Shortly after the Landmarks Preservation Commission declared a section of the Grand Concourse an historic district on Tuesday, New York Times columnist Constance Rosenblum received a call with the news. Walking down Montague Street near her home in Brooklyn Heights, the usually unflappable writer burst into tears. When it comes to the Concourse, Rosenblum wrote the book. Her 2010 chronicle of the corridor, Boulevard of Dreams (NYU Press, $20), played a significant role in calling attention to the plight and promise of the neighborhood. “It was notable day,” she said in a phone interview in reference to the announcement. “It wasn’t easy for the Bronx, and the stigmas will remain for a long time.”
Thick with Deco and Moderne, to say nothing of early twentieth century Tudor and Renaissance, the district also showcases work of a few contemporary firms as well. Architectronica’s Bronx Museum of Art sits just down the street from Rafael Viñoly’s Bronx Housing Court. But not all of the 78 properties within the district are knock-out architectural gems. “It’s a little pockmarked,” said Rosenblum. “It’s not cute brownstones, one after the other.”
Rosenblum profiled Sam Goodman in the book. He lives, works, and grew up on the Concourse. He said that should the Bronx’s fortunes swing up or down, the redistricting will deter owners from abandoning the neighborhood. “Now they’ll say, ‘I’m not going to sell to Donald Trump or to the city,’” said Goodman. “So let’s do what we can to keep the buildings attractive.”
Goodman pointed out that the landmarking is for a very small section of the Boulevard. Plenty of wonderful buildings sit just to the north, including Emigrant Savings Bank, Paradise Theater and the freshly restored Edgar Allan Poe House. Even with a new visitors center by Toshiko Mori, recent vandalism at Poe Park show that the bad old days aren’t necessarily over. Funding and maintenance remain key issues that preservation alone can’t solve.
To that end, Rosenblum believes that the designation goes beyond the bricks and mortar. Landmarking can provide pride of place. “Living in a place that’s important can make you feel good about yourself,” she said. “It’s more than protecting a gorgeous building, it’s giving imprimatur to a very important idea.”