Tag Archives: Bronx River Sankofa

A Hunt’s Point Walk: Part 1

March 11, 2013 walk with The Point CDCWelcome to our first on-line Hunt’s Point walking tour!

In two parts, you’ll see this New York City neighborhood including the westerly streets that were divided from it by the Bruckner Expressway and now called “Longwood.”  Tour no. 2 is a shorter (1 hour) walk including parks, historic structures, and shout-outs to local civic boosters.  Click here to enjoy that alternate Hunt’s Point journey.

The picture you see above comes from Bronx River Sankofa’s first Hunt’s Point tour.  It was given in March 2013. The final on-street guided tours were conducted in summer 2014.  While most Sankofa tours were attended primarily by those over 25 years in age, it was fun to have a young adult audience for these neighborhood explorations.  Now it’s your turn to make the trip!

Please note that all text in colors other than black are hyperlinks you may click on to explore a site further.  All photos may be seen larger and in greater detail by clicking on them.

WALK 1 (two hour tour) points of Interest:
A. The Point: where community and creativity connect
B. 889 Hunt’s Point Avenue (incubator of big ideas)
C. The South Bronx Greenway
D. Yes She Can Mural
E (5). Hunt’s Point’s Post Office reflects citizens’ ambitions for their neighborhood
F. Corpus Christi Monastery
G. Hunt’s Point Recreation Center
H. P.S. 48 where students and teachers have revived interest in the Joseph Rodman Drake Park Cemetery and Enslaved African Burial Ground
I. Barretto Community Garden
J (10). American Bank Note Company printing complex
K. SEBCO (South East Bronx Community Organization)
L. Hunts Point Library
M. St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church
N. Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education
O (15). Banana Kelly, an iconic Bronx Street made famous in biographies and hip hop lore
P. Mothers on the Move, a center of local activism
Q. Rainey Park, almost one whole block of green space where housing stood 60 years ago
R. PS 39 building once housed Longwood Arts Gallery, Pregones Theater, and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Bronx office.  It is now the Holcolm L. Rucker School of Community Research, a high school
S. Police Athletic League (Longwood Center)
T (20). Longwood Historic District
U. Prospect Hospital (where Bronx Frontier was born; See Gardening and Garvey article)
V. Dra. Evelina Antonetty Way
W. Casa Amadeo, where Afro-Caribbean music lives!

START: The Point Community Development Corporation is headquartered at 940 Garrison Avenue (3 blocks from the Hunt’s Point station of the no. 6 train line). This indoor/outdoor youth-focused community center was built a century ago as part of the sprawling American Bank Note Company’s printing complex anchored across the street. It later became a bagel factory before falling into cliche illicit uses by the 1980s. This industrial gem was re-purposed as a youth-centered community center in the early 1990s largely by staff from Seneca Center– formerly on Hunt’s Point Avenue– where they did similar work. As the type of funding Seneca sought began to seem unreliable support for non-traditional youth work like theater, key Seneca staff established The Point two blocks away.

The Point CDC
Please walk north along Garrison Avenue in the direction of the nearest visibly busy street with shops just one block away. That’s Hunt’s Point Avenue. Once at the intersection, turn right and walk a few stores deeper into the Hunt’s Point neighborhood. Stop at 889 Hunt’s Point Avenue where the Hunt’s Point Alliance for Children is located.

 

STOP 2. Many social entrepreneurial projects have been based here beginning with an annex to The Point. The Point leased this storefront for community arts programming here around 2000 before sub-leasing the space to the then new Sustainable South Bronx (SSB) in 2001 founded by Majora Carter. SSB moved to the American Bank Note Co. building we will see later.  Then, for two years–still under lease from The Point–the Bronx Museum of the Arts operated an artists-in-residence program there while administering the Hunt’s Point Fish Parade.

889 Hunt's Point AvenueThe following five years were guided by local artist Alejandra Delphin (already on-site as a BMA artist in residence) who remade the space into a print-making studio (Studio 889), sharing the space through 2008 with Michael Wiggins’ theater group Mud/Bone Collective who have relocated. The current tenant succeeded Delphin who does print and on-line graphic work and programming at The Point.

The sidewalk, street and view farther into Hunt’s Point Avenue from the place where you stand show most of the key elements in our next attraction.

STOP 3. The South Bronx Greenway  is a long-planned and recently expanded linear park and system of park-connectors between Hunt’s Point and Randall’s Island.  Click on the hyperlink that begins this section for a comprehensive impression of how much greener it’s made and may make these places.  The South Bronx Greenway won about $60,000,000.00 from the 2009 federal stimulus bill.  What you see here is a small part of what that money paid for–far beyond this street are new bike paths at the extreme other end of the greenway and more!  South Bronx GreenwayThe cobble-stone walkways surrounding the street trees, uniform tree guards, younger trees planted off the curb, metal benches, sleek new light posts, and generously planted medians that calm traffic are just part of this new amenity.  Omar Freilla of Green Worker Cooperatives, just over a decade ago, developed a survey for locals to express their hopes and wishes for its design once the original Sustainable South Bronx team won a million dollar grant to study and propose designs for this relatively new expansion of the local tree canopy!

Continue to walk in the same direction–southwest–along Hunt’s Point Avenue on the same block until you approach the last apartment building before the US Post Office.  Stop just beyond 823 Hunt’s Point Avenue and look up at the mural covering the stucco-faced south wall.

STOP 4. Yes She Can mural by Majora Carter Group, LLC
!Si Ella Puede!/ Yes She Can was painted c. 2009 (fence panels added later).  Majora Carter Group, LLC hired Goundswell to execute the design concept, which they jointly solicited from community members.  Don’t move, improve has been a Bronx rallying cry since the 1970s and this woman-focused image is a great update to that concept.  Read more about it by clicking here.
Yes She Can MuralTanya Fields worked on this mural for the Majora Carter Group.  Tanya(b.1980-) is CEO/ Founder/ Executive Director of The Blk Projek. She holds a bachelors degree from Baruch College/CUNY in Political Science with a minor in Black and Hispanic Studies. Fields moved to the Longwood neighborhood of the Bronx from her native Harlem in late 2001 in search of affordability. She has had a long history of local civic participation as a member of Mothers on the Move (MoMs), Sustainable South Bronx and other groups. Tanya sees unity between culture and ecology.  She promotes this vision with events centered on healthful food, yoga and more. She means to empower and link progressive African-American women and Latinas in concrete community building that improves housing, diet, social and career experience in sustainable ways that are self generated.

Tanya’s a powerful public speaker and writer. She is featured in the book The Next Eco Warriors: 22 Young Men and Women Who are Saving the Planet, edited by Emily Hunter with a forward by Farley Mowat, published 2011.

You’ll want to see the front of the post office next door so continue a few more steps to the end of the block and turn right onto Lafayette Avenue. Now walk to the middle of the block so you can see the entrance to this low-rise building where it forms the corner of Lafayette and Manida Street.

STOP 5. Hunt’s Point’s Post Office mirrors citizens’ ambitions for the neighborhood.  Cybeale Ross has lived on this block since 1958 and long been involved in preserving it.  Manida’s Street’s 800 block has long been among the best preserved in the whole district.

Hunt's Point Post OfficeBefore this relatively new branch was constructed, earlier generations knew their closest USPS station as the one that remains on Westchester Avenue between Freeman and Simpson–quite a walk!  Mrs. Ross made a point of attending meetings surrounding the establishment of this branch.  The building reflects that wisdom.  Note that vehicular traffic is oriented onto the commercial streets  and away from Manida’s tree-lined calm.  The low-rise scale and planted courtyard were her ideas too.

