Old Bronx Courthouse launches a comeback

The historic Bronx Courthouse at the corner of Third Avenue and 161st Street will soon be empty no longer, as an entrepreneurial arts organization plans to move in later this year.

Manon Slome and Naomi Hersson-Ringskog of No Longer Empty survey the third floor of the Bronx Courthouse.
Manon Slome and Naomi Hersson-Ringskog of No Longer Empty survey the third floor of the Bronx Courthouse.

Arts project will host exhibits and education programs

The historic Bronx Courthouse at the corner of Third Avenue and 161st Street will soon be empty no longer.

That’s because nomadic arts group No Longer Empty will occupy the mammoth hundred-year-old landmark building that saw its last court case in 1978, to hold exhibits and run arts educational programs city officials hope will help add an eclectic wrinkle to this rapidly growing section of Melrose. At the same time, city planners hope it will provide free access to the arts local young people can rarely afford. Renovations on the building are well underway.

At a press conference in the building’s lobby on Jan. 15, representatives from the city’s Small Business Services and Economic Development Corp. introduced seven businesses who were awarded Neighborhood Challenge grants to launch projects around the city.

No Longer Empty specializes in reviving vacant spaces by bringing in arts projects for short stays and enlisting local communities to help them thrive. Manon Slome, who founded the organization five years ago, said the group’s goal is to “give back to the community a valuable asset. This building has a history.” The new project will be carried out with respect for the building’s century-old history and elegance while addressing the present—and future—by engaging local residents.

The last project the group ran in the area, “This Side of Paradise,” was held in the Andrew Freedman Home on the Grand Concourse in 2012. That exhibit featured work, transportation, immigration, aging and a look at the hazy border between reality and fantasy as driving themes, all with a South Bronx touch. Its projects are intended to grant the public access to extraordinary but neglected older buildings, and to impart a sense of “dignity and life” to those buildings, Slome said.

Another group, the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, received a $100,000 award to work in collaboration with SoBRO to create pop-up concessions in vacant storefronts near Roberto Clemente Plaza in The Hub. Laura Hansen, the group’s managing director, said the pop-ups will bring food to Mott Haven and Melrose that residents often complain they can’t get near home.

“People will go to Manhattan to buy their lattes or their salad,” she said. In addition, the organization will look to beautify the area with greenery once construction is finished later this year. She anticipates starting up in June.

The building’s owner, Henry Weinstein, bought it in 1998 but has struggled to find viable tenants ever since. Weinstein said No Longer Empty’s objective of transforming the building into an arts and education center is a “terrific idea. They’ll bring attention to the building. Hopefully we’ll have a worthy tenant,” although he said he has always imagined the building would be a natural fit for medical offices.

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