Herc Hip Hop Mural in Bronx, New York

photo by: The All-Nite Images/Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0

January 6, 2016

Experience the Bronx’s Grand Concourse in 24 Hours

  • By: Jeana C. Wiser

Welcome to the Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop and the home of the Yankees. In all its storied histories, tales, and reputation, this place remains a true reflection of New York City. It is a story of community, diversity, and cultural vibrancy surviving—and even flourishing—during the spectacular rise and fall, tumult and turmoil of the famous borough.

Today, the Grand Concourse neighborhood sits at the heart of the regeneration and resilience that is on display in the Bronx. Many are discovering this fact for themselves, locals and tourists alike. Now is your opportunity to explore this culturally and architecturally rich neighborhood.

First, for the Francophiles among us, let’s start with the history of the Grand Concourse, an ambitious boulevard five miles in length that was constructed in 1909 and originally conceived to be New York’s very own Champs-Elysées to connect Manhattan to the North Bronx. In the 19th century, many Manhattanites, including famous writer Edgar Allen Poe, relocated to the open space and clean air of the Bronx to escape the pollution and noise of the city.

Upon completion of construction, the newly designated “Park Avenue of the middle class” quickly attracted new residents to the borough who were drawn to the area’s elegant Tudor, Beaux Arts, Art Deco, and Art Moderne apartment complexes and close proximity to Manhattan. In fact, as AM New York put it, "to this day, the Grand Concourse is a mecca for Art Deco landmarks. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission called it 'one of the great repositories of Art Deco buildings nationwide,' rivaled only by Miami Beach, Florida."

Edgar Allen Poe Cottage in Bronx, New York

photo by: Kristine Paulus/Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

The Edgar Allen Poe Cottage in Poe Park.

In order to truly understand and appreciate this neighborhood, one must also embrace the era of disinvestment and turbulence starting in the 1960s and lasting until the late 1990s. Post-WWII white flight lured away a tremendous amount of residents, many who had moved to the area in the 1920s when the newly constructed apartment houses welcomed families of immigrants from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and elsewhere.

Simultaneously, in the 1960s and 1970s, over 170,000 people were displaced by slum clearance in Manhattan—mostly African-Americans and Puerto Ricans—and ended up settling in Grand Concourse. Additionally, the City adopted policies of relocating welfare recipients to the area, even paying fees to local landlords.

By the 1970s and 1980s, area violence spiked, buildings fell into disrepair, and nearly 30 percent of the neighborhood’s population fled. Today, the neighborhood has made significant strides in “bouncing back”—or perhaps more accurate, “bouncing forward”—and its successes are mirrored in the rejuvenation happening in the city at-large.

The Bronx’s Grand Concourse is a neighborhood waiting to reveal itself. Take a day to explore one of NYC’s most reflective and historically rich neighborhoods. Here are some ideas for how one might fill an entire day exploring, uncovering, and enjoying.

Lorelai Fountain in Joyce Kilmer Park, Bronx, New York

photo by: Wally Gobetz/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

Lorelai Fountain in Joyce Kilmer Park.

In the A.M.

Start your morning with housemade horchata and a breakfast burrito from a neighborhood favorite. Mexicocina has two locations in the Bronx and offers food from the Pueblo region of Mexico, famous for being the birthplace of chocolate-based mole poblano sauce.

Grand Concourse boasts two of GrowNYC Greenmarkets, one at Lincoln Hospital and one at Bronx Borough Hall. Both are seasonal, running from June through September, but pack a decent-sized punch. Tuesdays and Fridays are the days to swing by the fresh food stands, pick up a snack, and wander to the nearby Grand Concourse green space to enjoy.

The Bronx Trolley, a project of the South Bronx Cultural Corridor, operates a free, guided, trolley-based tour to both teach people about the Bronx and allow people to travel for free throughout the area. The trolley runs on the first Wednesday evening of the month and highlights regular attractions such as: art exhibits, poetry readings, film screenings, and comedy performances.

Architectural lovers must visit Grand Concourse. Here are several of the many gems that can be discovered in the neighborhood:

Joyce Kilmer Park, named for poet and journalist Joyce Kilmer, boasts WiFi hotspots, a playground, a statue of Louis J. Heintz, and the Lorelei Fountain.

