The Bronx, A Place That Matters
November 23rd, 2009, 4:29 pm
Greetings from the Bronx — the birthplace of hip hop, the breathtaking site of the New York Botanical Garden and home base for the 2009 World Series Champions, the Yankees. Now the Bronx has even more to celebrate, as six of the borough’s notable locations will be recognized on December 3rd by Place Matters. The six honorees are: 52 Park in Longwood is a popular urban oasis run by the NYC Parks Department with the help of 52 People for Progress (52PFP). When the South Bronx experienced its bleakest period in the 1970s, the open space at 52 Park became a danger zone. Since 1980, 52PFP, a volunteer group formed by local residents Al Quiñones, Fred Demera, Eduardo Rivera and Victoria Medina, has committed itself to maintaining a safe and welcoming public park. Amalgamated Housing Cooperative abutting Van Cortlandt Park in Kingsbridge, is the oldest limited-equity housing cooperative in the United States, and is an enduring model for cooperative housing in New York City today. Founded by Abraham E. Kazan, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union (ACWU) in 1926, Amalgamated was designed to provide quality, affordable housing for working-class families. Today, the Amalgamated houses more than 1,000 families. Arthur Avenue Retail Market in Belmont is one of the few remaining indoor markets in the country, and continues to be a favorite destination for both locals and tourists. In the mid-1930s, more than 50,000 pushcart vendors did business on the streets of New York City. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia decided to construct a number of indoor markets to house some of these vendors. In an Italian neighborhood known as the “Little Italy of the Bronx,” the Arthur Avenue Retail Market opened on October 29th, 1940, and it continues to thrive today. Bronx River Houses in Soundview is widely known as the epicenter of the Bronx music scene. In 1974, at the Bronx River Houses, Afrika Bambaataa formed Zulu Nation (now called Universal Zulu Nation), a pivotal force in the formation of the hip hop sound, dance, and culture. An older generation may remember the Bronx River Houses for other notable residents such as 1960s doo-wop songwriter Ronnie Mack (“Puppy Love”) and the all-girl singing group the Chiffons (“He’s So Fine”). Casita Rincón Criollo, located at 499 E. 158th Street in Melrose, is one of the city’s oldest casitas, (a small house surrounded by gardens, created to recall the Puerto Rican countryside). Led by Don José “Chema” Soto, neighbors reclaimed this rubble-strewn lot from the City in the late 1970s. Since then, the community has used the casita to gather, garden, and pass down musical and cultural traditions. General Sedgwick Houses at 1520 Sedgwick Avenuein Morris Heights is known worldwide among hip hop fans as the place where DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) first played his “breakbeats” at a house party in the building’s recreation room. Thus, the General Sedgwick Houses are considered to be the birthplace of hip hop. In recognition of its important place in American history, 1520 Sedgwick was declared eligible for listing on the State and National Register of Historic Places in July of 2007. The Second Annual Place Matters Awards Ceremony will be held Thursday, December 3, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Longwood Gallery, Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture, 450 Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The event will open with guest speaker Carl Capotorto, playwright, screenwriter, and actor, whose book, Twisted Head: An Italian American Memoir (Broadway Publishers, 2008) describes growing up in the Bronx. A reception, featuring music by Trio Los Platinos, will follow the ceremony. The event is free and open to the public. For more information or reservations, contact City Lore at 212-529-1955, extension 306. Please tell your friends about these places of history, memory, and culture and invite them to join the Place Matters e-mail list.