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Thread: Is the South Bronx Hip?

  1. #1

    Default Is the South Bronx Hip?

    Village Voice article on artists in the Boogie Down:

    Is the South Bronx the New Williamsburg?

    Loft Living
    by Chanel Lee
    November 13 - 19, 2002

    Three years ago, Timothy Lum spotted his dream apartment—three thousand miles away.

    Every day for six months he scanned The New York Times apartment listings from his San Francisco home. Every day he spied the same ad for a 5000 square-foot loft space. After a few weeks he wondered why no one had jumped on such a prime piece of real estate.

    "If it’s a place that big and no one wants it, well, I want it," he said. Having already lived in Oakland, Baltimore, and Richmond, he knew that kind of a large space is extremely hard to come by; it would be perfect for a working artist like himself, and is extremely hard to come by. Not knowing how long it would go undiscovered, he rented the space for an astounding $2400 per month.

    Once he arrived in New York he quickly realized why the place had remained vacant for so long. He had not moved into one of the traditional hipster neighborhoods, tailor-made for artists and their hangers-on, a yuppie enclave, or even an old-school, working-class locale. Timothy Lum had unwittingly moved one of the last bastions of urban hell—the South Bronx.

    Not that Lum would agree with that assessment. He is one of a growing group of artists who have embraced this toughest of neighborhoods as their own. If this looks like the beginning of the same gentrification-cum-displacement song and dance, look again. Many of the artists who now call this area home have themselves escaped from once artist-friendly enclaves like SoHo, Fort Greene, and Williamsburg, and have committed themselves to breathing new life into an area that has long been stagnant—without displacing the people that give the South Bronx its character. The artists have encouraged and provided venues for local neighborhood artists to show their work, spoken out against the health problems that plague the area (the South Bronx has the highest percentage of juvenile asthmatics in the nation), fought to preserve community gardens, and teamed with existing community groups to spark action.

    "We want to create a nexus of community involvement so that people can find volunteer opportunities to plug into right away instead of smoking the night away at some bar," says artist and community activist Harry Bubbins. "We should always welcome new people and new ideas."

    The good intentions of the nascent South Bronx artists' collective may soon be tested, however. Brooklyn-based developer Carnegie Management Corporation is putting the finishing touches on the conversion of the long-neglected Estey Piano Factory at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard into the first of 155 loft spaces, topping out at about 1500 square feet, and renting for $950 to $1700 per month—rents absolutely unheard of this far uptown.

    The first tenants moved in in September. By November 1, 54 units were completed, with the entire building to be finished within a year. Plans are in place to open restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and even a 3000-square-foot art gallery on the first floor of the building. Carnegie co-manager Isaac Jacobs has already been "inundated with phone calls" for applications, and boldly predicts that 121 Lincoln will be the center of the area. "The South Bronx will be the next Williamsburg," he said. "This is the new frontier."

    In an era where home is less where the heart is than where the cool people are, Jacobs’s words are enough to strike fear into those lucky few whose neighborhoods haven’t already been overrun by Cosmo-sipping trendoids and bohos with platinum cards. As many of the South Bronx's newer residents have experienced displacement firsthand, they understand all too well that improvement breeds popularity. It may be inevitable, as many other neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Astoria have suffered the same fate due to their relatively cheap rents, available living space, and proximity to Manhattan. The South Bronx already experienced a mini-boom in the 1980s due to a burgeoning art scene and the growth of the already well-known Antiques District along Bruckner Boulevard.

    "I know people here are afraid of [being forced out of their neighborhood because it has happened in so many other places," says Carol Zukaluk, who, except for college in Binghamton and a five-year stint in San Francisco, has lived in the South Bronx for all of her 46 years. "We do not fear gentrification; we fear displacement. We want the drug dealers to leave. We want the people with severe mental problems to be taken care of. We welcome gentrification and its benefits for all these reasons." The truth is that displacement is probably not a great threat, simply because housing projects and highways circle the area around 121 Lincoln. "We don’t want the hardworking, blue-collar people to leave, no way."

