Friday, March 11, 2011

A Little Rain, Much Architecture: The Highbridge Bronx Tour

When was the last time you strolled in the rain around a Bronx neighborhood looking for architectural gems within a few blocks of Yankee Stadium? A group of 12 weather-proof preservation conference attendees did just that last weekend, basking not in the sun but in the company of likeminded "history buffs and detail geeks." William Casari, assistant professor at Hostos Community College and a Bronx resident, was accurate when he defined himself and our group as such. He led us on a tour of Highbridge in the West Bronx that offered a close look at a borough's past and present through the prism of architecture.

The tour included a stop at Macombs Dam Park, which is now the site of the new Yankee Stadium. Next, we enjoyed an informative talk about Jerome Avenue’s finest buildings then a visit to Park Plaza Apartments, a building rich with Art Deco details and Mayan motifs. A climb up Jerome Slope offered a panoramic view of Highbridge plus the opportunity to explore the area further.

Every step seemed to offer an architectural detail to capture in a photo or a nuance about life in the Bronx. A stop at a “step street” became even more interesting when a man at Diaz Superette mentioned that an out-of-control car had once launched down its full length, landing in a pile on the sidewalk below. At Noonan Plaza, a series of 7-story apartment buildings designed by Horace Ginsbern and Marvin Fine, residents carried groceries and children past a group of visitors talking about what seems like an ordinary building. In a window a little girl sat peering down at a bare quadrangle that once boasted a waterfall, a reflecting pool, swans and a Japanese-style bridge.

Several times, neighbors stopped to ask with curiosity what we were looking at then offered hospitality – by opening a locked door or by offering permission to enter a lobby. Local residents seemed unaware of the not-so-obvious treasures in their communities but Morgan Powell, a guest on the tour, is making an effort to change that: he leads walking tours in the Bronx especially designed to inform and inspire residents with updated local history.

The variety of architectural styles found on every street in Highbridge was a source of constant delight during the tour as was the element of surprise. Again and again, behind the facades of worn buildings, Mr. Casari would reveal elegant marble vestibules, Art Deco mirrors, antique signage, terrazzo floors and, in one case, the luxury of open space in a double height lobby.

Rain and high winds didn’t hamper 12 intrepid New Yorkers last week. Our enthusiasm was well-rewarded in a borough whose significance and beauty are frequently overlooked.

The following are images from that tour. Enjoy then visit and for details about upcoming tours and events.

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