over a decade, he’s also been a volunteer on numerous environmental efforts throughout NYC, especially power point talks under the name Bronx River Sankofa.

His talks and walking tours have been received by over 1,300 New Yorkers at venues like the New York Public Library, Cornell University and the City University of New York.  Morgan writes for the national website Outdoor Afro and other blogs.  His on-line videos and other media celebrate the history of African-American New York beyond cliché facts, historical figures and neighborhoods with an eco-twist.

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