Posts Tagged ‘Grand Concourse’

A Bronx road inspired by the Champs Elysées?

April 15, 2013

GrandconcoursesignParis’ Champs Elysées is one of the most famous streets in the world, a multilane thoroughfare running about a mile.

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.

GrandconcourseIt’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.

Grandconcoursewiki“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.”

A beautiful Bronx statue of a mythical creature

February 9, 2012

The South Bronx is not where you’d expect to see an ornate white marble monument featuring mermaids, dolphins, nude women, and seashells.

But that’s where you’ll find the Lorelei Fountain, at 161st Street and the Grand Concourse. It honors Heinrich Heine, a 19th century German poet who immortalized the mythical creature Lorelei in a poem.

“According to legend, the maiden was transformed into a siren after throwing herself into the [Rhine] river,” states the website for Joyce Kilmer Park, where the statue is located.

“She could be heard singing from a rock along the river, her voice hypnotizing sailors to sleep, and then to their death. The bas-reliefs around the pedestal include a profile of Heine. Other decorative and allegorical motifs include a frog, a bird, and a skull symbolizing mortality.”

The statue, completed in 1893, (above, in a NYPL digital collection photo) wasn’t intended for the Bronx; it was supposed to go up in Heine’s home city of Dusseldorf.

Declined in part because of anti-Semitism (Heine was Jewish), a group of German-Americans purchased the statue and unveiled it in 1899. It was rededicated, and moved a few blocks away, a century later.

The Bronx: once “the most Jewish borough”

May 8, 2011

When you think of Jews in New York, the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, and the Upper West Side come to mind.

But in the middle of the 20th century, the Bronx had more residents of Jewish descent than any other borough.

In 1930, about 49 percent of the Bronx was Jewish, according to the Bronx County Clerk’s Office, mostly centered in South Bronx neighborhoods and along the apartment houses of the Grand Concourse.

[Above: a daycare center today, but a synagogue decades ago on Crotona Park East]

A New York Times article put it at 37 percent in 1945; has the high at 57 percent in 1930 in the South Bronx.

“There were four synagogues organized within two blocks of Third Avenue before 1900 (before the elevated was completed in 1902). By 1910, thirteen had been organized in the same area and that constituted almost 40 percent of all the synagogues in the South Bronx.”

[Above: an abandoned synagogue at 1835 University Avenue]

After World War II, Bronx Jews split for the suburbs. The borough’s ethnic makeup quickly changed; by 1960, it was two-thirds Black and Hispanic.

[Right, an empty synagogue at 1650 Morris Park Avenue]

[All photos from]

A Bronx home for former millionaires

June 11, 2009

Andrew Freedman appears to have been your run-of-the-mill Gilded-Age millionaire. He made his cash in real estate and subway construction; he later owned the New York Giants baseball team and had close ties to Tammany Hall politicians. 

AndrewfreedmanfenceAfter he died in 1915, his will revealed that he wanted his money to go toward establishing a retirement home. A retirement home not just for anyone: It was for millionaires who had fallen on hard times and needed a place to live that afforded the luxury they were used to in their younger years.

The Andrew Freedman Home, opened in 1924, still stands on the Grand Concourse and 166th Street in the Bronx. And grand is the right word. The four-story structure, set back amid a well-tended lawn and partially hidden by a tall iron fence, featured sumptuous parlors, dining areas, and bedrooms. All residents had servants. And everything was free.


It seems like an elitist idea today. But people then thought there was a need for a poorhouse for rich folks. At the dedication ceremony, the president of the board said:

“It will be a veritable home for ‘gentlefolk’—husbands and wives who, by reason of reverses in the professional and business lives of the husbands, accompanied by advancing age and infirmities, have lost their ability to maintain themselves in the station of life to which they have been accustomed.”

By the 1960s the endowment had run out, and residents were asked to pay rent. In 1982 it was sold to a Bronx senior citizen organization, which began letting older people move in regardless of whether they were ever wealthy.

I’m not sure if anyone actually lives there today. When these photos were taken, the home and grounds were ghostly quiet.

The South Bronx mystery chick

October 24, 2008

This statue graces the front courtyard of a high-rise Grand Concourse apartment building. She’s one formidable female, but who is she?

Art Deco on the Grand Concourse

September 10, 2008

Okay, so the Grand Concourse—aka, the Park Avenue of the Bronx, opened in 1909 and modeled after the Champs-Elysees in Paris—doesn’t start out in the Mott Haven section of the borough all that grandly.

Pick it up around 161st Street, however, and it becomes a massive thoroughfare divided into three separate roads and flanked by some impressive Art Deco apartment buildings.

Number 888 has this neat circular entryway. Too bad the for rent notice and malpractice lawyer signs give it a low-rent vibe.

The Grand Concourse . . . or a South Beach hotel? Okay, okay, but this apartment tower does have a vaguely Miami feel.

And finally, the Art Deco angel fish building: