Grand Concourse (Bronx)

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Grand Concourse Historic District
Grand Concourse 2007-11.jpg
Art Deco apartment buildings along Grand Concourse.
Grand Concourse (Bronx) is located in New York City
Grand Concourse (Bronx)
Location The Bronx, New York
Coordinates 40°49′50″N 73°55′15″W / 40.83056°N 73.92083°W / 40.83056; -73.92083Coordinates: 40°49′50″N 73°55′15″W / 40.83056°N 73.92083°W / 40.83056; -73.92083
Architect Multiple
Architectural style Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals, Art Deco, Other
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference # 87001388[1]
Added to NRHP August 24, 1987

The Grand Concourse (originally known as the Grand Boulevard and Concourse) is a major thoroughfare in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. It was designed by Louis Aloys Risse, an Alsatian immigrant who had previously worked for the New York Central Railroad and was later appointed chief topographical engineer for the New York City government.

History[edit]

Streetscapes
At East 158th Street in the eponymous neighborhood
At East 165th Street
At East 197th Street

Risse first conceived of the road in 1890, as a means of connecting the borough of Manhattan to the northern Bronx.[2] Construction began on the Grand Concourse in 1894 and it was opened to traffic in November 1909. Built during the height of the City Beautiful movement, it was modeled on the Champs-Élysées in Paris but is considerably larger, stretching four miles (6 km) in length, measuring 180 feet (55 m) across, and separated into three roadways by tree-lined dividers, so some minor streets did not cross the Concourse. The cost of the project was $14 million (worth $396,872,000 today).[3] The road originally stretched from the Bronx Borough Hall at 161st Street north to Van Cortlandt Park, although it was expanded southward to 138th street in 1927 after Mott Avenue was widened to accommodate the boulevard.[4]

The IRT Jerome Avenue Line of the New York City Subway opened a few blocks west of the Grand Concourse in 1917, initiating a housing boom amongst upwardly mobile, predominantly Jewish and Italian, families who were fleeing the crowded tenements of Manhattan. In 1923, Yankee Stadium opened near the Grand Concourse at 161st Street, down the hill from the Concourse Plaza Hotel. South of Fordham Road, the palatial Loew's Paradise theater, one of the Loew's Wonder Theatres and at one time the largest movie theater in New York City, was constructed in 1929.

Development of the Concourse was further encouraged by the opening of the IND Concourse Line in 1933. By the mid-1930s, almost three hundred apartment buildings had been built along the Concourse. Customarily five or six stories high with wide entrance courtyards bordered with grass and shrubs, among these apartments are many of the finest examples of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture in the United States. Even though the Great Depression, which was happening at the time, ended the period of tremendous growth, privately financed apartment buildings continued to be constructed. During this period, the Bronx had more amenities than other boroughs: in 1934, almost 99% of residences had private bathrooms, and 95% had central heating.[5] In the 1939 WPA guide to New York, the Grand Concourse was described as "the Park Avenue of middle-class Bronx residents, and the lease to an apartment in one of its many large buildings is considered evidence of at least moderate business success."[6]

At 161st Street
In 1900
Today, with Yankee Stadium in background

In 1941, the New York City Planning Department proposed converting the boulevard into an expressway, in order to connect the Major Deegan Expressway and the proposed Park Avenue Expressway to the south with the Mosholu Parkway to the north. However, these plans were abandoned following the southern extension of the Bronx River Parkway in the 1940s and the extension of the Major Deegan Expressway to the north in the 1950s.[7]

The south and central Bronx began to rapidly deteriorate in the 1960s. White flight drained many residents of the South Bronx, pulled by the dream of suburban life and pushed by fear of mounting crime. At the same time, over 170,000 people displaced by slum clearance in Manhattan, mostly African American and Puerto Rican, moved to Concourse. The city also adopted policies of relocating welfare recipients to the area, paying fees to landlords. Migration to the suburbs, retirement to Florida, and the construction of Co-op City in the fringes of the northeastern Bronx between 1968 and 1970 drained the areas along the Grand Concourse of most of its remaining middle-class residents. Many if not most buildings in the area were damaged by arson, vandalism, and a lack of maintenance. Even along the Grand Concourse, some buildings and apartments were left abandoned and boarded or bricked shut. Starting in the 1990s, when the Bronx's population began to grow for the first time in twenty years, a wave of affordable housing construction came to the area.

At the turn of the 21st century, official efforts to restore the Grand Concourse between 161st to 167th Streets included large exit signs, in the manner of limited-access highways. The Grand Concourse underwent an $18 million restoration and landscaping, to widen the medians and improve lighting from 161st to 167th Streets, which was completed in 2008.[8] Funding is being allocated for a reconstruction of the Grand Concourse from 167th Street to 171st Street.

Former Tremont Temple, now First Union Baptist Church

In 2011, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declared a historic district on the Grand Concourse from 153rd to 167th Street.[9][10] The State of New York had previously nominated for listing the buildings at 730-1000, 1100-1520, 1560, and 851-1675 Grand Concourse for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district[1][11] and several New York City Landmarks are on the Concourse.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

Louis J Heintz, promoter of Grand Concourse, in Kilmer Park[13]
  • Novelist E. L. Doctorow has featured the Grand Concourse in much of his writing.
  • In Jacob M. Appel's story, "The Grand Concourse" (2007),[14] a woman who grew up in the Lewis Morris Building returns to the Morrisania neighborhood with her adult daughter to discover the boulevard is far from how she remembers it.
  • The Grand Concourse figures prominently in Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, where its evolution from "the summit of the Jewish dream" and the "new Canaan" to a rundown, unsafe thoroughfare is seen through the eyes of frustrated Assistant District Attorney Larry Kramer.
  • In the television series Rhoda, Rhoda Morgenstern's parents Ida and Martin live in an apartment on the Grand Concourse.
  • Grand Concourse "Avenue" is referred to in Act One, Scene One, of Tony Kushner's 1993 play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, where Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz describes it as a first generation immigrant settlement.
  • Ayn Rand mentions the Grand Concourse in The Fountainhead, when Dominique decides to have a justice of the peace in Connecticut marry her to Peter Keating. To speed the trip, Keating tells her to "get to the Grand Concourse. Fewer lights there."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]