The Bronx In 1897 and Its Beautiful Homes – They Gave Way For Progress
Concluding our series on the Bronx from 1897 we look at the final set of photographs excerpted from the 1897 book The Great North Side.
The editors stated purpose in publishing the book was “to attract population, capital, and business enterprise to the Borough of the Bronx. It is not issued in any narrow sense with the desire of building up this borough at the expense of the other boroughs, for the reader will observe that the writers evidence an equal pride in advantages distinctively the possession of the Borough of Manhattan. We are first of all New Yorkers — citizens of no mean city — and proud of the fact. But our particular field of activity is the Borough of the Bronx, and we know that whatever tends to the upbuilding of this borough redounds to the credit, prestige, and glory of our common city.”
The editors of The Great North Side really never saw the realization of their goals. The population increased and the borough was developed, but not in the way they envisioned.
What was once a roomy borough with splendid homes and wide open spaces became overdeveloped. The construction of the subway in the early part of the 20th century brought land development, a building boom and hundreds of thousands of people to the Bronx.
By the 1930s many of the fine old homes had been demolished and large parcels of land were subdivided and developed with apartment buildings.
In the 1950s Robert Moses cut the Bronx’s jugular. Moses’ Cross Bronx Expressway bulldozed a wide swath of the Bronx destroying thriving neighborhoods and essentially splitting the Bronx in two halves.
The Bronx began a long and steady decline into crime, poverty and what was called “white flight,” with many white families moving to the suburbs.
Housing projects became dangerous, landlords burned their own buildings for insurance money and drugs and despair permeated much of the borough.
Perhaps the pinnacle of the Bronx’s downward spiral occurred during the great blackout of July 13-14, 1977 when looting and fires decimated many areas that were already under great duress.
President Jimmy Carter toured the South Bronx on October 5, 1977 to see the blight firsthand. The president stopped his limo twice to get out and see renovation projects and speak with local residents. People asked the president to “get us jobs,” and give us money.
The Bronx became ignominiously world famous through a 1981 movie Fort Apache, The Bronx starring Paul Newman. The title coming from the South Bronx’s main police precinct , nicknamed Fort Apache by the police who feel like soldiers surrounded by hostiles in the old west. It was not a flattering portrayal of the Bronx.
Things began to turn around in the early 1990s. The Bronx is on the rebound now. Crime is down, population is up and new businesses are opening. Even though there are still many problems there is optimism that things will continue to improve.
The Bronx has few remnants of its 19th century past. The goals of the Bronx civic leaders who wrote The Great North Side may not have been fulfilled according to their aspirations. Those long dead civic leaders would probably not recognize much of the Bronx’s 21st century landscape. What they would recognize is the common hope for prosperity and a better life that its residents all desire.