The landmarked Andrew Freedman Home is named after its namesake, New York-based American businessman. Recently, the organization who owns and manages the building went through a complete programming overhaul and re-visioning process which resulted in the following new initiatives and organizational priorities: culinary and hospitality training, affordable lodging, AFC Cultural Arts and Media Center, small business incubator, AFC Green Tech and Trade Institute, and AFC Apartments, which offers 200 affordable, mixed-income housing to Bronx residents.

Did you know:

When the Concourse Plaza Hotel was built in 1922, it opened to much praise about its glamour and luxury. Seeing that the hotel was located in walking distance of Yankee Stadium, many of the star players from the home team, such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Roger Maris, frequented it as guests. Perhaps the most famous guest, however, was John F Kennedy during his presidential campaign in 1960. Today, the former Hotel serves as a senior citizen apartment complex.

Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York

photo by: Wally Gobetz/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

Yankee Stadium as evening falls.

In the P.M.

With a laid-back island feel, the Caribbean restaurant The Feeding Tree is considered a favorite among locals and visiting Yankee fans for one main thing: the food. Consider grabbing lunch here during your day trip and enjoying some of the Feeding Tree’s famous oxtail, fish, or curried goat dishes.

Known all over the world for being the home of America’s most notorious baseball team, Yankee Stadium offers history, tours, baseball artifacts, and world-class baseball sporting events.

Giovanni’s has been providing Grand Concourse with traditional Italian food since 1974. The restaurant offers old-school eats with nostalgic and charming decor. Stop here for dinner before heading out to the Hostos Center or Bronx Documentary Center for an evening event.

Sam Amoah, a native of Ghana, brings solid southern soul food to the Bronx with Sam's Soul Food restaurant. This spot is good for lunch, dinner, or drinks from the unpretentious bar—just depends on what you’re looking for.

For over 33 years, the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture, managed by Hostos Community College, has brought a world of music, entertainment, and art to Grand Concourse via its annual diverse programming, with many events offered free to the community. Some upcoming events include: ballet, African drum performances, and Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen.

Did you know:

Located in Poe Park, the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage was originally built as a laborer’s dwelling in 1812. In 1846, Poe started renting the cottage for $100 a year to provide his wife Virginia with the Bronx country air, hoping it might cure her of tuberculosis. Unfortunately, Virginia died one year later in 1847, but Poe remained in the cottage until his death in 1849.

Late Night

For those wishing for a better understanding of the Bronx and cross-cultural contemporary art, you must visit one of the best museums in New York City: Bronx Museum of the Arts. Diverse programming highlighting the voices and talent of local Bronxites, along with other complimentary national and international art brings consistent contemporary art and promotion of cross-cultural dialogues to Grand Concourse. In celebration of its recent 40th anniversary, the Museum implemented a universal free admission policy, making good on its mission to bring art to the entire Bronx community.

Founded in 2011, the Bronx Documentary Center is something special. Its mission is to share photography, film, and new media with underserved Bronx community members. True to its important mission, the Center offers documentary education to community members to help change the narrative that so often accompanies traditional documentation: documentation work in poor communities and then presented to a small audience, elsewhere. Be sure to check out one of the Center’s excellent and uniquely curated film screenings or special events during your visit. (Bonus: the Center is located in a beautiful landmarked red brick building at 614 Courtlandt Avenue.)

Craving a cocktail or nightcap after a day of exploring and traversing Grand Concourse? Head to G-Bar, owned and operated by Giovanni’s, for a taste of the local bar scene as well as some music, courtesy of local DJs.

Did you know:

In the midst of the tumultuous early 1970s Bronx experience, hip hop was birthed. At this same time, Bronx culture began to create a name for itself and affirm a strong identity. Several grandfathers of hip hop—DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaata, all from the Caribbean—created a new sound, one that involved cutting and mixing music.

What followed was a whole slew of related expression: graffiti art, breakdancing, and beat-boxing. Ultimately, these new art forms radiated out throughout the city and world, and became serious influencers of style, art, fashion, and culture. In fact, the influence was so strong, we are still feeling, hearing, and seeing the effects today. If this piece of Bronx history tickles your fancy, be sure to check out the authentic Hush Hip Hop Tours, led by several of the founders of hip hop.

Read more about the history and evolution of the Grand Concourse neighborhood:

Jeana Wiser was an associate project manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Green Lab.

Join us in protecting and restoring places where significant African American history happened.

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