Across the street on Lafayette Avenue and just beyond Manida Street towers a stone-clad religious cloister you couldn’t miss if you tried.

STOP 6. Corpus Christi Monastery  is located at 1230 Lafayette Avenue.  It was constructed in 1890.  According to the American Institute of Architects Guide to New York City, “The best time to visit this cloistered community of Dominican nuns is on Sunday afternoon, when they sing their office.”Corpus Christi Monastery  This black and white image was taken around 2005 for Bronx River Sankofa’s founder by the late great photographer and musician Ibrahim Gonzalez.

Locals call the field at the intersection of Lafayette and Manida Street Manida Park—not it’s official name—and have come to enjoy it’s modern recreation center visible from our last two sites. Walk along the broad field of this park until you reach 765 Manida Street.

STOP 7. Hunt’s Point Recreation Center (not shown) is operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation of the City of New York.  It is very active with all kinds of activities for all ages 12 months of the year.  It’s also one of the newest recreation centers anywhere in the city.

Our next destination is the corner ahead of us. We won’t be visiting but simply looking over to it where Manida Street and Spofford Avenue cross. Do you see the imposing red brick schoolhouse one block away to your left?

STOP 8. P.S. 48 where students and teachers have revived interest in the Joseph Rodman Drake Park Cemetery and Enslaved African Burial Ground.  See how they publish their research by clicking here!

P.S. 48Bronx African Burial Ground

Take Spofford Avenue one block farther away from P.S. 48 walking down-hill to Barretto Street–which you’ll walk half-of-one-block into for the first green space you see to your left.  You’ll know you’re approaching it because of its distinctive foundation planting outside the fence in the public right-of-way bordering the sidewalk.

STOP 9. Barretto Community Garden was one of the first community gardens in Hunt’s Point.

Barretto Street Garden DSCN9305
Double back up Barretto Street to Spofford Avenue, turn left so you are continuing down the gentle hill —passing Casanova Street—and join Tiffany Street. Now turn right.  Be mindful that you’re on a heavily trafficked commercial route as you head north. The Bruckner Expressway will be visible in the distance. Where Tiffany reconnects you with Lafayette Avenue, a massive twentieth century red brick industrial building will command your attention on your right (across from Corpus Christi Monastery).

STOP 10. American Bank Note Company printing complex (built 1911) is an official NYC Landmark.  Read all about it in its official designation report by clicking here.  This highly productive facility once employed hundreds who worked in three consecutive shifts.  Among it’s many products were South American currencies and American Express Traveler’s Checks.

American Bank Note BuildingTiffany Street unfolds with great sites as we continue toward, below, and immediately on the other side of the Bruckner Expressway above head. Now, at the intersection of the Bruckner Boulevard (at street level) and Tiffany, a powerful community development group presents buildings visible on both north and south sides of the street.

 

STOP 11. SEBCO (South East Bronx Community Organization) was founded in 1968 and has done a great deal to improve the lives of many in the Hunt’s Point-Longwood neighborhoods.  Much has been written about this group over the years.  To your left is a low-rise health center they initiated over a decade ago.  The tall senior housing facility on the right (although it faces the next block: Southern Boulevard) has the name “Sister Thomas Apartments” facing you.  Housing and health are just two of their areas of action.  Father Louis Gigante of St. Athanasius Church and other locals formed the South East Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO) as a community development non-profit. Many came to know SEBCO for having painted on some of the buildings they rehabilitated the words “Father Louis Gigante Rebuilding the South Bronx.” This large declaration was seen for decades from the Bruckner Expressway.  Learn more by visiting their website here.

Looking just one block ahead on Tiffany Street, let’s head to the Renaissance-inspired building at 877 Southern Boulevard.

STOP 12. Hunts Point Library.  This site indicates a rich man’s literacy revolution. The Andrew Carnegie endowment built libraries throughout North American and Britain. The Hunt’s Point Branch was the final NYC branch built under this endowment; it opened in 1928.  At one time, the New York Public Library houses a substantial Latino literature department here.  Today, you would find a similar specialty collection at the Bronx Library Center a few miles to the north.

Hunt's Point Library on Father Gigante PlazaFather Gigante Plaza
This important public building is situated on Father Gigante Plaza, a pedestrian-oriented public open space framed by a gated park and fountain to the south (maintained by SEBCO), Fox Street on the west and our next attraction.

STOP 13. St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church

Church interiorChurch exterior

Skirt the church building, leaving the plaza, and examine its beautiful westerly windows on Fox Street. Then continue along Fox 1.5 blocks (passing Barretto St.) to 928 Fox Street.

STOP 14. Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education

Casita MariaSouth Bronx Cultural Trail

The Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education has developed their own South Bronx Culture Trail.  Their mission is to empower youth and their families by creating a culture of learning through high quality social, cultural, and educational opportunities.

They welcome kids at the age of six and stay with them until college while providing family learning through the arts.  They distinguish themselves in the plurality of ways in which they attract community members to utilize their services.  Their students introduce their parents to their cultural programs, while their public programs guide parents to wide ranging education programs.  Founded in 1934, they have served many who have gone on to enrich the world through culture, public service, education, and business.  Alumni and program providers have been many.  Some highlights include:

Tina Ramirez, Founder of Ballet Hispanico

Joe Conzo, Jr., Photographer

DJ GrandWizzard Theodore, Hip Hop pioneer

Hon. Annabel Palma, NYC Council Member

David Gonzalez, Journalist and Photographer

Wandee “WanderPop” Candelario, Dancer

Rita Moreno, Singer/Actress/Dancer

Dave Valentin, Latin Jazz Musician and Composer

BG 183, Tats Cru

Lorraine A. Cortes Vazques, 65th Secretary of State of New York

Marta Rivera, Educator

Francisco Molina Reyes II, Photographer

Americo Casiano, Poet

Double back along Fox street to Father Gigante Plaza where the church we visited stands. Now walk away from the plaza along Tiffany Street so that you are seeing low-rise private homes to your left. Join E. 163rd Street two blocks away, then walk along that street to where E. 163rd and Kelly streets cross.  Looking into Kelly Street, take a moment to appreciate the crescent shape of this block as well as it’s early 20th century feel.

Kelly Street

 

 

STOP 15. Kelly Street (aka Banana Kelly) is an iconic Bronx Street.

It’s been made famous around the world by memoirs of locals including General Colin Powell who recall living and playing here.

Walk slowly down this crescent-shaped street toward the park one block ahead.  Next, turn right and find 928 Intervale Avenue.

Mothers on the Move

 

STOP 16. Mothers on the Move (MoMs) is a community organizing group. There has been good power sharing between Latinos and African-Americans here.  Joyce Culler, a long-standing Bronx Community Board 2 member, is a MOMs board member. MoMs works on education, transportation and other issues.  It has been led for over a decade by Wanda Salaman, a modest and highly effective Latina of African descent.

Next door is a convenience shop where you may want to grab a drink and a snack so you can enjoy a break in the park across the street.

STOP 17 (SHADE/REST/BATHROOM BREAK). Rainey Park has athletic fields rimmed with shaded strolling paths and benches and a comfort station.  It symbolizes the Bronx rebuilt.  Similar to most community gardens, it occupies land where housing stood 60 years ago.  Today, it’s a park named for a major local African-American civic leader–William F. Rainey (1920-1985)–who once ran the local Police Athletic League.  Once you’ve enjoyed the charms of this relatively recently renovated park, proceed to the school anchored at its southern end.

