Recognizing the places that give the Bronx its richness, its flavor, and its life
52 Park, For bringing public space to life
52 Park is a popular urban oasis, run by the NYC Parks Department with the notable help of 52 People for Progress (52PFP). In 1980, fearful that this piece of open space—their childhood playground—would fall victim to the borough’s troubles, four locals organized to turn the park around: Al Quiñones, Fred Demera, Eduardo Rivera and Victoria Medina. Twenty-five years later, 52 PFP is still involved. When the City repaired the playground in the late 1980s, the volunteer group advocated for an amphitheater to host educational and cultural programming for neighborhood residents. For the last 20 years, 52 PFP has held summertime concerts in 250-seat Teatro Miranda.
Kelly St. between Ave. St. John and Leggett Ave., Longwood, Bronx
Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, for incubating social change
Abraham Kazan of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union did not originally intend to build housing. Kazan’s first political cause was cooperation, a utopian vision that held special promise for progressive thinkers in the early decades of the twentieth century. But quality affordable housing quickly became a focus, and the first cooperative Amalgamated complex broke ground on Thanksgiving Day, 1926. Similar complexes in other parts of the city followed. Today, the Amalgamated is the oldest limited-equity housing corporation in the United States. The heady idealism of the early cooperators is no longer shared by all, but the Amalgamated community still sustains a newsletter, a nursery school, and many other public services and activities.
98 Van Cortlandt Park (North of Sedgwick between Saxon and Dickinson Aves.) Kingsbridge, Bronx
Arthur Avenue Retail Market, for enhancing community life
In the late 1930s, Mayor La Guardia required the city’s thousands of pushcart vendors to come inside and take stalls at indoor municipal markets built by the City. The Arthur Avenue Market proved to be one of the most successful. The merchants were predominantly Italian; one of the original vendors, Joe Liberatore, continues to operate his stall selling plants. But by the early 1980s, only 25 merchants did business in the market. With help from the Belmont Arthur Avenue Local Development Corporation, the market revived, becoming a co-op, the first in the City. Today the market and other food establishments along Arthur Avenue remain a favorite destination for locals and tourists.
2344 Arthur Ave., Belmont, Bronx
Bronx River Houses, for fostering creativity
The Bronx River Houses is widely known as the epicenter of the hip hop movement in its earliest days. In 1974, Afrika Bambaataa formed Zulu Nation here (now called Universal Zulu Nation), a group which became a pivotal force in the formation of the hip hop sound, dance, and culture. Afrika Bambaataa lived here, and organized his jams in the community center where hundreds of people could gather. An older generation remembers Bronx River Houses for other notable residents such as 1960s doo wop songwriter Ronnie Mack (“Puppy Love”) and the girl singing group the Chiffons (“He’s So Fine”).
1605 E. 174th St., West Farms, Bronx
General Sedgwick Houses, for fostering creativity
1520 Sedgwick Avenue (General Sedgwick Houses) is known worldwide among the fans of hip hop as the place where DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) first played his “breakbeats” that inspired breakdancers. It is considered the “birthplace” of hip hop. It started in the early 1970s when Herc threw parties for his sister Cindy in the community room of the building where his family lived, and put together a “breakbeat” by taking an instrumental solo and extending it. In accepting this award, The General Sedgwick Houses Tenant’s Association seeks to keep this memory alive at 52 Sedgwick where they have been struggling to maintain the complex as affordable housing.
1520 Sedgwick Ave., Morris Heights, Bronx
Rincón Criollo, for keeping tradition alive
Casitas are small houses surrounded by gardens created to recall the look and feel of the Puerto Rican countryside. Rincón Criollo (Downhome Corner) is one of the city’s oldest and largest casitas, created in the late 1970s when neighbors led by José (Chema) Soto reclaimed a rubble-strewn lot. Before long, 50 people found themselves taking care of land they did not own. Since then, neighbors have used their casita to gather, garden, hold community events, and pass down musical and cultural traditions. The casita we honor today is actually the second version of Rincón Criollo. A few years back the casita moved down the block to make way for low-income housing.
753 Brook Ave. at E. 157th St., Melrose, Bronx
Our thanks to the awards selection committee for their efforts: Nancy Biberman, President, Women’s Housing & Economic Development Corporation (WHEDCo); Peter Derrick, Archivist Emeritus, Bronx County Historical Society; Wallace Edgecombe, Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture; Itzik Gottesman, Associate Editor, Yiddish Forward; Cheryl Green Rosario, Director, Philanthropy, American Express; Paul Lipson, Chief of Staff, Congressman José Serrano (Honorary Committee Member); Tom Pich, Photographer; Ellen Pollan, Director, South Bronx Cultural Corridor, Bronx Council on the Arts; Doris Quiñones, Executive Director, The Bronx Tourism Office; Mark Naison, Bronx African American History Project; Pam Sporn, Filmmaker.
Many thanks to the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture for hosting this program, and to the American Express Historic Preservation Fund for making the Place Matters awards possible.