And according to articles, books, and the Bronx Historical Society, the Champs Elysées was the inspiration behind the Grand Concourse, the five-mile avenue stretching from Mott Haven to Van Cortlandt Park that opened in 1909.
It’s easy to see a resemblance. Both feature wide sidewalks and many trees, and both are framed by beautiful architecture—block after block of circa-1930s Art Deco and Art Moderne residences in the Bronx.
Also, the Grand Concourse was designed by Alsatian-born civil engineer Louis Risse. It’s conceivable that Risse modeled his creation after a French thoroughfare he would likely be familiar with.
But was the Champs Elysées his inspiration? Despite the legend, no one really knows, according to Boulevard of Dreams, a book about the Grand Concourse by Constance Rosenbloom.
“Louis Risse does not mention the Champs Elysées, even in passing, in his detailed description of the thoroughfare he envisioned in the West Bronx,” writes Rosenbloom.
“Beyond the fact that Risse was a Frenchman who knew the Champs Elysées well from his youth, and beyond the superficial resemblance between the two streets, with their sweeps of roadway and sidewalk demarcated by seemingly endless rows of trees, no evidence exists that the grand Parisian boulevard was in Risse’s mind as he set about creating his own masterwork.”
“Yet, whatever the engineer’s intentions, the two streets share a great deal beyond mere beauty, namely, a more ineffable quality that has to do with their singularly urban environs. Like precious gems enclosed within fine settings, both streets were enhanced by the grand buildings that flank them.”