    Many of those hardworking people, like Zukaluk, have seen the South Bronx through some very hard times. The neighborhood became infamous in the 1970’s when news crews beamed pictures of the 40 to 50 blazes the New York fire department battled per day into the living rooms of middle America. City services abandoned the area, elevated trains began skipping stops there, and, worst of all, landlords began burning down their own buildings to collect insurance, to the delight of destitute tenants eligible for public housing as a result. Parts of the area were razed for parking lots. A wrong turn through the South Bronx even cost a self-proclaimed Upper West Side "master of the universe" his livelihood in Tom Wolfe’s 1987 novel Bonfire of the Vanities (the film's pivotal scenes were actually filmed underneath the Bruckner Expressway). Before long, the area became history's most familiar image of urban blight—an image, Zukaluk says, that will not be easily erased from the minds of New Yorkers. "It's stigmatized, the name South Bronx," she says.

    That stigma is the only thing keeping the South Bronx from becoming the city's newest yuppie enclave, at least for the time being. "Frankly, I don’t think people will be able to overcome the reputation of the South Bronx," states local artist Tia Phillips, who co-owns Storage Art Space gallery on Bruckner Boulevard, soon to relocate to 121 Lincoln. "It’s going to be a certain kind of person who would be willing to settle [here], someone who wants the space, not the trendiness. I think there will be a slew of people who will take advantage of the storage space but it will only go so far."

    In addition, the area's current lack of amenities, coupled with its decidedly industrial feel, have not helped the would-be boom. Even as the neighborhood's art scene grows, many downtown artists still regard it as a curiosity, and are content to show there but not to live there. Some who do reside in the area use their homes as little more than a mailing address, to the chagrin of the artists who call the South Bronx home.

    "Most people are still very Manhattan-centric, attracted to the cheap rent here and still doing shows in Manhattan," says Bubbins. "It's very important for conscious people to reach out to each other. You have people holed up in their loft space, creating insignificant art and are only out for themselves. It's happening already."

    On the other hand, Phillips, who herself found Williamsburg overpriced and "really out of hand with the trendiness" finds her home of three years to be charming and romantic. "The people here were really nice. It was just people, not just a scene."

    "I was scared when I first moved here, because you hear so many things about the South Bronx," says Storage Art Space co-owner David Graham. "But the people here were so nice and encouraging, supportive and fantastic." Often, he says, lines have formed around the block for shows at Storage, complete with salsa blaring (on request) from an upstairs window. Hopefully, such community interaction will be the hallmark of a partnership between socially aware artists and a neighborhood long in search of creative stimulation.

    "Living in Williamsburg is basically all about saying you live in Williamsburg, sort of like a label that people wear now," says Phillips. I think [the South Bronx boom] will be a small boom, a nice little community. It’s going to be a positive thing, a more sincere thing, because there will be more artistic integrity."

    "It’s just starting," says Lum. "This is a real up-and-coming space."

    "This is not a gentrification," says Graham plainly. "This is a revitalization."

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    NYC - Hoboken

    Default Is the South Bronx Hip?

    Its nice to see that this area may come back. *However I think it will take a whole different generation before it could really take off. *Too many of us (me included) have had a lifetime of seriously negative exposure to the south Bronx

  3. #3

    Default Is the South Bronx Hip?

    OK, so now we have South Bronx, Harlem, Lower East Side, Hell's Kitchen taken care of... *The drug dealers will soon have to move out to the suburbs, 'cause pretty much every blighted neighborhood in NY will be gentrified, and fit for yuppie consumption. *I'm loving this.

  4. #4

    Default Is the South Bronx Hip?

    I remember driving through the South Bronx in 1982 and being absolutely appalled. Every second building seemed to be a burnt out shell. It reminded me of Berlin at the end of the war. Those were the days.
    *Surely it must have improved by now? If not, what is holding it back?

  5. #5

    Default Is the South Bronx Hip?

