Mott Haven, Melrose have buildings worth saving

By on February 27, 2009 6:03 am

The proposed Bruckner Boulevard Historic District

A community garden, three churches, a subway station, and a mid-1970s housing project should be preserved as New York City landmarks, a commission appointed by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion has concluded.

In addition, a block of Bruckner Boulevard would become a historic district, if the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to accept the proposal.

Landmark status safeguards distinguished architecture or buildings that have played an important role in the city’s history or cultural heritage. The outsides of landmarks cannot be changed without permission from the landmarks commission.

In his 2008 State of the Borough speech, Carrion announced the formation of a task force to find buildings in each of the Bronx’s community districts worthy of preservation. The task force issued its report in December.

Rincon Criollo Casita, a shrine to Puerto Rican music and culture at E. 158th Street and Third Avenue is the centerpiece of the report on Community District 1.

The cultural center and garden was a dump in the mid-1970s when Don José “Chema” Soto led a group of friends to build a shack like the small wooden houses scattered throughout Puerto Rico, plant a garden and gather to play traditional music. Now local people gather there for social events and scholars come from all over the world to learn the island’s traditions.

The task force called for landmark status for:

  • the German Methodist Episcopal Church of Melrose on Elton Avenue and E. 158th Street;
  • Immaculate Conception Church on E. 151st Street and Melrose Avenue
  • St. Anselm’s Roman Catholic Church on Tinton Avenue and E. 152nd Street.

The three churches, built in 1879, 1887 and 1907, respectively, are all architecturally, distinctive, according to the task force.

In Mott Haven, the borough president’s report calls for the first subway station in the Bronx, the Mott Haven station at E. 149th Street and the Grand Concourse to become a landmark. Already on the National Register of Historic Places, the station opened in 1904, and the old street name, Mott Avenue, is still prominently displayed on its brick wall.

The task force also wants Plaza Borinquen, a housing project with a difference, to be preserved. Built in 1974 on E. 139th Street between Willis and Brook avenues for the South Bronx Community Housing Corporation, it is a modernist low-rise complex of triplex 3- and 4- bedroom apartments, each with its own garden.

Finally, the task force said historic district status should safeguard a portion of Mott Haven’s growing antique district. A stretch of Bruckner Boulevard between Alexander and Willis Avenues forms a cohesive block of recently-renovated tenements that “reflect the historic character” of the area, the report said.

If the landmarks commission acts on the recommendations, the buildings would join St. Ann’s Church on St. Ann’s Avenue at E. 140th Street, and PS 31, on the Grand Concourse and E. 144th Street and the Mott Haven Historic District along Alexander Avenue between E. 137th and 141st streets on the honor role of city landmarks.

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1 Comment

  1. Dorothy Louise says:

    Very interesting review of new books on Haia Sophia, referencing St. Anselm’s in the Bronx, in current issue of NY Review of Books. Argument fr preservation to add to your other notes re same.

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