Van Nest, Bronx
Van Nest is a working-class neighborhood geographically located in the east Bronx borough of New York City in the United States. The neighborhood is part of Bronx Community Board 11. Its boundaries, starting clockwise are as follows: Bronxdale Avenue to the northeast, the Amtrak tracks to the southeast, and White Plains Road to the west. Van Nest predated Morris Park by 20 years and is considered the older brother to Morris Park. Morris Park Avenue and White Plains Road are the primary commercial thoroughfares through Van Nest. ZIP codes include 10460 and 10462. The area is patrolled by the 49th Precinct located at 2121 Eastchester Road in Morris Park.
- 1 History
- 2 Land use and architecture
- 3 Demographics
- 4 Education
- 5 Fire department
- 6 Parks
- 7 Religious organizations
- 8 Social issues
- 9 Transportation
- 10 Notable natives
- 11 Landmarks and institutions
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
The neighborhood got its name from the former Van Nest station on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, which was named after the father of Abraham R. Van Nest, a director of the railroad. A short railroad spur was constructed off the main line from the Van Nest station to serve the adjacent Morris Park Racecourse, which was the site of thoroughbred horse racing from 1889 to 1904. Between 1892 and 1896, lots were subdivided from farmland by the Van Nest Land & Improvement Company. Before the city graded the streets in 1895, the flat terrain and accumulation of rainwater in low-lying areas resulted in this area being nicknamed "Mud West". The multi-legged intersection of Van Nest Avenue, Unionport Road, and Victor Street is still known as the "Five Corners" by many old timers and locals.
Land use and architecture
Van Nest is dominated by single family homes of various types. There are also some tenements scattered across the neighborhood. The total land area is roughly one square mile. Architectural styles are diverse in Van Nest, which was started as a residential community in 1893. Italianate, Queen Anne, Art Deco and contemporary brick and mortar are all found. Con Edison's Van Nest Service Center is located north of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor line between Unionport Road and Bronxdale Avenue, occupying the former maintenance shops of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. The Con Edison plant was purchased in September 1959 from the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad for $3 million. The former Van Nest Yards were built in 1907 and the Yards, now Con Edison Plant consists of 940,000 square feet (87,000 m2).
Van Nest has a population under 15,000. The neighborhood has a concentration of Puerto Ricans and also contains a significant African American population. A small longstanding Italian and Albanian population exist east of White Plains Road near Morris Park. The majority of residents rent. Almost 20% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Van Nest had at one time two Catholic grammar schools, St. Dominic's located at 1684 White Plains Road and Our Lady of Solace located at the intersection of Holland and Morris Park Avenues. Both schools held classes from Kindergarten through eighth grade. However, by 2006 Our Lady of Solace had closed its doors due to budget cuts within the New York Catholic Archdiocese. Our Lady of Solace school building remained vacant until September 2010 when the Bronx Charter School of Excellence opened. The Bronx Charter School of Excellence has its main location at Benedict Avenue while the Holland Avenue site serves as only an annex for grades five and six. The School of Excellence began leasing the Solace building in August 2010. They have made $400,000 worth of renovations from electric wiring, plumbing, and exterior masonry work. The School of Excellence plans to expand to grades fifth through eighth within the next two years.
The New York Archdiocese announced in January 2011 that St. Dominic's along with four other Bronx grammar schools will be closing by the end of the school year in June. St. Dominic's grammar school, founded in 1952 has approximately 200 students who will need to transfer to other schools in the area. Some of the staff members especially the nuns will be transferring to St. Raymond's school which is located in Parkchester. Prior to its closing in the end of June, a farewell Mass was held to commemorate the school's 59 year history.
Engine 90, known as the Van Nest Hose Company and Hook and Ladder 41, the Morris Park Company are both housed in the same building at 1841 White Plains Road. The Van Nest Hose Company originally started out as volunteer company and was known as Van Nest Hose Co. No. 1. They were originally located at 1703 Unionport Road and were organized in 1906. Additionally, Van Nest Hose Co. No. 2 was located at East Tremont and Rosedale Avenues and disbanded in 1910, the same year as Hose Co. No. 1. When the Van Nest Hose Co. No.1 made the move to White Plains Road in May 1910 they became a paid company.
In May 2010, Engine 90 and Hook and Ladder 41 celebrated its 100th anniversary. The area around White Plains Road where the firehouse is located was blocked off for the celebration. In attendance were 147 alumni from the firehouse, FDNY Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano and an additional 153 guests. The final part of the ceremony was the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the 100 years of dedicated service in addition to an existing plaque that was originally placed inside the firehouse in 1910 when it opened.