DSCN9569

STOP 18. The PS 39 building once housed Longwood Arts Gallery, Pregones Theater, and Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension Bronx office. It is now the Holcolm L. Rucker School of Community Research, a high school.  This is where a young and blessed Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) attended school too.  Carmichael’s legacy deserves to be remembered as we celebrate so many anniversaries of the Civil Rights Movement.

Public SchoolDSCN9559

Across the street at 991 Longwood Avenue (at Beck Street) is the most recent incarnation of a longstanding children’s play/learning/health institution.

Police Athletic LeagueSTOP 19. Police Athletic League (Longwood Center).  The building you see here dates to 1996.  Since 1914 PAL has been serving New York City’s youth with safe, structured programming designed to engage boys and girls in positive activities that improve their quality of life, present developmental opportunities, and offer the prospect of a brighter future. What started out as the closing of streets by the New York City Police Department to enable the city’s unsupervised youth to play became a city-wide Cops & Kids movement and later national model that brought communities and police together in ways that prevail to this day.

Cross Longwood Avenue into Beck Street. Explore the length of this block until Beck Street meets E. 156th Street.

STOP 20. Longwood Historic District  According to the Lehman College Art Gallery website, “Built at the turn of the 20th century, the Longwood Historic District is an enclave of primarily two and three story row houses constructed in anticipation of the population surge expected into the area.  Real estate developer George B. Johnson purchased the old S. B. White estate on speculation and hired architect Warren C. Dickerson (also known for his work on Mott Haven Historic District structures) to design and construct houses.  By the time that the IRT subway line (today’s no. 6 train) from Manhattan reached the neighborhood in 1904, Dickerson’s houses were completed and clustered nearby.”  Read the complete entry by clicking here.  See a simulation of the old White mansion on the SE corner of Beck Street and E. 156th Street.

Longwood Historic District
Make a right on E. 156th Street. One block away is a white glazed brick building at the corner of Kelly Street.

STOP 21. Prospect Hospital (not shown) is where Irma Fleck hatched a late 1970s green business with help from a veteran of the federal War on Poverty scene.  Bronx Frontier was born here.  See the earlier Gardening and Garvey article to learn more about that Bronx success story.
Continue along E. 156th Street for three blocks until you arrive at Prospect Avenue. Please look up at the street signs on this corner by Public School 130.

STOP 22. Dra. Evelina Antonetty Way was unveiled in 2011.  The street sign is located at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and E. 156th Street.

Dra. Evelina Antonetty WayTake time to reflect and be empowered by the legacy of Dr. Evelina Lopez Antonetty (1922-1984).  “Titi” or “Auntie,” as she was often called, created United Bronx Parents and was a force for establishing bi-lingual education locally and nationally.  Among her hundreds of accomplishments, she protested, periodically shut down filming for, and got twenty jobs for local people-of-color in the filming of Fort Apache, a fictional film set in the Bronx.  Her mural across the street (below) reads her words from 1980: “We will never stop struggling here in the Bronx, even though they’ve destroyed it around us.  We would pitch tents if we have to rather than move from here.  We would fight back, there is nothing we would not do.  They will never take us away from here.  I feel very much a part of this and I’m never going to leave.  And, after me, my children will be here to carry on…I have very strong children…and very strong grandchildren.”

Evelina Antonetty MuralTiti’s daughter Anita Antonetty once provided career counseling services to the youths of Rocking the Boat in Hunt’s Point.  Many were pleasantly surprised to encounter a mature Latina deeply aware of Bronx ecology issues and trends.  Anita continues to make her mark on the Bronx sustainability front through community boards and beyond.

Our final destination for today’s tour is across from the nearest train station. Please make a right on Prospect Avenue and walk toward the very visible train tracks above Westchester Avenue in the near distance. Just before you reach this refurbished and remodeled Victorian Revival-styled train station, you’ll see 786 Prospect Avenue. You have arrived!

Casa Amadeo

CONCLUSION: Casa Amadeo is regarded as a national landmark.  It’s a music store specializing in Afro-caribbean sounds.  You can even buy musical instruments there.  If you’re lucky, you may visit when a spontaneous jam session is happening live in the back room.  The owner, Mike Amadeo, is a musician and composer who is well known in traditional Latin music circles.   The elegant Old Bronx building they occupy once houses both Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.
DSCN9568 DSCN9565

Thank you for walking with us! Bronx River Sankofa invites you to always move forward strengthened by the wisdom of reflecting periodically!

Gardening and Garvey: a reminiscence of 1980’s sustainability in Hunt’s Point

McLymont w Zoo Doo posterAnchored in God and family, Fritz-Earle McLymont, business consultant par excellence, conducted this interview with us on Monday, July 21 at a midtown Manhattan office building. We were fortunate to be granted two hours between his many projects including waste-to-energy initiatives in East Africa. He shared memories of his time directing a once alive and thriving Bronx Frontier Development Corporation–a paragon of social, economic, and environmental sustainability in the late 1970s through 1991 or so. Background information came from an interview with another former Bronx Frontier employee (who still works in Hunt’s Point), the Bronx Museum of the Art’s catalog “Devastation/Resurrection: the South Bronx” dated November 9 [1979] – January 13,1980, and Jill Jonnes’ book South Bronx Rising: the rise, fall, and resurrection of an American City published in 2002 by Fordham University Press. Finally and potently, a contemporaneous account of Bronx Frontier dated 1978 lives on-line at Mother Earth News which proved invaluable. What follows is a summary of the McLymont interview with relevant notes for context.
Barretto Street Garden
Bronx River Sankofa followers may remember our summer 2012 photographer’s tour of three neighborhoods including Woodlawn Cemetery, West Farms, and Hunt’s Point. The last stop in that tour was the public art scene of found objects and folkloric carpentry, a fruit tree orchard, and traditional Afro-Caribbean music also known as Barretto Street Garden (shown above). At that time, our narrative focused on the way the Trust for Public Land under Andy Stone’s direction had orchestrated the legal transfer of that green patch into public park land with Henry Font (deceased) acting as coordinator. Font lived directly across the street in a brick apartment building where relatives remain. During that tour, we hadn’t talked about how all that rich soil—supporting herbs, flowers, veggies, and fruit—got there. This article seeks to address that omission…and more!
Fritz-Earle McLymont became a consequential upstairs neighbor to Mr. Font for almost three years in the 80’s after returning to his adoptive United States following groundbreaking economic work within the Michael Manley government of Jamaica. Once back in the USA, a friend’s call compelled him to revisit a project of Bronx preservationist Irma Fleck he had consulted to before leaving America in the late 70’s. On-leave police officer (Bronx 41st precinct) and Bronx businessman Jack Flanagan convinced him he should take over leadership as Flanagan made his exit from an enterprise much more than a start-up by then with a substantial staff and annual operating revenues worth several million dollars. Fritz related this story that shows yet one more way the green movement is nothing new in the Bronx and that people of African ancestry have made important inputs even environmental insiders often no little about. Because the more popular published accounts of the life and times of Bronx Frontier make no mention of him, it’s the perfect Sankofa moment to reclaim a fuller American history!