    I doubt the dealers will move into the burbs, maybe Mt. Vernon/Yonkers in Westchester, Jersey, and Some L.I. but all in all I highly doubt the 1 million pricetag of a house in Scarsdale will be spare change for your local run of the mill corner crack dealer.

    Now my question is, when will the Yuppies move into East New York.

  6. #6


    January 30, 2004

    In the South Bronx, the Arts Beckon


    Jennifer Jade Ledesna at G-Bar and Los Auténticos at Willie's.

    Every Thursday night, a slick restaurant called the G-Bar attracts a professional crowd with live jazz, lobster ravioli and valet parking. It's one block from a 900-seat concert hall, around the corner from a soon-to-open Spanish rock nightspot, just west of where a theater group is building a $2 million performance space.

    This is the South Bronx?

    Drop the question mark. This is the South Bronx. The same place that suffers from a nasty reputation that gets nastier the farther away you get. New Yorkers and regular visitors might have heard about massive housing investments, new loft space for artists and sharply reduced crime. For others the old images are probably more entrenched: Fort Apache. Jimmy Carter comes to Charlotte Street. The Bronx is burning.

    The South Bronx is still no paradise, as any housing project resident or child asthma sufferer will tell you. But on a recent evening wine glasses and Corona bottles clinked and ties were loosened at the G-Bar as patrons heard the jazz repertory of 22-year-old Jennifer Jade Ledesna, a Bronx native who sang a trilingual set of Afro-Cuban boleros, Brazilian bossa nova and American jazz standards. Ms. Ledesna, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican, sang from under her wild curls from the back of the warm-hued wooden dining area. She was accompanied by musicians who included the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra pianist Eric Lewis. The following week the two would perform at Chez Suzette in Midtown. But this night, the Bronx.

    The Bronx has never lacked for musical talent, from doo-wop to salsa to hip-hop, but these days things are different. "The big change is it was always rich culturally, but we were venue poor," said Wally Edgecombe, the director of the arts program at Hostos Community College since 1982. In 1994 a 900-seat concert hall was built (along with a repertory theater and art gallery); previously, Mr. Edgecombe attracted big names like Celia Cruz and Dizzy Gillespie, but they had to perform in the school's gym.

    The Bronx Tourism Council has even made a formal effort to attract people with the Bronx Culture Trolley, a bus that takes visitors on a structured visit of arts spots the first Wednesday of most months.

    But striking out on your own can be fun, and the G-Bar at 150th Street and the Grand Concourse is a good place to start. The G-Bar literally grew out of Giovanni's, a pizza and pasta takeout place with a big local following (as evidenced by the movement of delivery cars). When the business behind the pizza shop closed, the owners, three brothers, decided to turn it into an upscale Italian restaurant and bar. That was 2001, and it was almost immediately a success, frequented by Bronxites and courthouse, government and social-service workers whose offices are nearby. Last year, when the deli next door closed, G-Bar expanded further, adding a chic, sinuous wavy bar with an overhanging balcony.

    Caribbean Poetry

    One block west on Walton Avenue the 25-year-old Pregones Theater recently staged "Baile Cangrejero" (loosely rendered as "Dance of the Freed Slaves," from the name of a San Juan neighborhood where freed slaves gathered) in an intimate space called La Casa Blanca, which the company will continue to use until its new 100-seat hall is ready. "Baile Cangrejero," a performance of Caribbean poetry, much of it exploring the variegated racial identity of the Hispanic Caribbean, was chanted, interpreted, acted out and otherwise performed by the actors Jorge B. Merced and Sandra Rodriguez, accompanied by a four-person band.

    The first poem, performed in both Spanish and English (with translations by the associate director, Alvan Colón), was "And Your Grandma, Where's She At?" It told the story of a family ashamed of their dark-skinned grandmother. Mr. Merced mesmerized the crowd with an energy level so high that his eyes seemed ready to burst from his head. The audience chanted along with the Caribbeanized Spanish version of the title: "Y Tu Abuela, A'onde Ehta?"

    On that night, the crowd was mostly Puerto Rican and the intimacy of the space made the performance seem as much like dialogue as a performance.

