Continuing my halting, wavering, and occasionally incoherent way up the Grand Boulevard and Concourse, the spine of the western Bronx broached in Grand Concourse Part 1, my first stop was the grand pasha of Bronx entertainment meccas, Loew’s Paradise and East 188th, just south of Fordham Road.
Of the dozens of movie theatres in 20th Century Bronx, the Loew’s Paradise was the Taj Mahal. John Eberson’s grand movie and stage show palace on the Grand Concourse and East 188th Street, one of theater builder Marcus Loew’s five Wonder Theaters still standing, opened in 1929 and seated over 4,000 patrons. The lobby was as much a spectacle as the show itself: ornamented like an Italian palazzo, it featured marble pillars, a goldfish pool, carpeted staircases, tapestries and the highest technology for sound and projection. The detail was such that the stars and constellations on the ceiling were depicted in the sky matching the birthday of Loew himself. Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Bob Hope and George Burns performed onstage to live music.
The main lobby, reached through a set of bronze doors from the outer lobby, features three domes in the ceiling containing painted murals depicting ‘Sound, Story and Film’. In the center of the north wall, beneath a statue of ‘Winged Victory’, was a large Carrara marble fountain featuring the figure of a child on a dolphin. At the base of the Grand Stair hung an oil painting of ‘Marie Antoinette as Patron of the Arts’ and a copy of artist Holbein’s ‘Anne of Cleves’.
The auditorium was designed to represent a 16th century Italian Baroque garden, bathed in Mediterranean moonlight, with stars twinkling in the ceiling as clouds passed by. Hanging vines, cypress trees, stuffed birds and Classical statues and busts lined the walls. The safety curtain was painted with a gated Venetian garden scene, which continued the garden effect around the auditorium when it was lowered. cinematreasures
In the early to mid-2000s, work had been slowly ongoing to restore the Paradise to past glory. It has reopened as a major concert, events and boxing venue.
On top of the frontage, over the entrance, is the space originally occupied by a mechanical Seth Thomas clock, where hourly St. George slayed a fire-breathing dragon. As the Bronx Paradise fell foul to vandals in later years, the figure of St. George was stolen. A similar device, now renovated, was also installed at the Loew’s Jersey Theatre, Jersey City, NJ. cinematreasures
I think St. George is still missing but the clock tells correct time.
Poe side of town
A number of businesses on the Concourse are called Poe, like the Poe Medical and Dental Center, Poe Pharmacy and just plain Poe Building. Is this Edgar Allan of The Raven fame we’re talking here? You’ll find out further down the page a bit.
WAGNER BUILDING, 2488 Grand Concourse at Fordham Road, magnificent Art Deco.
Now it’s a Staples monstrosity…and an Art Deco building! The Wagner building is classic Art Deco architecture: streamlining, detailed decorative architectural elements, and luxury materials at the entrance and in the lobby. (Hint: a “design deposit” with the concierge might bring you a closer look at the lobby, but I didn’t give it a try.) That’s the good part. The bad part? Take a look at the picture to the left. How hard is it for a building owner to insist that the Staples sign not only be in keeping with the ‘30s and ‘40s, but also be in proportion to the building. Don’t get me wrong. I like my office products as much as anyone else, especially the super-cheap Staples-brand white stapler with wavy lines. Yes. That’s right. The brilliant office products superstore can produce nice-looking staplers with wavy lines. So Staples, remove the f*#ing stop sign! Others who should take the hint as well are sole proprietors and Levitz. This isn’t a big-box structure. Where is the National Guard, I ask you? Rachel Greenwald, Not For Tourists
On November 5, 1960, the Wagner Building was the site of a campaign speech by John F. Kennedy, a few days before he beat Richard Nixon. As a boy in the 1920s, Kennedy had resided in a mansion with his family at Independence Avenue and West 232nd Street in Riverdale.
Click on images in the above Gallery to see scenes from Kennedy’s visit.
The northwest corner of the Concourse and East Fordham Road was dominated for many years by Alexander’s Department Store, one of the largest in a chain of stores founded by George Farkas in 1928 and named for his deceased father. The Fordham Road store opened in 1933 and closed in 1992. The building is home to electronics chain P.C. Richard.
One of the underpasses designed by engineer Louis A. Risse in the early 1900s to facilitate Concourse traffic at intersections. Meant originally for horses, carts and wagons, they work well in the auto age as well. Concourse traffic runs under Fordham Road; at other intersections, the Concourse is bridged over the intersecting road.
