By Jeanmarie Evelly
The Grand Concourse, the iconic boulevard that stretches along four miles of the Bronx, has 100 years of stories to tell. This summer and fall, Bronx residents are lending their voices to share those stories—through the trees that line the street’s parks and sidewalks.
The Tree Museum is the creation of Irish artist Katie Holten, who was commissioned to create a work of public art to celebrate this year’s 100th anniversary of the Grand Concourse.
From 138th street to Mosholu Parkway, 100 trees tell their stories. Green discs on the sidewalk bearing the Tree Museum logo identify the trees and offer a phone number that visitors can call, either from home or from their mobile phones, to hear a short audio clip about the Bronx narrated by people who live and work in the community.
“It’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt,” Holten said of the markers scattered along the Concourse.
Call tree number 6, a honey locust in front of the post office at 588 Grand Concourse, and you’ll hear community activist Majora Carter talk about growing up in the Bronx. Harry Bubbins, director of the local environmental group Friends of Brook Park, narrates for tree number 13, an American elm at the entrance to Franz Siegel Park.
Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan, who participated in the project, said he thinks using trees is an appropriate way to celebrate the street’s centennial.
“The Grand Concourse is noted for the fact that it’s tree-lined,” he said. “That’s one of the things that makes the Grand Concourse outstanding, so it made a great deal of sense.”
Ultan made recordings for seven different trees along the Concourse, offering historical facts and anecdotes about the street.
Opened to traffic in November of 1909, the Concourse was modeled after the Champs Elysees in Paris, and soon came to mark achievement in the borough, Ultan said.
“The Grand Concourse in the Bronx was the equivalent of 5th Avenue and Park Avenue in Manhattan,” he explained. “It was a symbol that you had made it.”
Holten said she knew very little about the area when she launched the project in 2007.
“I spent about two months researching and spending as much time as possible on the Concourse,” she said. “I kind of fell in love with it.”
Organized by the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Wave Hill and the Department of Parks and Recreation, The Tree Museum debuted on June 21st and will run until Oct. 12th.
The audio guide is available by calling (718) 408-2501 and entering the extension for any tree, numbered 1 to 100. More information, including a map of the project, can be found at www.treemuseum.org.