Van Nest Park
Van Nest Park is bound by White Plains road to the east, Unionport Road to the west and Van Nest Avenue to the north. Mead Street bisects Van Nest Park from Van Nest Memorial Square, which houses the war memorial. Van Nest Park was acquired by New York City in August 1913, the present location of Van Nest Memorial Square. In April 1922, the land was placed under Parks' jurisdiction. The granite monument which stands at the center of the original park was erected in April 1926 by the Van Nest Citizens' Patriotic League who were at one time located at 1800 Hunt Avenue. The monument is made of Deere Isle granite by architect Arthur G. Waldreaon. Three of the four granite panels have the names of fallen soldiers from World War I, Korea, and Vietnam. The main facing panel has a tribute to fallen soldiers from World War II. By 1938, the park expanded to include not only a monument but playground equipment. The monument was rededicated by the Italian-American War Veterans' Bronx County Post #39 in October, 1973.
In 1997, Mayor Rudy Giuliani funded a $30,000 renovation of the park replacing the old playground equipment. The park like the neighborhood was named after Reynier Van Nest, a saddle maker. As of May 2011, $950,000 has been allocated for renovations to the playground and construction is expected to start by Spring 2013. Additionally, security cameras were installed through a contribution from Cross-County Federal Bank to monitor night time activity in the park. State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein was instrumental in securing the proper permits for the cameras.
The present location of St. Dominic's Church (Bronx, New York) at 1739 Unionport Road was started in 1925 and was completed in May, 1927. Msgr. Domenico Fiorentino was instrumental in the construction of the church. At the dedication mass on May 8, 1927, Cardinal Hayes officiated and was a guest of honor at the dinner held after the services. Preceding the dedication mass a procession moved from Van Nest Memorial Square to the church and was attended by many local organizations one in particular the Van Nest Recreation Club, which is still in existence today.
Episcopalian, St. Martha's is located at 1858 Hunt Avenue. Lutheran, St.Luke's is located at 1722 Adams Street. Pentecostal, Van Nest Assembly of God is located at 755 Rhinelander Avenue.
There was as well a significant Jewish population in the later part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century in Van Nest. The synagogue located at 1712 Garfield Street was built in 1905. The B'nai Jacob First Van Nest Hebrew Congregation was established in 1895 and by the early 1920s had upwards of 50 families, a religious school within the synagogue to accommodate 80 pupils, and services in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. By January 1979, the First Van Nest Hebrew Congregation had disbanded and sold the property and building to the Mission Christiana Rehoboth church.
Van Nest contains one of the highest concentrations of poverty in Bronx Community District 11. It is believed many of the newest residents are from higher poverty sections of the Bronx such as neighboring West Farms and Parkchester. With this relocation many of the social problems commonly associated with those communities have come to Van Nest. Drug trafficking, teen pregnancy, domestic violence and violent crimes, including gang activity, are common. Van Nest, being roughly one square mile, is one neighborhood within the larger 49th Precinct.
In January 2010, a community organization known as the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance (VNNA) was created, which meets monthly. Their agenda is to work jointly with the 49th Precinct to ensure that any reported crimes are handled quickly and follow-up conducted thoroughly. Additionally, aside from merely reporting and following up with crimes, both the 49th Precinct and the VNNA are trying to direct the youth into precinct sponsored programs such as kids and cops basketball and Explorers. The rise in youth-related crimes is a genuine concern for the VNNA and the local 49th police precinct.
Bus service is provided by the following routes:
- Bx21: local service to Westchester Square subway station or Third Avenue–138th Street subway station (via Boston Road/Morris Park Avenue)
- Bx22: local service to Bronx High School of Science or Castle Hill (via Fordham Road/Castle Hill Avenue)
- Bx39: local service to Wakefield-241st Street subway station or Clason's Point (via White Plains Road)
- Bx40/Bx42 local service to Morris Heights or Throgs Neck. (Bx40/Bx42 operate between the Van Nest and Parkchester border lines)
- BxM10: express service to Midtown Manhattan (via Bruckner Expressway/Triborough Bridge)
The IRT White Plains Road Line subway operates along Birchall Avenue and has a stop at the Bronx Park East station (2 5). The IRT Dyre Avenue Line occupies the old right of way of the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway, which stopped running in 1938.
The Amtrak line is only used by Northeast Corridor trains traveling to and from Penn Station via the Hell Gate Bridge and connects with Metro-North's New Haven Line in New Rochelle. However, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is performing a Federal Environmental Assessment which could possibly bring Metro-North's New Haven service along the Hell Gate Line. This assessment will be completed by 2013. Four possible new stations include Hunts Point, Parkchester, Morris Park, and Co-Op City. The cost of the project is estimated at $350 million with the state of Connecticut funding $100 million and the state of New York funding the remaining $250 million.  The Parkchester-Van Nest station would possibly be occupying the footprints of the former Van Nest station.
- General James F. Collins was born on September 5, 1905 and lived at 1820 Unionport Road when his family moved from Manhattan in 1909. He attended P.S. 34 from 1911 to 1919 and then Regis High School and was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He spent 37 years as an officer and retired as a four-star general. Collins died on January 22, 1989.