Zoo Do poster
Barretto Street Garden remains a monument to the work of many hands over four plus decades. When Font and McLymont were neighbors, along with Freddy Ruffin (a local civic pillar originally from Louisiana living a few blocks away), they gardened heartily. Each man hailed from different parts of the African diaspora and shared a passion for growing his own food and sharing with others. Freddy and Fritz shared a keen respect for the writings of Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) and enjoyed a powerful friendship. McLymont’s Bronx Frontier was making vast quantities of compost a few blocks away on the waterfront and was able to steer more than a little to this vest pocket park between Spofford and Randall avenues, very near the later-built Hunt’s Point Recreation Center operated by NYC’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
Jill Jonnes’s book relates that Bronx Frontier went into partnership with the People’s Development Corporation (defunct housing group), the Green Guerillas (co-founded by Hattie Carthan of Magnolia Tree Earth Center), the New York Botanical Garden, and others to form the South Bronx Open Space Task Force. The Task Force was based at 1080 Leggett Avenue  on the same street as the Frontier very much on the industrial perimeter of the Hunt’s Point peninsula.  Bronx Frontier also had a teen-centered waterfront community garden a few blocks away within its composting complex where they processed the popular Zoo Doo organic fertilizer. It was no discreet success. Many papers including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal promoted their visionary product and staff. On pages 321 and 322 of South Bronx Rising, we read:
“Bronx Frontier had an exciting summer in 1978. The Chuck Wagon program, a mobile kitchen in a former bookmobile [mobile library], roved the streets teaching cooking and nutrition. It was extremely well received and was incorporated as a regular feature at a few local schools [and places frequented by seniors in the memory of McLymont]. Over on the “ranch” on the Hunt’s Point peninsula, the giant compost turner was in its test period [shown in the second to last photo below]. Mountainous piles of vegetable waist were being carted over from the nearby Hunt’s Point Produce Market [as arranged early on by Irma Fleck according to McLymont], then laboriously culled of unacceptable debris, then churned and shredded with leaves [from Westchester] and zoo manure. Eventually, this mixture came to be marketed as Zoo Doo, although the veggie component was abandoned as too much trouble. To everyone’s vast relief, it worked. By the end of the first summer, two thousand cubic yards of compost worth twenty-eight thousand dollars had been created. Some was stored, and the rest was distributed to seven new gardens and three that were in their second season.
Bronx Frontier was now inundated by officials eager to see the notorious South Bronx—visitors from Africa, Japan, Switzerland, England, and France. The interruptions became so hard to handle that a weekly show-and-tell was put together, including a bus tour through the rubble to the gardens, those little oases of love and pride.
Bronx Frontier decided to purchase a windmill to generate its own power for use in its composting operation. This elegant machine, tall and slender, was to whirl majestically above the ranch, catching the winds whipping across the small promontory [above the waters of the East River adjacent to the Hunt’s Point Water Pollution Control plant according to McLymont].”

Reference material

The passage you just read filled my mind as Fritz and I began our interview. He had come to the United States after spending formative years in Jamaica and gotten his start in economic development during the federal War on Poverty wherein he helped preserve the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn and beyond. The Bronx was known to him from visits with family in the northern borough although he was living in a Tudor City penthouse at that time above Ralph Bunche Park with views of the river and United Nations. Professional contacts connected him to Bronx Frontier founder Irma Fleck who he remembers as a passionate visionary for the whole Bronx. He remembers successfully interviewing with her just several months shy of his fortieth birthday at her Prospect Hospital office (See building in final picture below) within the Longwood neighborhood. During the interview, she queried him on his knowledge of compost—he’d been composting since teen years. It was lights, cameras, action back then in 1976. This seed was so early in sprouting, Jack Flanagan had not yet been brought on by Mrs. Fleck who was a doctor’s wife, her life spanning the Bronx’s transition from Jewish to Latino dominance. Let’s contextualize this moment in Bronx history: President Jimmy Carter had not yet arrived for his world-famous visit (1977) and GreenThumb was not yet established as a city-wide technical assistance resource for community gardeners (1978).
Stewarding economic development and agricultural innovation was familiar to Fritz. He arrived at Bronx Frontier with credentials in the business of agriculture beyond American shores. He recalls spending a lot of time with Fleck who saw real world connections between the beauty of our cityscapes and the health of urban dwellers. For about one year, he developed a business plan, a list of funding options (some awarded during and following his term), and helped groom Flanagan in urban agriculture as a means of community economic development. He arranged and brought Flanagan on a field trip to Canada and another to upstate New York to observe established models. Upstate, a less efficient dairy cow waste composting model provided an important example. Bronx Frontier would go with the Scarab compost turning system captured on page 96 of a Bronx Museum of the Arts catalog shown below in the upper right corner.  Click on the image to enlarge it!
Bronx Frontier scarab machine in upper right corner
Beyond its better known Zoo Doo business, Bronx Frontier also sponsored nine parks (including Barretto Street Garden), ran nutrition programs (initiated by Irma Fleck), operated teen-age pregnancy prevention classes in public schools and community centers (T.A.P.P.), and operated a farmers market at the junction of Bruckner Boulevard and Longwood Avenue. Locals came to enjoy produce sold there sourced both from local community gardens and upstate farmers who would bring their product to the people. Fritz has long been interested in using fresh produce in the service of addressing health issues in the Latino and African-American communities.

Fritz-Earle S. McLymont
The ambition of the group may have been easier to manage because Fritz was deeply rooted in the community. He was one of the few staff members aside from first-line workers who lived in Hunt’s Point. What was his philosophy? “I can’t cook from the living room. I have to cook in the kitchen. If I’m going to work here, I’ve got to live here!” Spoken like a true Garveyite. When I asked what some of the highlights of his tenure (approximately three years) as Executive Director were, he said Zoo Doo and completing a fellowship at Pratt Institute in Community Economic Development offered to leaders like him. Always in good company, Fritz handed over power to his successor with a very stable national model of socially-responsible green business in partnership with major forces for good like Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Prospect Hospital
Prospect Hospital where Irma Fleck hatched Bronx Frontier.

Note: The author-interviewer, Morgan Powell, first learned of Zoo Doo as a teen summer participant in the Family Gardening program at the New York Botanical Garden around 1986.  His mother paid his tuition inspired by a neighbor’s child already in the program.

 

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

West Farms Rapids Park: a history

A riverside park in the central Bronx is the perfect place to reflect on local history.  Join the campaign to get the latest West Farms Rapids Park renovation completed because it was over three years behind schedule at the time this article was posted.  A brief history can be read at Outdoor Afro.  Read below if you want the extended story complete with reproduced texts from varied authorities on the Bronx River and the neighborhood of West Farms!  The illustration below by Marcy Kass was made when the park was nearing completion in its first phase back in 1980.  Other images in the main text were taken at that time.  The pictures that follow (beginning with Works Cited) show the park stalled in development during its third and current renovation.

BXRR Image from 1980

West Farms Rapids Park, a history

2 Acres 1

The West Farms community is one of many historic settlements along the Bronx River, which is the only freshwater river in New York City. Measuring 23 miles, this blue corridor has been central to the life of the Bronx since pre-colonial days. It winds its way from the heights of Westchester County to meet the East River at Hunt’s Point. Called Aquehung (River of High Bluffs) by the Mohegan Indians who fished and hunted along its banks, the Bronx River derives its name from Jonas Bronck (1600-1643), a Swedish sea captain who settled the mainland in 1639 as the Bronx’s first European resident. Profitable opportunities such as fur trading attracted early European settlers to the Bronx River Valley 2 and the local economy grew through the 1600s and 1700s. Farming and cottage industries 3 developed and flourished until the Revolutionary War, 4 when the river became a shifting battle line between American Patriots and British Loyalists. 5 The De Lancey family estate, now part of the Bronx Zoo, 6 is well documented as a site of 18th century tensions. 7 American troops gained control of the area when British Loyalists evacuated in 1783. 8