    The small stage will stay open after the new theater is built. "When they get done with what they're going to do, this is going to be a hot little corner," said Mr. Edgecombe, who took over the Hostos arts program in 1982 and has been one of the South Bronx's biggest boosters ever since.

    The Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture, built together with the new college campus at the major subway junction of 149th Street and the Grand Concourse, opened in 1994. Its various sites held almost 300 events in the 2002-3 season, attracting 85,000 people, Mr. Edgecombe said. Orquesta Aragón, the Cuban charanga group, sold out last fall; this coming season Hostos will present the salsa pianist Larry Harlow and the Puerto Rican reggaeton rapper Daddy Yankee. The performance hall also attracts big-name dance groups. Mr. Edgecombe brokers events with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem that allow them to rehearse at Hostos in exchange for a performance.

    And at the same time Hostos's halls shift easily into community-event mode, as evidenced earlier this month with the 11th annual Three Kings Day celebration, which brought together Mexican mariachi, Puerto Rican bomba and traditional Andean music from groups around the city for $12 admission.

    Downtown Bronx

    With all this arts activity, not to mention parallel efforts in housing development and commercial enterprise, some have suggested renaming the neighborhood the Downtown Bronx. The idea has yet to catch on, in much the same way that few have cared to drop the Hell's Kitchen image in favor of kinder, gentler Clinton. But the name will get a boost next month when the Downtown Bronx Cafe and Bar opens on 149th Street and Walton Avenue, filling a big gap in the local Latin music scene by focusing on rock en Español.

    Spanish-language rock groups like Maná have always played second fiddle to salsa, merengue, bachata and Latin pop in New York City, despite their immense popularity in Latin America. That bothers Oswaldo Mejía and his cousins Otto and Alfonso Conde, three Guatemalan immigrants in their 30's who resent having to go to Queens to hear the music they love. So they are opening their own business: a 2,500-square-foot restaurant and bar that on weekend nights will have D.J.'s spinning groups like Hombres G (G-Men), Héroes del Silencio (Heroes of Silence) and Enanitos Verdes (Green Dwarves).

    Arts activity is hardly limited to the two square blocks around Hostos. Ten blocks south Aronne Baietti, a commercial fisherman by trade, opened the Blue Ox on Third Avenue and 139th Street a little more than a year ago to serve a growing group of local professionals looking for a place to kick back. Today the bar still provokes pedestrian double takes. It looks completely out of place, as if some tornado had swept it off the Upper East Side and planted it in the Bronx.

    But on the inside it's just a friendly watering hole that serves inexpensive mixed drinks and questionable frozen pizza. The bar holds poetry readings on Bronx Culture Trolley nights, and two Tuesdays a month it is taken over by the Acentos Poetry Series. Despite the name, which means "accents" in Spanish, the work is mostly in English with a few Spanish terms thrown in.

    Acentos always has a headliner — the first January event featured Hector Rivera of the Welfare Poets — but the meat of the evening was the open-mike session, where more than a score of poets read and performed before a friendly, encouraging crowd of 40 (half of whom, of course, were poets themselves).

    The performer to make the strongest impression called himself Harlym 125, a teacher by day who gave a loud, fiery discourse about the state of urban education that, were it not so coherent, would have qualified as a rant. Everyone took a hit — from President Bush, an easy target in this crowd, to teachers who do not take action to change the fate of their students, an admonition that may have resonated with some participants.

    "That was dope, dude," said Oscar Bermeo, the show's master of ceremonies, after raucous applause. "The next time, more intensity, a'ight?" Mr. Bermeo, whose organization, louderARTS, holds similar events downtown, said later that the site makes the event: "If we did the same thing in Manhattan, we'd probably have two or three times the crowd. But it's not about that. It's about the opportunity to say, `Yo, I read in the Bronx.' "

    A Special Living Room

    Five blocks down Third Avenue the interdisciplinary artist Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz and her husband, José Ortiz, have created an innovative place for the venturesome. The couple hold a gathering about every other month in which Ms. Ortiz displays her art and a band performs Latin music. The event, open to the public, is called "Mi Sala." Despite the name — Spanish for "my living room" — the crowd mostly speaks English; admission is $15.

