PARKCHESTER’S SCULPTURES

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If you haven’t been to Parkchester you’re in for a treat. Visiting the Bronx’ s premier apartment complex is an experience that will delight anyone with an interest in urban planning and a sharp eye for detail.

Take the #6 train into the Bronx, exit at the Parkchester station and you will find yourself at Hugh Grant Circle, named for a New York City mayor from 1890-1892 (not the cheeky British actor). Look here on its south side for the façade of the old Circle Theatre, which is now an exercise studio. Cross into Parkchester and choose any street or pedestrian path.

Google map: PARKCHESTER

Parkchester was built in 1941 by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company on 110 acres, some of which had been occupied by the New York Catholic Protectorate, a home for poor children. For its time, Parkchester was a pioneer in rental-unit engineering, as it included amenities like gleaming new bathrooms with non-slip bathtub bottoms, double sinks and cabinets in the kitchens — an innovation at the time. The complex boasted a bowling alley, recreation areas, the very first Macy’s branch outlet, and three movie theatres in or near it: The Loew’s American (still there as a multiplex), the Palace and the Circle.

Met Life provided Parkchester with a rather whimsical style. While the tall seven and twelve-story buildings appear somewhat monolithic when viewed from afar, a walk around the complex reveals the friendly face Parkchester presents: its generous employment of colorful, playful terra-cotta statues and sculpture.

Met Life chose Federal Seaboard Terra Cotta Corporation for the project. The company supplied over 500 statues of hula girls, accordion players, farm animals, and other unique accoutrements as doorway ornaments, as well as elaborate designs for theatres and storefronts, some by renowned sculptor Joseph Kiselewski.

Some believe the sculpture at right is a depiction of Mary, mother of Christ. Contrast with the title card (above), a depiction of the “rape of Europa”; in classical myth, Zeus appeared to a maiden he had an interest in, Europa; disguising himself as a bull, he carried her off to the island of Crete.

A Kiselewski sculpture depicts a family above one of the doorways. Animals are well represented at Parkchester.

Senoritas and seals

He resembles Michael Caine in Zulu.

Looks like the fireman is ready to rescue the fair maiden from the ledge.

Snow or rain don’t bother these Parkchesterites. Or Parkchesterers, or Parkchesteri.

Strangely enough, these most beautifully colored figures can be found in a relatively hidden region at the back of the American Theatre.

Some photos by Steve Garza (September 2006) rest by your webmaster (December 2004). Page completed September 25, 2008

 





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9 Responses to PARKCHESTER’S SCULPTURES

  1. Pingback: Armory Art Show 2012: Bronx Day « The Bronx Socialite

  2. Josh Newsteder says:

    All these works were created by my Grandfather, Raymond Granville Barger.

    • I would love to hear from family members linked to Raymond Granville Barger. I lead food tours all over NYC, and I link the tours to local culture. I led a tour in February ’12 of Parkchester, which drew quite a few folks who’d lived there or had a family connection. I had a great deal of trouble getting information about the sculptures, so I would love to hear from Josh or Amy. I’m scheduling another tour for the spring of 2013. I love Parkchester’s diversity.

      Thank you!

  3. Amey Barger Elias says:

    Some of the terra cotta reliefs on the buildings re; the
    3 Dancers and others, were done by my father
    Raymond Granville Barger.
    He also did the bronze pieces for the fountain, the
    center piece of this wonderful complex. Thank you
    for this interest in all these pieces of Art.
    Amey Barger Elias

    • Amy – Could you please contact me? As I mentioned in a prior post, I lead food tours in NYC’s ethnic neighborhoods and added a tour last year in Parkchester, where we wandered through the neighborhood (with binoculars) to see the terra cotta sculptures and feasted on Bangladeshi and Mexican food. We also went to see the mural a tthe Emigrant Savings Bank at Hugh Grant Circle.

      I would love more information on the production of the terra cotta sculptures.

      Thank you.

      Myra Alperson

  4. Mary says:

    I love these photos. I grew up roller skating in Parkchester (60′s) and I remember that odd passage behind the Lowe’s American and the sculptures. My family lived on McGraw Ave before Parkchester was built,I have photos of MGraw Ave as a field with buildings in the distance that were the Protectorate.

  5. Joan says:

    We lived in 1520 Archer Rd with the sculpture of the woman holding the child by the arms. I have just started a (I hope) series of drawings on these great little art works of memory. The Circle was a place of wonder at Christmas & Easter — and, of course, THE spot for the photos! Thanks for this article on a wonderful place to grow up.

  6. Pingback: Bronx Statues, by Carole Howard | Second Wind Publishing

  7. Jag says:

    I lived at 1590 Metropolitan Ave. The Lowes American was a grand Theatre. I would love to see some photos of the beautiful Art Deco Interior. I was always intrigued by the rear of the building as well. Especially The iron balcony/ fire escape that ran across it.
    Any photos of the cool tunnels, stairways and gargoyles in Parkchester?

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