When Kennedy visited, both the northern and southern sides of the Fordham Road overpass were occupied by military recruiting offices. Today, the southern side features Christian Marche’s “Silver,” a sculpture created from found materials.
The sculpture has been made by a local artist of Bronx borough of New York, called Christian Marche. What makes the sculpture most striking is the fact that the entire sculpture is made of recycled materials, picked from the streets of the city. The huge sculpture is about a nude woman entrapped in a cage and few other things made on the crown of the cage like the Cross, a robot, a cat and few more things. The sculpture is quite unusual in concept and design but with a feeling of contemporary art and unusual details.
Funding for the project came from a variety of sources. The Fordham Road Business Improvement District (BID) in partnership with the New York City Department of Transportation’s Urban Art Program and the Al Johnson Art Studio all joined hands to fund the project. Besides, Bronx Council on the Arts also provided a bit of funding. Greendiary
In Chicago there’s a building on Milwaukee Avenue that locals call the “Coyote Building” because it resembles the outlines of a seated coyote, snoot up and howling. The Bronx has a reasonable facsimile with the Dollar Dry Dock bank office building just north of Fordham Road. This Bronx landmark was built between 1932 and 1934 by Halsey, McCormack and Helmer, who also built Brooklyn’s answer to the Empire State Building, the Williamsburg Savings Bank. Like that building, the Dollar (now an Emigrant Savings Bank branch) is best known for its towering four-faced clock.
On the bank’s exterior are chiseled some epigrams devoted to the importance of saving: “Teach economy: it is one of the first virtues – it begins with saving money”; “Without economy none can be rich; with it, few will be poor”; and “If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher’s stone. ”
The Dollar’s exterior features bronze doors depicting classical feminine figures holding a large key. The banking hall is detailed in marble, limestone and terra cotta. Angelo Magnanti’s murals depicts early Bronx history: Jonas Bronck negotiating with a group of Native Americans and two horsemen crossing nearby King’s Bridge. The clock was a later addition: its red-brick 10-story tower was constructed in 1950 to house the Dollar’s offices.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), the doomed mystery/horror writer -poet of the early 19th Century, has a legacy in many major cities in the Northeast; he was born in Boston, lived in Richmond, Philadelphia, Providence and New York City, and died in Baltimore.
When Poe lived in this small farmhouse with his wife Virginia (a first cousin) and her mother; between 1846 and 1849, there was no Grand Concourse, and the house stood far out in the country. That’s what Poe was seeking in a dwelling, believing the clear country air would invigorate his ailing young wife, who had tuberculosis. Tragically, it did not work and Virginia died; one of his best-known poems, “Annabel Lee”, is thought to memorialize her.
Poe and his family were destitute while living in the farmhouse. He was a literary success but had lost his savings in a failed magazine venture. The author and his mother-in-law had to forage in nearby fields for the family’s sustenance. The cottage itself was built in 1812 by farmer John Wheeler and stood on Kingsbridge Road until it was moved to its present location in 1913.
The house is one of four Poe museums in the USA; it is sparsely furnished in the fashion Poe must have had while here. It is thought that the bed, gold-framed mirror and rocking chair belonged to Poe himself.
Poe Park, in which the cottage is situated, also contains a circular bandstand built in 1925: it was home to classical and big band concerts until the 1960s, attracting such names as Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey. Today it stands somewhat isolated in a field of concrete, and the floor is fenced off to prevent vandalism.
In 2011 Poe Park was amidst ongoing renovations that have temporarily closed the Cottage and added the new Visitors Center, pictured above. Parks hopes to open The Cottage for visitors again in 2012.
A look west on East Kingsbridge Road toward the massive Kingsbridge Armory. I’ll detail the Armory on a future FNY page, but I’ll say here that it was built from 1912-1917 by architectural firm Pilcher and Tachau as a munitions storage area; when built it supposedly was the largest armory in the world. It has sat empty for several years as plan after plan for re-use has been stymied.
Frederick Philipse built the first Kings Bridge, a tolled span over Spuyten Duyvil Creek, in 1693. Benjamin Palmer and Jacob Dyckman built a second bridge in 1759 to avoid paying the high tolls charged by Philipse. During his retreat from the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776, General George Washington used both the King’s Bridge and Palmer and Dyckman’s free bridge to escape to White Plains. The original Kings Bridge has inspired a network of roads in Manhattan and the Bronx, some surviving, some not, named for it. The approximate position of the old bridge is on Marble Hill Avenue where it becaomes KIngsbridge Avenue at the Marble Hill-Bronx border.