    Their building, 220 East 134th Street, is just off Third Avenue, four blocks and a turn from the No. 6 train. The walk to its warehouse on an industrial dead-end block can seem intimidating until you remember that crime in the 40th Precinct is one-third its level 10 years ago. Once you've arrived inside, wariness gives way to awe: their living space — including Mr. Ortiz's recording studio — measures 3,100 square feet. To a Manhattan apartment dweller, this seems more like 3,100 acres.

    But the size is not half as interesting as what fills it — walls with murals painted by Ms. Ortiz, an open bar manned by friendly neighbors, Mr. Ortiz at the D.J. booth, a k a the kitchen, under a neon sign that reads "Rican Struction." At the December event "Mi Sala" attracted an upbeat, informal, eclectic crowd, ranging across ethnic and generational lines. Ms. Ortiz, her hair in a gravity-defying ponytail and wearing leg warmers that made her seem like a grown-up Puerto Rican Punky Brewster, pulled the willing and not so willing onto the dance floor when the band played salsa and other Latin rhythms.

    "Mi Sala" has, at times, inspired its guests to consider major life changes. Han Van Hees, a physical therapist from Bellmore, N.Y., attended a "Mi Sala" party a while back and came away "very impressed by the whole aura." Recently he was back in the neighborhood, this time by day to scout out potential real-estate investments. The plan: move his wife and pets from the relative peace — and, for him, boredom — of Long Island into a South Bronx building he can renovate. (His college-age daughter has already taken dibs on the top floor of whatever he buys.)

    A BAAD! Place

    There will be no "Mi Sala" in February, but it will be replaced by, as if it were possible, a more idiosyncratic event. The Ortizes are lending their space to their friend Sandra García Rivera, a writer and singer, to hold La Feria del Beso II, or, as she translates it, the Kiss Fair II, on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day. She will sing boleros, or romantic ballads, with her band and there will be a kissing booth as well as other "sensual surprises."

    Farther east, the Hunts Point peninsula, which in the mid-20th century was a hot spot for Latin clubs, has bounced back today with film festivals, art shows and theatrical and musical events, based mostly at the constantly buzzing Point Community Development Corporation, known as the Point, at 940 Garrison Avenue. Nearby in the Bank Note building at 841 Barreto Street is the Bronx Academy for Arts and Dance, or BAAD!, home to Arthur Aviles Typical Theater, a dance company, and host to several festivals throughout the year.

    Northeast of Hunts Point, perhaps not physically in the South Bronx but there in spirit, is Willie's Steak House on Westchester Avenue between Thieriot and Taylor Avenues under the elevated No. 6 train. It is an old-school version of the G-Bar, where steak and plantains substitute for veal and linguine. Wednesdays and, starting recently, Fridays bring in the crowds for Latin jazz. On Saturdays a more family-oriented audience comes in to hear Puerto Rican guitar-playing trios sing ballads that have the extraordinary power to make listeners nostalgic for someone else's home country.

    On a recent Saturday evening the trio Los Auténticos was playing, the bar was bustling and the tables were crowded. On one side of the dining room a long table of 14 women and one man (O.K., a 2-year-old boy named Kaylon) ate under bunches of balloons as they celebrated several birthdays of group members. Unfortunately they did it without the cake because the party's organizer, 62-year-old Neyda Sigmone, had left it in the limousine, but Los Auténticos made up for it by singing them a bilingual happy birthday.

    On the other side of the room, Elias Martinez, a 69-year-old lawyer, was having dinner with his wife, Lucy, at the same table where they have been eating dinners for years. They go to Willie's for the food, which ranges from porterhouse and pork chops to Puerto Rican dishes like the soupy stew called asopao and fried green plantains. But even more they go for the music. "It's the kind of music that never dies," Mr. Martinez said. "It's part of our custom. It's part of our heritage."