Creating W. Farms RapidsDuring the era between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 9 and again in the 1840s during the construction of the New York & Harlem Railroad, factories sprang up along the Bronx River shores, which harnessed the current to power manufacturing. At one time, at least 12 mills stood between North Castle and West Farms. 10 The Bolton Bleachery operated for many decades on the same site where the Lorraine Hansberry Academy is now situated. 11 These industries brought both prosperity and pollution as they dumped their refuse into the waterfront. In 1896, a report by the New York State Legislature stated that the river had become an “open sewer” and appointed a commission to remedy the problem. After intensive study, the commission recommended that the city purchase the land alongside this waterway and transform it from an unregulated zone of farms, slums and factories into a landscaped nature preserve. America’s first parkway was thus born, 12 allowing the city and state to control activity along the river and providing motorists, bicyclists and strollers with a pleasant venue for recreation and scenic trips.13

'79 or 1980 creation of West Farms RapidsThe Bronx River Parkway (completed in 1925) protected the watershed as it entered the Bronx Park. 14 However, the Bronx River did not receive dedicated ecological restoration south of East 180th Street until 1974, when Ruth Anderberg founded the Bronx River Restoration Project (BXRR) on the inspiration of then Bronx Police Chief Anthony V. Bouza, who had already launched an intergovernmental dialogue to clean the river. 15 West Farms Rapids (formerly Bronx River Park, originally Restoration Park) marks the genesis of those efforts. 16 The rock-stuffed rubber-tire retaining walls here are a landmark commemorating 1980, when this place became a park. 17 Around this time, BXRR also created the nearby Bronx River Art Center (BRAC) 18 and River Garden, 19 and published the Bronx River Restoration Master Plan, which advocated the ecological revival of the whole waterway, complete with a continuous linear park from the Kensico Dam to its mouth at the East River.

Late 1970s construction of West Farms RapidsMany hands contributed to these early efforts, including teen-aged and adult workers and community leaders from Lambert Houses, like BXRR treasurer Marcel Woolery, Jr. They were funded by city programs like Summer Youth Employment, Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), local elected officials and Phipps Houses. Other organizations dedicated resources for construction, programming and maintenance. 20 In the 1990s, local residents and workers formed a new coalition to revive this site. Called the West Farms Friends of the Bronx River, members included Michelle Williams, Bernard Tim Johnson, Nessie Panton, Andre Williams, Juanita Carter, Perquida Williams, Sebert Harper and others. They organized riverfront clean-ups, planted the original butterfly garden 21 and worked with the Parks Department to install picnic tables for family recreation. 22 In 1997, HPD gave the city jurisdiction over this park 23 and by 2008 the Parks Department owned it. Also in 1997, Partnerships for Parks convened the Bronx River Working Group, comprised of 20 founding partners, including Phipps Community Development Corporation, BXRR and the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality. This collaboration culminated in 2001 with the creation of the Bronx River Alliance. In 2000, The Transportation Equity Act allocated $770,800 to renovate the park. 24 This mid-Bronx node of the Bronx River Greenway broke ground again in 2008 to improve safety and enhance multi-modal access, featuring a canoe launch, a new butterfly garden, an amphitheater and direct access to East Tremont Avenue where Bronx Street was absorbed into this park and de-mapped. 25 The Bronx River Alliance and community partners continue to maintain this remarkably beautiful and historic site.  [End of history summary].

 WFR Park Circa 1981

 Notes

 1 At the time of this writing, the temporary construction sign at West Farms Rapids states the site is 2 acres, which likely includes the contiguous riverbed. The sign for West Farms Rapids, circa 2000, stated that the park measures 0.505 acres.

2 The Bronx River Alliance’s “Bronx River Historical Sign” summarizes the economic underpinnings of European settlement in West Farms, including fur trading.

3 Isaac Valentine operated a blacksmith business serving passersby on the Boston Post Road, a street which is documented widely as having had other cottage industries typical of well-traveled intra-settlement thoroughfares of that time. (Ultan, Legacy 4).  The Bronx Historian: Newsletter of the Bronx County Historical Society (Vol. 12, No. 4, March -April 1990) features a front page story, “Milestones in the Industrial Development of the Bronx.” This essay states:

Grist and saw mills, which were the Bronx’s first industries, were built in 1680 by John Richardson and Edward Jessup on the Bronx river at West Farms. The grist mill ground the grain into flour while the saw mill provided the staves for the barrels to hold the flour. Then, between 1794 and 1797, a bridge over the Harlem River [at Third Avenue and East 135th Street initiated by Lewis Morris, son of his namesake father who signed the Declaration of Independence] was built spurring the growth of stagecoach lines and eventually industrial and commercial opportunities. One such industry began as the Bolton Bleachery which opened for business in 1820.

4 These four sentences are almost literal excerpts from the original Bronx River Park Historical Sign of 2000.

5 Hermalyn’s “A History of the Bronx River” offers one of many illustrations about how battle lines and held territories shifted during the American Revolutionary War. Additional insights are offered in “The Bronx River Valley and the Revolutionary War” section of 300 Years of Life Along the Bronx River Valley (Greenburgh and Scarsdale).

6 Gardner elucidates the former site of the De Lancey estate in his essay “Portraits of a Bronx Aristocrat:” “When [Peter De Lancey and Elizabeth Colden] married in 1737 [Peter] took her to live at De Lancey’s Mills [-saw and grist-] on the Bronx River near West Farms in lower Westchester (a site now in Bronx Park near 181st Street).” He continues on a later page, “By the end of the Revolution the widowed Mrs. De Lancey had witnessed not only the destruction of her old home at the Mill on the Bronx River but also the plundering of her house at Union Hill (a site now in the Bronx Zoological Gardens).” The article continues:

During the American Revolution her sons served with the British forces: Steven, John, Oliver, Warren and James – all except Peter, who was said to have been killed in a duel in South Carolina in 1771. Her daughters Jane and Suzanna were loyalists; but Alice married Ralph Izzard, a rich young man from the South who sided with the American forces. Her son James became famous, or infamous, as the leader of De Lancey’s Light Horse [alternately De Lancey’s Cowboys], a band of British raiders who terrorized and plundered that unhappy territory in southern Westchester known as “The Neutral Ground.” He was known to the American forces that tried to capture him as “The Colonel of the Cowboys” because of his success in stealing cattle to provision the British army. After he was listed in the Act of Attainder, he was called “The Outlaw of the Bronx.”

7 Many sources confirm that there were multiple American Revolutionary War Battles and camps in the Bronx River watershed and that land claims by the British and Americans were contended throughout the war. Torries: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War by Allen and Ultan’s Legacy of the Revolution are among such works.

8 Bronx River Park sign (2000).

9 We learn about how the disruption in trade created by the War of 1812, wherein the United States declared war on Great Britain, created a market for locally-produced manufactured goods supplied by new factories established on the Bronx River at West farms in Ultan’s The Northern Borough: A History of the Bronx.

10 Bronx River Park sign (2000).

11 A 1916 map by architect Kenneth M. Murchison, “The Plan of the Bronx International Exposition,” taken together with e-mail correspondence on this historical point between Stephen DeVillo and the author, are reinforced with the entry about the Lorraine Hansberry Academy in the AIA Guide to New York of 2000, which describes the site: “A cast-concrete structural frame and dark, rough-ribbed concrete block infill achieves their neat and dramatic geometry. Its site was once the [Bolton, later Bronx] Bleachery, an industry well-remembered because of its negative impact upon the purity of the adjacent Bronx River.” The historical reference to the name change of this facility is cited in The Birth of the Bronx: 1609-1900 by the Bronx County Historical Society, which features an illustration of the factory and states on page 138:

The Bronx Company stands at E. 177th Street and Bronx River, West Farms, in 1890. Once known as the Bolton Bleachery when it was part of the village of Bronxdale, the firm moved south along the river when New York City condemned the Bronxdale property for the establishment of the Bronx Zoo. The Bleachery then occupied this former factory of the Bronx Wool and Leather Co.

