Resembling Silver Beach along the southern edge of Throgs Neck, the Bronx community of Harding Park features inlets, reeds, and small houses and bungalows clustered along the confluence of the East and Bronx Rivers, and its topography is also shaped by Pugsley’s and Westchester Creeks.
Rocky shore of the East River; Harding Park bungalows along an inlet
Just a little specification is in order: the small abutment of the Bronx defined by the Bronx River (and Soundview Park which stretches alongside it) Pugsley’s Creek* and the East River is known as Clason (pronounced Clawson) Point, named for an 18th Century merchant named Isaac Clason who purchased what was previously known as Cornell’s Neck in 1793; the land stayed in the family until the family sold it in 1855. Harding Park is the maze of little unnamed streets and bungalows found along Bronx River, Leland, Gildersleeve and Cornell Avenues in the southwest sector of Clason Point. Like Silver Beach and Edgewater Park, it seems independent from the rest of the Bronx, since its street pattern is different and it’s cut off by water from the rest of the borough. It’s very, very odd.
*Nothing to do with the heir to the Addams Family fortune played by Ken Weatherwax; this was a Talman Pugsley, who owned land here in the late 1700s.
Kayaker along East River inlet. The NYC skyline can be seen dramatically from Harding Park.
A hypothetical resident of the planet Pluto, observing the bright dot in what must be a perpetually pitch black Plutonian sky, would have no idea, unless his race had mastered astronomy, that the especially bright dot was in fact the sun around which his planet orbited; similarly, if you were kidnapped, blindfolded and stuffed in a car trunk and dumped in Harding Park, would you have any idea that these distant towers were in the same town as the one where you stand?
The region’s first residents of course were the Siwanoy Indians, who spoke Algonquin. Europeans began settling the region in the early 1600s, and the Cornell family built the first permanent European settlement in the spit of land first known as Snakipins by the Indians, then Cornells Neck and later Clason Point. In the 1640s a series of skirmishes between the Cornells and the Siwanoy, known as the Pig Wars, were led by Wampage, the Siwanoy scahem believed to be the Indian leader who killed Anne Hutchinson and her children in 1643 at Split Rock in the northern Bronx. This act was done, some historians believe, in retaliation for New Netherland governor Willem Kieft‘s February massacres of refugee Weekwaeskeek at Corlaer’s Hook and Pavonia in today’s New Jersey. A passing ship rescued the Cornells, and they persisted, returning to their adopted Bronx home the year after Wampage’s last raid. Britisher Thomas Pell arrived at a treaty in 1654 with several Siwanoy sachems, including Wampage, that the Dutch authorities didn’t recognize. This disagreement was rendered moot in 1664 when the British fleet appeared in the harbor and the Dutch capitulated.
Manhattan appears as a far-off promise to the fishers working the East River. In the foreground we see the the South Bronx Marine Transfer Station, a facility once used by the Department of Sanitation to offload collection trucks into barges for transfer to Fresh Kills. The domed structure to the right is a salt storage dome.
By the mid-1800s, as we’ve seen, the area was called Clason Point. Families such as the Lynches, Ludlows, Schieffelins, and Lelands, some of which are still seen on street signs, all built farmhouses in the area, though its swampy, waterlogged nature made it a non-starter for commerce. (Even today the main shopping area is at a fairly distant remove, along Story Avenue, the Bruckner Expressway and White Plains Road.) Its seaside location and terrific views as shown here made it a logical locale for seaside resorts, dancehalls and amusement parks, of which plenty were constructed in the early 20th Century with an accompanying ferry from College Point, Queens.
Cornell Avenue bungalows
By 1900 the Higgs family maintained a beach and amusement area on the western end of Clason Point, and in the early 1920s Thomas Higgs, who owned about 100 acres of beachfront property, began leasing tents to visitors and the area formalized its own street layout and summer bungalow colony. Good patriots that they were, they named the colony for the US President at the time, Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865-1923). After World War II these became permanent year-round residences due to a housing shortage, eventually sheltering over 250 families.
Though Robert Moses attempted to tear down what he called the “Soundview Slums” (Moses didn’t like anything that wasn’t a Corbusian-esque housing project or an expressway; his Utopia would have been a city composed of residential skyscrapers connected by superhighways), Harding Park survived, but became City property in 1979.
3 years later, though, in 1982, Harding Park Homeowners Association, the first cooperatively owned low and moderate-income community in the city was formed. Harding Park now appears as if it will carry on in the future indefinitely with its city views, great fishing, and relative privacy.
Leland Avenue along Soundview Park leads into the heart of Harding Park.
Bronx River Avenue curves around the bungalows, but despite its name, does so here along the East River.
The NY Botanical Garden (also in the Bronx) has sponsored a roadside garden along Leland Avenue.
ForgottenFan consensus seems to be that this is a ’53 or ’54 Pontiac Catalina with 60s Buick Riviera tires.
White Plains Road, which eventually gains an el and becomes the main shopping drag to Bronxdale, Williamsbridge and Wakefield, begins here in Clason Point.
However, it doesn’t go to White Plains.
The New York Times profiled the area in November 2004…
There were numerous ferries, and during Prohibition, gangsters unloaded bootlegged hooch. Boatyards lined the shore, and the Castle Hill Pool was an immediate hit when it opened in 1927. Clason Point …once boasted an amusement pier said to rival Coney Island, according to an area historian, Arthur Seifert, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 70 years.
“When I moved here in ’33, there were still farms,” he said. “I remember trying to plow the field behind a horse.”
The farms are gone and so are most of the boatyards, but entertainment possibilities abound. The Y.M.C.A. on nearby Castle Hill Avenue has indoor and outdoor pools, the Harding Park Homeowners Association is building a new community center and the Point Yacht Club still flies its burgee from the tip of Clason Point. It was a few blocks away, on stage at the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club on Randall Avenue, that Jennifer Lopez first strutted her stuff. Every spring, proceeds from the Kips Bay Decorator Show House benefit this center, which has the area’s only ice rink.
The “entertainment possibilities” are unintentionally amusing, seeing that we just got through with District, Meatpacking, but anyway, the YMCA offerings are more your webmaster’s speed, and I’m more likely to gain ready admittance there.