2665 Grand Concourse at Kingsbridge Road was built in 1922. a few doors to the north, 2715, was the boyhood home of movie director Stanley Kubrick, who spent a lot of time studying technique at the Loews Paradise.
Brockman Manor (1927), 2701 Grand Concourse near 196th Street.
2751 Grand Concourse, the former House of the Holy Comforter hospice, is now Concourse House, a shelter for homeless women and their children. The Holy Comforter, a hospice center for incurables, was founded in 1879 on West 23rd Street downtown; it moved here in the 1920s and then to Cortlandt Manor, NY as Fieldhome-Holy Comforter.
Metal signs like this aren’t rare on the Concourse and the mid-Bronx in general but that doesn’t make them any less well-crafted or attractive; they generally come in red or green, black and gold, with hand-lettering by craftsmen. Under the word ‘available’ was generally a set of signs that indicated rooms available, 2 1/2, 3, 4, 5, whatever.
I took a short detour to Creston Avenue, which features a number of small, porched houses; between East 198th and Minerva Place is this tall rock outcropping, not a rare sight in the Bronx. The boulders were left by glaciers as the advanced and then retreated during an ice age, the last of which occurred about 20,000 years ago. The avenue is so named because it is on the same crest, or ridge, on which the Concourse is situated.
A double house of somewhat former grandeur on Minerva Place, which runs for a block between the Concourse and Jerome Avenue at the two roads’ closest approach. According to late historian John McNamara, the name commemorates a statue of the Roman goddess on the estate of race track owner Leonard Jerome, or a prize race horse.
A small survivor on the west side of the Concourse south of East 199th, wedged in between two multi-family behemoths.
1920s-era apartments, east side of the Concourse at East 199th.
North of Bedford Park Boulevard. The Concourse is dominated by large apartment buildings end to end, but as you press north, some small one or two-family dwellings become increasingly apparent.
ST. PHILIP NERI CHURCH (1898) Grand Concourse and East 202nd Street. While the Arthur Avenue area in Norwood is justly celebrated as the Bronx’ Italian epicenter, there is also a more compact section at the Concourse and Villa Avenue, just to the west. St. Philip Neri was established to serve Italian immigrant laborers that made their homes in the area. The cornerstone of the church (dated 1899) was in fact quarried from what became Jerome Park Reservoir, and brought there by a horse-drawn carriage. Though the church has had a mostly Italian-American congregation for most of its history, it was served by a mostly Irish-American clergy.
In October 1968, future Mayor Rudolph Giuliani married his first wife, Regina Peruggi, a second cousin (once removed) at her home parish of St. Philip Neri. The two divorced in 1982 and had a Church annulment in 1983. Regina Peruggi in 2011 was the President of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.
For more views of St. Philip Neri Church, which extends west to Villa Avenue, click on each Gallery image.
Queen of the Universe
In November 1945 9-year old Joseph Vitolo had a vision of Mary, the mother of Jesus, here at this house at 3191 Grand Concourse near East Van Cortlandt Avenue; she told him to pray for peace at a time the USA had just finished with a world war. Vitolo, now 73 [in 2010], still lives nearby. The shrine has attracted visitors from all over the country (in the early days, Francis Cardinal Spellman and Frank Sinatra) and from overseas, much like the Bronx’ Little Lourdes in Bronxdale.
Massive Tudor-style complex, NE corner East Van Cortlandt Avenue and Grand Concourse.
One more Grand Concourse masterpiece, NW corner East Van Cortlandt Avenue, a pre-Deco building with terra cotta accents.
This building caught my eye at East Van Cortlandt Avenue at Villa Avenue.
There hasn’t been a Jerry’s Steak House here for probably few decades but the neon sign is preserved very nicely. However: note that the neon tubes don’t seem to match the lettering underneath. Can anyone make out what it says?
From this point I turned south on Jerome Avenue, which I haven’t spent much time on previously. One of the Bronx’ longest avenues, and the divider in the Bronx for east and west streets, it was the road that led to Jerome Park Racetrack, laid out in planks in 1874, before the Bronx west of the Bronx river was annexed to New York City. Leonard Jerome was a prominent financier, owner of the racetrack, founder of the Academy of Music, and eventually the grandfather of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Originally called Central Avenue, it was renamed Jerome at the insistence of his wife Kate.
