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The Bronx – Yes, Thonx!

Let a native Bronxite take you to some of the most picturesque and interesting neighborhoods and sites in the Bronx.

The outside of the Andrew Freeman Home.

When you say “The Bronx” to any non-NYer, the first thing they think of is The Yankees. Fair ’nuff.

The second thing they think is gangs, drugs, and arson. Because from the 1970’s through the mid-80’s, the Bronx was synonymous with urban collapse and wide-scale destruction. Slumlords realized that instead of collecting rent from their working-class tenants, they could burn down their buildings and collect the more profitable insurance. Legendary sports announcer Howard Cosell epitomized The Bronx’s problems when he proclaimed “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning,” during Game 2 of the Yankees-Dodgers World Series, when a TV camera showed an abandoned building, up in flames, to the country and world.

Mark grew up in the Tremont neighborhood of The Bronx, just a few blocks from Yankee Stadium and he remembers being at that game. His folks (including legendary Gramma) were part of the middle & white working class flight from The Bronx. Luckily, they were sophisticated and progressive, so instead of moving to the ‘burbs like the middle class, or Co-op City like the working class, they landed in the liberal Upper West Side.

Jimmy Carter in the South Bronx, 1977.

The Bronx has had an inspiring, uphill climb since ’77.  Thomas Wolfe depicted it as hell on earth in his novel (and the subsequent film) Bonfire of the Vanities. It became a standard campaign stop for politicians expressing their concern about urban problems; Jimmy Carter’s visit to Charlotte Street in ’77 was a turning point.

The Bronx started to rebound since then and is now having an all-star comeback. You read about it in the newspapers, you hear about it on the radio, and your eyes pop out of your head when you check the dollar signs on formerly derelict neighborhoods. SoBro anyone? Another marker of a neighborhood’s ascendancy – large-scale art projects, which Jonah, good buddy Josh Bernstein and I checked out last Wednesday night.

Crowds and crowds aim for art.

Brilliant mural by Daze.

This Side of Paradise is an awesome and massively expansive art installation inside the first two floors of an abandoned retirement home, the Andrew Freeman House, at 1125 Grand Concourse. Built as a gorgeous Neo-Renaissance palazzo-cum-old age home for formerly wealthy New Yorkers who shouldn’t have to suffer the indignities of living in anything less than opulence.  The building itself had fallen on hard times in the 70s, but was recently revitalized by No Longer Empty, a vibrant community organization that uses old and abandoned spaces to showcase art and activities for neighborhood residents.

An awesome upside down installation.

Check the perspective on this room-size installation

The place was jammin! There must’ve been five thousand people there the hour we spent wandering the halls, checking out the art, engaging the community and marveling at the building’s faded glory. The crowd was gorgeous – multi-culti, multi-ethnic, old, young, black, white, fashionable, dorky, excited to be in a relic from history looking at art from the present and catching glimpses of the future. Fine art, graffiti art, installation, performance, sculpture, video, reconfigured rooms, you name it, it was goin’ down. The entire production was awesome and awe-inspiring. The exhibit is up til June 2nd, and there are tons of events through the end of the show. Any excuse to prove that The Bronx is lookin’ up is good by us!

PS:  Quiz Time, hotshots: Why is it called The Bronx? Nobody goes to The Brooklyn or The Queens!?

Put your answer below in the Comments! Best answer gets a LUNY tshirt mailed to them!

By Matt Levy

Let a native Bronxite take you to some of the most picturesque and interesting neighborhoods and sites in the Bronx.

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Comments

  1. In the beginning, there was this guy and flood, see? After 40 days & nights, Jonas Bronck popped out from a whale somewhere around exit 5 on the Major Deegan . He looked west and saw some Dutch guys, so decided to settle east. After naming the river The Bronck River, he named his first home Broncksland (although his kids kept calling it Thy Boogyee Downe). His brother Ruth helped build a house up there too. As a matter of fact, Ruth borrowed Jonas’ donkey one day, wanting to paint stripes on it to resemble one of those crazy monsters he’d seen on safari a few years earlier. Caught in the act of defiling the creature, Ruth said “It’s not mine …. it’s …. it’s …. This is the burro of The Bronck’s!”

    And today, we still have some pinstriped dudes up there in a re-made house of Ruth. In their borough of The Bronx. It’s true.

  2. Anyone can do their homework and Google the origin of the name. I’ll leave the t-shirt prize for that astute student. My 2 cents are merely a reminder that there are very few places that have the distinction of ‘The” in front of their name –
    The Vatican
    The Hague
    The Bronx

    We are in good company!

  3. For a great history of the rise, fall and resurrection of the South Bronx check out Jill Jonnes book, “We’re Still Here.” One of the main movers and shakers was Father Louis Gigante, brother of Vincent Gigante, head of the Mafia.

  4. linda barnes says:

    I believe the story is that there was a farmer, Jonah Bronx (might have been spelled differently) and he owned a lot of land. People would say they were going to visit The Bronx’. As an aside, I grew up in the exact same neighborhood as your Dad and that’s why I always enjoy his blogs. My mother and aunt are in the Lehman College archives because they were interviewed for an oral history of the Bronx that was being done by the college. They were lifelong Bronxites and when I moved over to Queens, and came to visit, very often, I might add, they always felt terrible that I had to travel over the bridge to God forsaken Flushing, from the beautiful Bronx.

  5. Because I’m drunk and it’s easier to say Bronx than Brooklyn and queens

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