12 Timothy Davis’ “The Rise and Decline of the American Parkway” from The World Beyond the Windshield puts the Bronx River Parkway in a historical context of American road-making as the first parkway.

13 This paragraph is excerpted from the original Bronx River Park sign from 2000 with new details of social and design history edited into it.

14 The “Map Showing Bronx River Parkway” on page 22 from the 1922 Report of the Bronx River Parkway Commission clearly indicates what everyone involved with the River experiences: a principle mission of the parkway’s creation was to address aesthetic, zoological and hygiene concerns within Bronx Park, where the Bronx Zoo (New York Zoological Society) is located. It is also no accident that this gift of the City Beautiful Movement came about not long after the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which showed American designers, builders and leaders that neoclassical principles of city planning could address some of the misfortunes of unplanned growth in America’s increasingly industrialized cities. Nevertheless, the specific inspiration for the parkway came from Inverness, Scotland, where Norwood resident, NYS Assemblyman and New York Zoological Society Board of Governors member William White Niles, wrote the following in 1929:

In [1902], I went abroad with Dr. [William T.] Hornaday, the director of the New York Zoological Society. He had occasion to visit Mr. [Andrew] Carnegie at Skiebo Castle and I accompanied him as far as Inverness, where I remained for three days while he was visiting the Laird of Skiebo. Having nothing better to do in his absence, I spent most of my time in walking about the vicinity, and on one occasion, coming upon a little park which bordered the River Ness beyond the limits of the City, I followed the river down through the city, and was greatly surprised to find the water as it issued from the limits of the city as clean, so far as appearance went, which was the only test that I applied, as it was when I entered the city. My astonishment was due to the fact that I had rather assumed that a stream could not go through a built up community without being defiled. I was familiar with many streams running through cities in America, but recalled no instance in which the sewerage and much of the refuse of the city was not dumped into the stream and its banks devastated and shorn of all beauty and in most instances, disfigured and rendered offensive by public dumps, dilapidated structures, coal yards and other unattractive activities. When I returned home I happened, on one occasion, to be walking through the northerly part of Bronx Park along the Bronx River and continued northward beyond the Parks’ boundaries still along the River, and was distressed to see the conditions prevailing there, which had never before impressed me so unfavorably. I determined to make an effort to see if something could not be done to improve matters. I was at the time a member of the Executive Committee [(1897-?)] of the Board of Governors of the New York Zoological Society, who, it seemed to me, should be interested in the project because of the fact that the Bronx River formed a most interesting and picturesque feature of the Zoological Park, and the serious contamination of the water would be most prejudicial to the Park. In 1904, if my memory serves me right, we had a very dry summer and the water in the stream was much reduced in size and the pollution became more and more apparent. Director Hornaday had his attention called to the matter by a serious disorder that developed among the water fowl, who were permitted to use the river, and on examining into the cause of this disorder, he became convinced it arose from the polluted condition of the river. He then very ardently championed my proposition that we should take steps to remedy the existing conditions, and so impressed Mr. [Madison] Grant [Columbia University-trained lawyer and member of the Boone and Crocket Club (elite hunters)] that he finally said that if I would draft a bill to be presented to the Legislature that he would support it and do his best to procure the support of the Zoological Society.  During this period I discussed the matter with Dr. [Nathaniel Lord] Britton of the Botanical Society and found him also interested and obtained the assurance of his support…

Niles already had a history of working a bill through the New York State Legislature to improve this part of the city. We learn in Gathering of Animals that he introduced a bill in Albany drafted by Andrew Haswell Green that created the New York Zoological Society (Bronx Zoo) while he was a New York State Assemblyman to the North Side (when the lands that became Bronx County west of the Bronx River were still an extension of New York County). Niles became interested in establishing a new zoological park for New York – a small Central Park Zoo already existed – inspired by many he had seen in Europe, probably including London and Berlin examples. His bill passed in Albany, with amendments, on April 26, 1895 (Bridges 7-10). A substantial stone and concrete monument to W.W. Niles can found at Bronx Boulevard and East 226th street, which was built in 1938. His fellow Zoo founder and partner in the Parkway project, Madison Grant—who believed in racial hierarchy—of Manhattan, was not mentioned there.

15 A 1974 article in the Catholic News, among many concurrent writings, clearly establishes Bronx Police Chief Anthony V. Bouza as the initiator of efforts to clean the Bronx River south of the Bronx Zoo, which inspired Ruth Anderberg to a loftier ambition: creating a non-profit to “restore” the river along its full length. Bouza is quoted to have framed the purpose of this effort as a way “to symbolize the need for every citizen to do something about his environment” (1974). The Bronx River Master Plan of 1980 published by the Bronx River Restoration states on its first leaf: “Dedicated to the New York City Police Department, its Bronx Borough Commanders and Bronx Community Affairs Section. They started the whole thing in the first place and have been supportive ever since.

16 “West Farms Rapids (formerly Bronx River Park, originally Restoration Park) marks the genesis of those efforts,” is a statement derived from the following sources and confirmed elsewhere. The concept of mini-parks (new small parks for residential and commercial districts co-sponsored and often designed with non-municipal partners) exploded onto the New York City landscape during two mayoral terms of John V. Lindsay (1966 – 1973). When planning and building this park between 1978 and 1980, “Bronx River Restoration” was the working name of the organization. Their self-published and self-printed newsletters called the Bronx River Current trace this process. The Spring 1980 edition of the Current included a dedicated back page, “Park Name Contest” form, complete with an illustration of the site, including: the stone bridge over East 180th Street, abstractly rendered mid-rise buildings exactly where the Lambert Houses are, and a park enjoyed by human figures in active and passive recreation on the west bank of the Bronx River. We learn how and what name was assigned to the park in the Autumn 1980 edition of the Bronx River Current, as written by Norma Torres:

Searching for a name for a new park can be a complex and surprising activity. BXRR Conducted a park naming contest for several months before arriving at a suitable name for the new mini-park now being completed by BXRR at E. 179th Street and the Bronx River. Our efforts were aided by more than 60 suggestions made by the children of the neighboring areas. After much discussion the jury agreed on Restoration Park as the best suited name. Those involved in the decision-making process included Edwin Martinez, District Manager of CPB #6, Sonia Edwards also of CPB #6, the staff of BXRR and a number of community residents. The winning name was the brainstorm of young Avanti Mosalez, age 7, of Lambert Houses. In investigating how he came to select the name we found out that Avanti had inquired as to the meaning of “Restoration.” After much thought he decided that making the Bronx River new again was good, and Restoration Park a suitable name. Appropriately enough, young Avanti enjoys swimming, karate and going to parks. Thank you, Avanti, for helping us find a name of great dignity.

I call this park the genesis of those efforts for three reasons: a) Barbara Stewart’s “A River Rises” 2000 article in the New York Times recounts the beginning of concern for the Bronx River in West Farms by Ruth Anderberg; Stewart wrote:

Ms. Anderberg, a small, animated woman with a gift for storytelling, first saw the river’s trash-choked southern part on a bus to the 1964 World’s Fair. I thought: ‘What a shame! What a crime!’” she said. “Up at the botanical garden, the river was so beautiful and placid. Down there, it was a disgrace.