For most of its length, the avenue is shrouded by the Lexington Avenue Line elevated (#4 train) — with some exceptions, as we will see.
Art Moderne-style streamlined Concourse substation serving the Concourse’s IND line, built in the 1930s, Jerome Avenue and 204th Street.
East 204th underpass under the Grand Concourse, as seen from Jerome Avenue
As stated before, Jerome Avenue spends most of its time beneath an elevated train, but does enjoy a couple of blocks in the fresh air as it makes a bend between Minerva Place and Bedford Park Boulevard. The el continues straight past the Concourse Yards, which serve IRT #4 trains as well as the B and D trains that run beneath the Concourse.
Some fab terra cotta work above the entrance at Edna, Jerome Avenue south of 199th.
Though the Bronx is ahead of the other 4 boroughs in switching over to new upper-lower case street signs, somehow hey’ve missed removing this vintage 1964 color coded blue and white sign. From 1964-1984 NYC street signs were color coded by borough, with the Bronx signs blue with white letters.
Why the Paul Avenue sign is here is a head-scratcher, since the avenue south of Bedford Park Boulevard was absorbed into the campus of Herbert H. Lehman College several decades ago.
Maps show a Parkview Terrace on the east side of Jerome Avenue between East 196th and Morris Avenues, but maps can fall short showing topography. Here Jerome lies at the bottom of a ridge, with Parkview at the top of the ridge. A high wall separates the two. Apartments facing the west are at the top of the ridge and some rooms have a good view of the Hudson River.
Here at Jerome and East 196th, you can drip pizza on your shirt and get it cleaned in the same place. That’s called symbiosis.
St. James Park
Of all the boroughs, the Bronx has the reputation as the most urban, grittiest, and borderline dangerous in places, perhaps unjustifiably. But acre for acre, the Bronx is the city’s greenest borough; Pelham Bay Park is the city’s largest, beating Central Park by a large margin, and Van Cortlandt and Bronx Parks are also vast, and there are plenty of midsize parks, such as Crotona and St. Ann’s. And, there are the neighborhood parks like Poe Park and St. James Park, which is in general between Jerome and Morris Avenues and East 191st and 193rd Streets. Before doing this walk I had never before seen St. James Park.
St. James Episcopal Church
Similarly, because I had never walked Jerome Avenue I had never before seen St. James Episcopal Church, a country parish that has seen an elevated train, paved streets and apartment houses spring up, replacing its heretofore rural environs. Unusually, the St. James Church website has a detailed description of the church’s design and architecture.
Because of heavy foliage it’s nearly impossible to shoot St. James church from Jerome Avenue, so I did the next best thing and photographed the side of the church from East 190th Street.
St. James’ Episcopal Church, a picturesque stone building designed in 1863 for a rural parish in what was then a part of Westchester County, is among New York City’s finest Gothic Revival style religious structures. The design of St. James’, resembling that of a medieval English parish church, reflects the major philosophical movement in mid-19th century Episcopal church design known as ecclesiology. English emigre Henry Dudley, a leading architect of the ecclesiological movement in North America, designed one of his finest churches for the congregation of St. James’. The church is now located in a heavily urbanized section of The Bronx, only one block north of commercial Fordham Road. However, with its landscaped grounds situated beside St. James Park, the church is one of the few surviving reminders of the period when this part of New York City was largely farms and country estates. Church of St. James, Fordham
Parking garage across East 190th from the church. If you show me a good looking parking garage, you’ll be showing me the first one.
Sensing my interior parts melting from the blazing sun, I struck east on Fordham Road to escape to the cooler climes of the IND subway back to Penn station, when I spotted a mural on Morris Avenue…
… featuring “Kool Herc” (Clive Campbell) the Jamaican-born DJ widely credited with inventing hip-hop by isolating the break (instrumental section) of an R&B record and then seguing breaks on two turntables. Speaking over the music became rap. Early acolytes like Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash soon had hit records in the genre, but Herc did not have a successful recording career.
Fordham Road, which runs from the University Heights Bridge to Pelham Parkway, is the Bronx’ main east-west shopping mecca, with weekend throngs in the thousands. It was originally an animal trace, then a meandering Native American path.
The turreted and dormered Limestone Gothic Creston Avenue Baptist Church has been on Creston and East 188th, just south of Fordham Road, since 1905.