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.
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.
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.
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