Through two interviews I conducted with Ms. Anderberg, confirmed by her Story Corps interview of 2008, I know her to have waited for that same bus where a contemporary bus from Flushing, Queens continues to make a loop here at East 180th Street, almost between River Park (separated from the Bronx Zoo only by a fence) and what has evolved into West Farms Rapids (Story Corps is a national nonprofit dedicated to recording and collecting stories of everyday people: http://www.storycorps.org). b) A New York Daily News article from 1976 depicts Anderberg telling the Bronx River Restoration story on the east bank of the Bronx River with IRT tracks in the near background and the back of what would become the Bronx River Art Center visibly occupying the frame between herself and the west bank, and c) “Refuse in Bronx Restoring River” from the New York Times in 1979 captures a moment when the signature rock-filled tire retaining wall at West Farms Rapids was being installed while west bank features were also in development.  The accompanying photo by Robert M. Klein for the New York Times captures the energy of this site.

17 “Restoration’ Mini Park Ground-Breaking Held,” a 1979 article in the pages of the Bronx Press-Review supports other documents confirming the authenticity of Bronx River Restoration’s invitation to their naming ceremony for Restoration Park at noon on Saturday, August 9, 1980, as part of a two-day River Festival.

1980 poster @ W. Farms

18 The timeline establishing when the Bronx River Art Center (BRAC) was developed is found easily in numerous documents including the 1980 Bronx River Restoration Master Plan, which shows that the Center and its programming was launched before the Restoration Park was complete, as indicated in The Bronx River Current from Autumn 1980. The fact that BRAC was formed from Bronx River Restoration’s efforts is found easily by reviewing the history page of Bronx River Art Center’s website, which stated as of Nov. 11, 2010: “Bronx River Art Center was founded… to bring professional arts programming to a culturally underserved population. For more than twenty years (including several years of arts programming under the umbrella of the first Bronx River Restoration project).” The BRAC had a number of provisional names in the early days and so the date they give as their founding is the year they formalized into a stand-alone non-profit with the name we know today, whereas they had been known by at least four other names before, including the Environmental Arts Center (See Bronx River Current Autumn 1980 for that early name).

19 River Garden is an official Parks and Recreation of the City of New York Community Garden at Devoe Avenue and East 180th Street that was started by Bronx River Restoration. Bronx River Alliance Board Member and former South Bronx Open Space Task Force (SBOSTF) student-volunteer Dart Westphal e-mailed the author that this place was established after 1978 and that garden supporters included Phipps, neighborhood residents from the east side of the river, and the former SBOSTF. River Garden made the pages of the Bronx Press-Review in 1987 with an article entitled “Students Launch River Cleanup.” Part of it states:

Eight High School students and two teachers, working under the direction of Bronx River Restoration staff, spent the afternoon scraping and painting fencing, cutting back overgrowth and removing litter from a terrace above the river [at East 180th street]. The area adjoins Bronx River Community Garden [now River Garden] and overlooks Lambert Houses and Restoration Park, one of the Bronx River Restoration’s first projects.

20 Data was collected during the author’s two interviews of Ruth Anderberg on Feb 21, 2006 and October 18, 2010. Among rank-and-file summer workers, a number of leaders hailed from Lambert. Marcel Woolery Jr. of Lambert was a long-serving treasurer and one-time assistant treasurer to Bronx River Restoration, and was active as late as 2000. Woolery (now deceased) is cited as celebrating progress alongside Ruth Anderberg at a Bronx River celebration in the Snuff Mill of the New York Botanical Garden, as documented in City News (March 6, 1999), wherein Michael Horowitz wrote of him in the article, “Con Ed, Activists Celebrate Progress in Bronx River Cleanup:”

Woolery, a tenant leader at the time who lived at Lambert Houses in the West Farms area at the time, recruited youngsters for the effort at the urging of Anderberg. “I remember how we got into the river, with our hip-length boots, and cleaned out portions of the river by hand,” Woolery noted.  “We went to an Environmental Education Center in the Poconos to learn how to clean up the river.”  Woolery added, “I remember my father joining us in cleaning up the river time and again.  [Anderberg related in her personal interview that Woolery, Sr. had been an excellent foreman and remarkable worker for BXRR over many years even though he had already retired from his career as a food processing worker in Manhattan.  Meanwhile, Woolery Jr.’s wife and children became reliable workers with BXRR].  He lives in the Southern Boulevard area.  He’s 91 years old now, and he only recently stopped working on the river.

Other Lambert residents like Nessie Panton and Juanita Carter live or have lived in Lambert Houses. There is a street named “Ma Carter’s Way” on Bryant Avenue between East 180th and East 181st Streets, providing passage between West Farms Veteran’s Cemetery and part of the Lambert Houses complex, with a Baptist church at the northern end. Avanti Mosalez, who gave the park its first name, also lived at Lambert too. It is important to recognize that Lambert provided leaders as well as workers.

21 The introduction and subsequent care of a butterfly garden by members of the West Farms Friends of the Bornx River is not exclusive of credit due to Phipps CDC because many, although not all, members were also Phipps employees, like Perquida Williams and Sebert Harper, who had different opportunities to aid this work from both personal, civic and agency-based participation standpoints. The exact planting date for this butterfly garden is captured on page 27 of Photographic History of Drew Gardens under the heading, “Saturday, October 24, 1998 – Fourth Annual West Farms Clean-Up.” The accompanying narrative states, “Workers piled up bags and bags of litter, planted a butterfly garden and helped build a rock garden.”

22 The existence of the West Farms Friends of the Bronx River is documented in Partnerships for Parks literature from the late 1990s about the Bronx River; Partnerships for Parks Bronx River BiWeekly, (6.8.99 & 6.22.99) posts the following event: “July 10. Bronx River Waterfall Tour. Join Save the Sound and West Farms Friends of the Bronx River for a scenic tour of waterfalls and gardens…” The names of the members were supplied during a January 2011 interview the author conducted with Miss Nessie Panton and later confirmed by Perquida Williams of Bronx Community Board Number 6. Miss Panton is variously distinguished as a force for good in West Farms in many relevant roles, such as long-term community gardener at River Garden, original Lambert resident, current volunteer with the Bronx River Alliance and former Bronx Riverkeeper, and member to the West Farms Friends of the Bronx River. Furthermore, Phipps has already received acknowledgement in that very paragraph, because this document must be tightly-worded if it is to fit within DPR Historical sign standards (based on limits carefully studied with “The Forests of New York City” sign at Bronx Park). More local residents and/or workers who helped improve the Bronx River in West Farms were named by Rosemary Ordonez-Jenkins, LMSW, Assistant Executive Director for Adult Services to Phipps Community Development Corporation, in an e-mail to the author on Tuesday, January 18, 2011. She wrote:

Some of the Lambert Residents that assisted with the Bronx River were: Maritza Martinez, Sandra Carter [Juanita Carter’s surviving sister], Margaret Allen Edwards (deceased), and Roselyn Johnson [former Bronx Community Board Number 6 Chairperson] who lives one block away from Lambert Houses. Drew Hyde, deceased, [a patrician patron of Phipps and former Phipps CDC West Farms Planning Director, for whom Drew Gardens is named], Raymond Emmanuel [former Comprehensive Community Revitalization Program Project Manager, who supervised Sebert Harper (public horticulture and nutrition) and Michelle Williams (outreach and civic engagement)], and Alice James Jenkins [all] previously worked for Phipps Community Development Corporation and were involved with the Bronx River.

