Grand Concourse: Remembering the “Park Avenue of the Middle Class”
French-American engineer Louis Aloys Risse first conceived of the Grand Concourse in 1890, basing the design on the Champs-Élysées in Paris as the City Beautiful Movement swept the US. During the public crowdsourcing phase of By the City / For the City, Ace from Pelham Parkway called for “More Hotels in the Bronx. Why not make one of those beautiful old buildings on the Grand Concourse into a Hotel AND in its lobby, create a museum to the Concourse of old!!!”
The Concourse, a broad, four-mile-long thoroughfare, connects the North and South Bronx, ending at the 138th Street Bridge to Manhattan. Originally populated by Jews and Italians escaping tenement life on the Lower East Side, White Flight in the 1960s and 70s led to a dramatic population shift, and this area of the Bronx is now home mostly to Latino and Black residents. Unfortunately, due to widespread neglect and blight in the Bronx-is-Burning 1980s, it has been a long time since the Grand Concourse has been referred to as the “Park Avenue of the Middle Class.”
But that is currently changing, as more attention is being paid to this stretch of the cityscape that tells a remarkable story of the Bronx’s history and culture. The Municipal Art Society and the Landmarks Preservation Commission are both advocating for the designation of a proposed Grand Concourse Historic District, which would secure about 73 buildings in this area that are exemplary of the Concourse’s history as a center for Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture. The Bronx Museum and the Design Trust for Public Interest have also focused their attention in the area, hosting a design competition for the future of the Grand Concourse and the greater Bronx several years ago on the 100th anniversary of the street’s opening.
Locals are also taking notice of the great value that their street has. The creation of a dynamic museum focusing on the history of the Grand Concourse, as suggested by Ace, could ensure public engagement, and allow people to celebrate a potentially forgotten history. This museum could also strengthen the center of gravity for tourism in the Bronx by connecting the Concourse to the Zoo, Botanical Gardens, the Poe Cottage, and other important cultural attractions to the east. A hotel could draw fresh attention to the architecture masterpieces that line the Concourse and benefit local shops, restaurants, and other businesses. The area is prime for development and deserves to be restored to its once-grand status.
Want to take on the challenge of designing a hotel & museum on the Grand Concourse? Click here to register for the By the City / For the City design competition today! Entries are due by midnight (EST) on Sunday, July 31st, 2011. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!