Once one of the most magnificent roadways in New York City, what started out as the Grand Boulevard and Concourse in the early 1890s, was designed by French-born civil engineer Louis Risse. Risse, writes longtime journalist Rosenblum, saw it as “a thoroughfare that would shuttle the fashionable world of Manhattan to the rural expanses of the Bronx.” She takes us through the different generations of immigrants who made Concourse neighborhoods their home, looking at the big picture and the changing details of people’s daily lives.
The other day I visited the Art Deco apartment of José Diaz-Oyola, a nursing supervisor who lives on the Grand Concourse overlooking Joyce Kilmer Park. I made the visit so I could write about Mr. Diaz-Oyola for the Habitats column of The New York Times. The article will be published in the Real Estate section on Sunday, July 19.
The apartment had all the amenities associated with these buildings — the sunken living room, the wraparound windows — but what particularly impressed me was the sense of flow from one room to another and how open the space seemed to feel. It was a far cry from the claustrophobic railroad flats of old, with their tiny rooms branching off from a single narrow hallway. These mid-century architects clearly knew a thing or two about the design of interior spaces. Even though Mr. Diaz-Oyola’s apartment was not vast in terms of square feet, it felt awfully livable.
Boulevard of Dreams was reviewed in the June 22 issue of Publishers Weekly. Here’s the full review:
The Bronx’s Grand Concourse, with its Art Deco structures, is one of New York City’s architectural delights, and its political and social history is the worthy subject of this new book by New York Times staffer Rosenblum, who edited the paper’s now-defunct City section and now writes a column for its Sunday real estate section. Stretching over four-and-a-half miles, the thoroughfare designed by Louis Aloys Risse, an Alsatian immigrant, and modeled after Paris’s Champs Elysées—was completed in 1909 and saw the arrival of upwardly mobile Jews in the first five decades of the 20th century, followed by waves of Irish and Italian immigrants seeking to pursue their culture and careers in a safe environment. While Rosenblum explores various aspects of Jewish communal life near the boulevard, she also dissects the rivalry between West Bronx affluence and the working-class East Bronx, and the racial tensions that led to white suburban flight and the decline and neglect of the area. The author also draws attention to the many noteworthy characters who lived on or near the Concourse such as Edgar Allan Poe and fallen NBA star Jacob Louis Molinas. A seminal recounting of the rise, fall and current revival of a major landmark, this book, with many archival photos and drawings, is a must for those interested in the cultural history of the Bronx and New York City. 43 illus., 1 map. (Aug.)
"Gracefully written and full of surprising insights, Rosenblum's book is a tribute to the capacity of New Yorkers to create entire worlds in the smallest of places: their apartments."
—Ariel Sabar, author of Heart of the City
"For anyone who has ever loved a great street or neighborhood as change after change swept over it and dreams and challenges
converged...It’s a rich, sometimes wild ride through a century of history, beautifully written by a gifted observer."
—Tony Hiss, author of The Experience of Place