You are invited to trace the steps of a few dozen young Americans (ages 16-38) who have walked their neighborhood. American history expresses itself in stone and paint, plants and asphalt as you will see. Enjoy these points of interest:
1. Hunt’s Point Riverside Park
2. Bright Temple A.M.E. Church
3. Engine 94, a beautiful fire house
4. Bryant Hill Community Garden & Old NY Townhouses
5. Garrison Park (once envisioned as a sculpture park for the Bronx River)
6. South Bronx Greenway
7. Ruby Bridges Mural by Sharon De La Cruz
This article is dedicated to two active citizens in the Hunt’s Point community: Cybeale Ross has been a Hunt’s Point home owner since 1957. She has marched with Mothers on the Move for improved schools, traffic-calming street enhancements, and more over the last several decades. Paul Lipson helped establish The Point community center in the early 1990s after earlier success with Bronx Frontier, a local and popular green business.
Begin at Hunt’s Point Riverside Park now enjoyed in its second and most recent phase. This waterfront park at the base of Lafayette Avenue was established in the 1990s through many hands after an executive at The Point (a younger Majora Carter) was forced to spend a moment at this former dead end street following her dog’s independent spirit. The original park had several magical weeping willows and a simple boat launch. The professionally designed green patch you see today opened around 2006. It has garnered national attention and won the Rudy Bruner Award for excellence in the urban environment. Next door is The Point’s Campus for Arts and the Environment as well as Rocking the Boat.
Walk up the hill along Lafayette Avenue to its intersection with Faile Street, named for a wealthy nineteenth century resident according to John McNamara’s History in Asphalt: the origin of Bronx Street and Place Names. You’ll notice as you go many younger trees planted in the public right-of-way along curbs, on side streets and even with relatively new traffic medians. Hunt’s Point has had several waves of urban forestry enhancement since the 1980s, especially since the late 1990s. This short walk takes you past the successful product of three distinct tree planting campaigns!
On your right is Bright Temple AME Church. This stone neo-Gothic former single-family mansion was built circa 1860 by a family that manufactured printing presses–including for the New York Times in the 1800s. This building is a great place to consider ethnic succession within Hunt’s Point. An English-descended family, whose land extended down to the nearby Bronx River, was the first to occupy it. Some time after the contents of the house were auctioned off following the death of that family’s patriarch, a Jewish Synagogue was established (1919). In the post-World War II period, Bright Temple AME Church assumed ownership to serve the expanding African-American population. Skirt Faile Street to see each side of this richly ornamented building. The church photo you see above was taken around 2005 for Bronx River Sankofa’s founder by the late great photographer and musician Ibrahim Gonzalez.
Without crossing the street, continue along Faile Street until you reach Seneca Avenue. As you approach this corner, look at the Renaissance-inspired fire department building from the “roaring twenties” on your left. Engine 94‘s open-air third floor facing Seneca Ave. combined with light-colored terra-cotta decorations contract handsomely with red brick to evoke Old Italy.
Now turn toward the industrial border of Hunt’s Point and walk one block along Seneca Avenue to Bryant Avenue. John McNamara’s book reports that, “Its proximity to streets dedicated to American poets Longfellow, Whittier, and Drake would seem to be reason enough to honor William Cullen Bryant.” Once at the corner of Seneca and Bryant, turn left and walk half-way into the block passing the first open lot inhabited by rabbits and chickens. Several steps ahead, you will see a community garden on your left unusual in its abundance of trees. You’ve arrived at Bryant Hill Community Garden. Taino Indian traditions live here under the guidance of local gardener Lucia Hernandez whose circle have succeeded the first generation of gardeners who preserved this oasis at least one generation ago. Hunt’s Point was largely a walk-to-work district 100 years ago when it was sometimes called “Little Pittsburgh” owing to its abundance of light and heavy industry. Notice the brightly colored and richly ornamented townhouses across the street from the garden where earlier generations lived. At that time, German was the Bronx’s second most common language.
Next we’ll see what may yet become Garrison Sculpture Park. Continue along Bryant Avenue to the corner where it meets Garrison Avenue, then cross the street–while walking in the same direction–and look down-hill along Garrison. Standing at this intersection of Garrison and Bryant avenues, you’ll notice a shabby patch of green with moderately tall trees just a few blocks away where land meets water. Don’t be fooled by the residential tower in the visible distance; that’s the neighborhood of Soundview across the Bronx River. While this park-in-progress has long since been declared official city land, no effort to improve it has been completed. Many times, this waterfront site has been cleaned, composted, planted and re-designed. Of the formal designs, including one by Pratt for a riverside amphitheater, none have substantially transformed the site and made it a destination for recreation seekers. Over thirty years of planning and false starts have passed in the process. Bronx River Restoration Project Incorporated (founded in 1974), predecessor of the Bronx River Alliance (founded in 2001), first envisioned a park here at the end of the 1970s.
In 2003, Alcoa Corp. proposed partial financing for a sculpture park here following on schematic drawings complete with an amphitheater developed by an out of state college.
Turn and walk in the opposite direction along Garrison Avenue to the busy commercial street with shops in the near distance. That’s Hunt’s Point Avenue. Find 889 Hunt’s Point Avenue across the street. It’s a great location from which to appreciate the emerging South Bronx Greenway. Check it out! You are surrounded by the following relatively new amenities funded by your federal tax dollars (2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act): uniform tree guards, public benches, many new trees (the ones with small trunk diameters planted off the sidewalk), permeable pavements via Belgian blocked walkways curbside, new stylized lighting fixtures, and richly planted in-street medians.
Sharon De La Cruz and the Urban Art Program of NYC’s Department of Transportation provide us with our final stop, Ruby Walks (Walking Series). Please turn toward the busy Bruckner Expressway whizzing above street level one block away and walk toward it along Hunt’s Point Avenue. If you’re walking this tour in 2014 or 2015, you’ll see Sharon’s group of paintings depicting a girl in multiples clasped to the wall of the bridge over the train tracks (between Garrison Avenue and Bruckner) here. Read all about it in DNAinfo, the Hunt’s Point Express and/ or Nilka Martell’s piece in the Bronx Free Press.
EXPLORE Hunt’s Point Walk #1 BY CLICKING HERE.