- Artist and sculptor Carl Paul Jennewein had his studio at 538 Van Nest Avenue for fifty years from 1928 until the time of his death in 1978. On June 2, 2011 through a bill sponsored by Councilmember Joel Rivera and with the approval of Community Board #11 and the encouragement of the East Bronx History Forum, Van Nest Avenue between Melville Street and Van Buren Street was renamed Carl Paul Jennewein Place in honor of the sculptor's body of work.
- Boxer Roland La Starza, born May 12, 1927 lived on Van Nest Avenue near Van Buren Street. He attended Colombus High School and later City College when his boxing career took off. When his final boxing match was fought against Monroe Ratliff, he accumulated 56 wins and only nine loses. In a brief movie and television career, he starred in the 1967 movie Point Blank and the 1973 movie The Outfit. He also had small parts in the television show Perry Mason.
- Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, 72 was born into an Irish Catholic family that lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Van Nest. At present, he is pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. Some additional responsibilities for O'Brien include being the pope's representative to Catholics in the Holy Land as well as the chief fund raiser for the preservation of that region's sacred sites. He was ordained in 1965 by Cardinal Francis Spellman and assigned to West Point. Prior to his present position, he was Archbishop of Baltimore. Since May 1997, O'Brien has been returning to his boyhood parish of Our Lady of Solace to perform the sacrement of confirmation.
- Eugene D. Orza, was a graduate from St. Dominic's elementary school and at one time the general counsel of the Major League Baseball (MLB) Players' Association.
- Television personality Regis Philbin attended Our Lady of Solace School on Morris Park and Holland Avenues. The block on which he lived Cruger Avenue, has been renamed in his honor. By 2010, his boyhood home at 1990 Cruger Avenue was demolished in late January.
- Hollywood writer and executive producer Michael Sardo grew up in Van Nest. He has written for many television series such as Caroline in the City, Wings and most recently Fairly Legal which premiered on USA network in January 2011.
- Playwright and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley grew up in Van Nest. He wrote the script for the 1987 film Five Corners, which was set in the east Bronx and took its name from an intersection in Van Nest.
Landmarks and institutions
- The East 180th Street (IRT White Plains Road Line) train station of the New York City Transit Authority was at one time the Administration Building for the New York, Westchester, and Boston Railroad. Located at 481 Morris Park Avenue at the intersection of East 180th Street, it is a current stop for the IRT #2 and #5 trains which was built in 1912. The station was designed by Stem, Allen H., Fellheimer & Long. Its design is reminiscent of late 19th and early 20th century rivivals. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 23, 1980. Since March 2010, the station has been undergoing a rehabilitation through the architectural efforts of Lee Harris Pomeroy. Some of the improvements include fixing up the entrance and forecourt; replacing parts of the canopy roof, track beds, platforms and platform edges; adding new elevator access to improve circulation; and repairing electrical, mechanical, plumbing, lighting and communication equipment. Robert Ruggiero of the Morris Park Alliance hopes to see the addition of businesses inside the station such as a barber shop, shoe repair, and dry cleaners which existed at one time many decades ago. The New York City Transit Authority paid $66.6 million for the station's renovation and the Citnalta Construction Corporation contributed the cost of the 45-inch clock with Roman numerals on the facade.
- Although more of a social landmark, Conti's Bakery was established in 1921 on Victor Street and eventually relocated to 786 Morris Park Avenue in 1928. Purchased in 2003 by Sal Paljevic from the original owners, it went through a four-week renovation in February 2007 to restore its tin ceiling and wood panel walls. Other antique features include an original marble countertop, collection of black-and-white photographs and vintage tin advertisements. In the summer of 2005, the exterior of the bakery was renovated to include a retractable, old-fashioned awning and traditional display windows. Conti's Bakery is known for its legendary Boston cream pie.
- Riviera Ravioli, another famous Van Nest institution is located at 643 Morris Park Avenue. It started out as a deli back in 1946 and eventually moved to its present location in 1976. Riviera features a wide variety of not only ravioli but specialty filled raviolis such as lobster, crab and walnut. Other types of pasta include: tortellini, cavatelli, manicotti, and fettuccini. According to its owner, Joseph Giordano the name Riviera Ravioli has its origins from the Italian Riviera which is located in the northwest portion of Italy. Giordano's descendents are from that area specifically.
- The Morris Park Boxing Club located at 644 Morris Park Avenue was started back in 1978 by the DeGuardia family. Joe DeGuardia, the founder's son presently owns the club. Dex Pejcinovic, a former club member and fighter oversees the daily operations. The club had a setback in December 2009 with an electrical fire which displaced members of the club and residents living in the apartments above the club. Some notable fighters to come out of the Morris Park Boxing Club include WBA world champions welterweight Aaron Davis and light heavyweight Lou Del Valle.
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- 49th Precinct
- Community Board #11
- East Bronx History Forum
- Morris Park Alliance
- Morris Park Boxing Club