Some of these individuals are shown in a group photo from page 6 of Photographic History of Drew Gardens, taken at Drew Gardens. Bronx River BiWeekly, the newsletter of the Bronx River Working Group, compiled by Jenny Hoffner, identifies Bernard Johnson as Chair of the group. This specific citation, from the article “West Farms Meeting and Potluck” from the September 23 & 26 edition, bears relevance to what we now call West Farms Rapids. It states:

The newly formed Friends group will hold their fourth meeting on September 24 to share their concerns and solicit feedback from the larger community. The Friends will also host a potluck in the park on September 26 to involve more interested community members in their efforts and to invite people into the park. Both events will be held in Bronx River Park at 179th Street and the River. For more information contact Bernard Johnson, Chair, at 718-542-0952.

The Bi-Weekly of August 4, 1998 states:

August 13.  West Farms Friends of the Bronx River Meeting. The newly formed West Farms Friends of the Bronx River will be holding their third meeting to share ideas for proposed changes to Bronx River Park and to solicit feedback from members of the larger community. Representatives from the 48th Precinct, NYC Parks and Recreation, and Phipps CDC will participate as well. The meeting will be held at Lambert Houses Community Center at 6pm.  For more information contact Bernard Johnson at 718-542-0952.

Lower, an article subheading, “West Farms Friends of the Bronx River” beneath the heading of “News” states:

At the second meeting of the Friends, issues discussed included safety concerns in Bronx River Park, a newly acquired park at 179th Street and the Bronx River. The group has plans to take back their park from prostitutes and drug users that currently occupy it. They will be tabling at West Farms’ National Night Out Against Crime and Violence to inform community members [of] their efforts…

23 The date of responsibility transfer comes from the Bronx River Park sign circa 2000. The date of ownership transfer comes from conversation with Bronx River Alliance Board Member, Dart Westphal, during the groundbreaking of Starlight Park (October 14, 2010) and was confirmed by the author in conversation with HPD’s Borough Chief Ted Weinstein at a Bronx Community Board Number 6 meeting on December 8, 2010.

24 The Bronx River Park historical sign circa 2000 shows us that the current renovation of West Farms Rapids is its third design life. The text states, “In 2000, the Transportation Equity Act allocated $770,800 to renovate the park, [re-]construct a bike and pedestrian path, clean and reconstruct the river with landscaping, fencing, lighting, site furniture, planting and signage.” Limited by its small budget, this upgrade reinforced the 30-year old Bronx River Greenway node in simple ways so that the new solid ornamental fencing we see today replaced that era’s ordinary chain link fencing. Likewise, the new stylized entry at East 180th Street is more welcoming that the chain link gate that it has replaced. The Bronx River Biweekly, published by Partnership’s for Parks Bronx River Working Group Project, provides a slightly more expansive description of this 2000 iteration of the park’s history on April 11, 2000.

25 Partnerships for Parks’s Bronx River Biweekly newsletter for the Bronx River Working Group posts a Greenway Team Update on August 29, 2000 that “a proposal for the de-mapping of Bronx Street was tabled by Colleen Alderson of Parks Planning who has determined that Bronx Street (a dead end street adjacent to the Bronx River Art Center) is no longer mapped a city street. According to records at the Topographical Unit at the Bronx Borough President’s Office it was de-mapped in 1970 as part of the Bronx Park South Urban Renewal project.”

Winter 2014 @ W. Farms Rapids Park

Works Cited

 “A New Name for a New Park.” Bronx River Current: Periodic News of the Bronx River Restoration. New York: Bronx River Restoration, Autumn 1980: Vol. 3 No. 2: p 3

Allen, Thomas B. Torries: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War. New York: HarperCollins, 2010

Anderberg, Ruth M., Founding Executive Director to Bronx River Restoration. Interview. Story Corps. December 1, 2008

Anderberg, Ruth M., Founding Executive Director to Bronx River Restoration. Telephone Interview with Author. February 21, 2006

Anderberg, Ruth M., Founding Executive Director to Bronx River Restoration. Personal Interview with Author. October 18, 2010

Board of Estimate and Apportionment of the City of New York and The Board of Supervisors of the County of Westchester. Report of the Bronx River Parkway Commission. New York, 1922

Bridges, William. Gathering of Animals: An Unconventional History of the Zoological Society. New York: Harper and Row, 1966

Bronx River Alliance. “Bronx River” historical sign text. New York: Transmitted 2010 (date of origin unknown)

Bronx River Restoration. Bronx River Master Plan. New York: Bronx River Restoration, 1980

Bronx River Restoration. Energy Moving Forward in the Right Direction. New York: Bronx River Restoration, (1978)

Bronx River Restoration Invites You to Our First First River Festival. Invitation with Program. 1980

Duddy, James. “Bronx River Flows Again.” New York Daily News November 14, 1976

Gardner, Albert Ten Eyck. “Portraits of a Bronx Aristocrat.” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (April 1959): pp 205-208

Greenburgh Nature Center and Scarsdale Historical Society. Bronx River Retrospective: 300 Years of Life Along the Bronx River Valley. Exhibition Catalogue. Greenburgh Nature Center, Scarsdale Historical Society and the Bronx River Restoration Project, October 2 – November 27, 1983

Hermalyn, Gary. “A History of the Bronx River.” Bronx County Historical Society Journal Volume XIX (Spring, 1982): p 4

Horowitz, Michael. “Con Ed, Activists Celebrate Progress in Bronx River Cleanup.” City News March 6, 1999: p 7

Mauch, Christof and Thomas Zeller, Eds.  The World Beyond the Windshield: Roads and Landscapes in the United States and Europe. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2008

“Milestones in the Industrial Development of the Bronx.” The Bronx Historian: Newsletter of the Bronx County Historical Society. March – April 1990

Niles, William W. Letter to Jay Downer, Westchester County Parks Commissioner. March 6, 1929

Parks and Recreation of the City of New York. “Bronx River (West Farms) Park” Construction Sign posted at West Farms Rapids. New York: Date Unknown

Parks and Recreation of the City of New York. “Bronx River Park” Historical Sign. New York: 2000

“Park Name Contest.” Bronx River Current: Periodic News of the Bronx River Restoration. New York: Bronx River Restoration, Spring 1980: Vol. 3 No. 1: p 8

Phipps Community Development Corporation. Photographic History of Drew Gardens. New York: Quinn Miller Associates (circa 2000).

“Plan of the Bronx International Exposition.” Map. Kenneth M. Murchison, Architect. New York: Self-published, 1916

“Refuse in Bronx Restoring River.” New York Times. August 6, 1979: p B3

“Restoration Mini Park Ground-Breaking Held.” Bronx Press-Review. December 6, 1979: p 15

Sheridan, Chris. “Bronx River Clean-Up Adds Soldiers to Its Campaign.” Catholic News. April 25, 1974

Stewart, Barbara. “A River Rises” New York Times. December 3, 2000: Section 14, p 21

“Students Launch River Cleanup.” Bronx Press-Review. May 7, 1987

Ultan, Lloyd, and Gary Hermalyn. The Birth of the Bronx: 1609-1900. New York: Bronx County Historical Society, 2000

Ultan, Lloyd. Legacy of the Revolution: the Valentine-Varian House. New York: Bronx County Historical Society, 1983

Ultan, Lloyd. The Northern Borough: A History of the Bronx. New York: Bronx County Historical Society, 2005

White, Norval, and Elliot Willensky. AIA Guide to New York City: Fourth Edition. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000. p 73

West Farms Rapids Park in Feb. 2014
West Farms Rapids Park in Feb. 2014
Will this park's third design ever be completed?
Will this park’s third design ever be completed?

Bronx River Sankofa symbol

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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