    One could think that Willie's and the G-Bar might see each other as competition, but that is not the way it works in the South Bronx. Kenneth Giordano, the proprietor of Willie's, helped the G-Bar book its acts when it first opened, and so far, just about everyone's attitude is, the more venues the merrier. The scene, it would appear, is barely in its reborn infancy.

    What to See

    The sites in the article on the South Bronx.

    THE BLUE OX, corner of 139th Street and Third Avenue, Mott Haven, No. 6 train to 138th Street, (718) 402-1045.

    BRONX ACADEMY OF ARTS AND DANCE, 841 Barreto Street, Second floor, Hunts Point, (718) 842-5223, No. 6 train to Hunts Point Avenue. Tomorrow at 3 p.m., an open rehearsal and preview of "The Disco Project," a new work by the Arthur Aviles Typical Theater, to open in April; seating is limited and reservations are advised. Donation, $5; free for the first 20 people (

    BRONX CULTURE TROLLEY, leaves from Hostos Community College, Longwood Art Gallery at the Hostos Center, 450 Grand Concourse at 149th Street, Mott Haven, (718) 931-9500 Ext. 33. Feb. 4 and on the first Wednesday of the month at 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. ( Free.

    DOWNTOWN BRONX CAFE AND BAR, 141 East 149th Street, Mott Haven, (718) 585-5255. Trains: Nos. 2, 4 or 5 to 149th Street/Grand Concourse. Opens next month.

    G-BAR, 575 Grand Concourse, at 150th Street, (718) 402-6996. Trains: Nos. 2, 4 or 5 to 149 Street/Grand Concourse (

    HOSTOS CENTER FOR THE ARTS AND CULTURE, Hostos Community College, 450 Grand Concourse at 149th Street, Mott Haven, (718) 518-4455. Trains: Nos. 2, or 5 to 149 Street/Grand Concourse ( On Feb. 4 at 10:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., a performance by the Forces of Nature Dance Theater; tickets, $5.

    "MI SALA," 220 East 134th Street off Third Avenue, Mott Haven, (718) 665-7470. Train: No. 6 to 138th Street.

    THE POINT, 940 Garrison Avenue, at Manida Street, Hunts Point, (718) 542-4139, No. 6 train to Hunts Point Avenue (www.thepoint .org). On view through mid-March, "Vantage Point 11," an exhibition of photographs by students at the International Center of Photography at the Point; viewing hours, 9 a.m to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays. Also, silk-painting workshops every Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m.

    PREGONES THEATER, at La Casa Blanca, 571-575 Walton Avenue, between 149th and 150th Streets, (718) 585-1202. On Feb. 4 at 6:10 and 7:10 p.m., a concert by the Bronx Arts Ensemble. Trains: Nos. 2,4,5 to 149th Street/Grand Concourse (

    WILLIE'S STEAK HOUSE, 1832 Westchester Avenue, between Thieriot and Taylor Avenues, (718) 822-9697. No. 6 train to St. Lawrence Avenue.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  7. #7


    I think you'll definitely see a decently big Latin arts/music scene in the Bronx. For the most part, it's always had one, just folks who aren't from the Bronx might come up and check it out. This is mostly indicitive of how this town is way less parochial than it used to be. Stuff has always been out there, it's just that now people aren't intimidated or scared of going to unfamiliar areas or venues like they were 10 or 20 years ago.

    What you will never see is the SoHo/TriBeCa/Lower East Side/Williamsburg scene there, for the simple reason that it's way too far from Downtown Manhattan. You might get a couple of people trying to start something, but access to Lower Manhattan is still what really fuels that scene.

  8. #8

  9. #9
    Forum Veteran
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    Jan 2003
    Garden City, LI


    Man, this would be nice, artist housing for the Bronx. I would love to see more of this all over the city. It's very important.


    Borough President Carrión wants to bring artists to the South Bronx, and local residents are bracing for big changes.

    By Carolyn Bigda

    The Blue Ox bar sits amidst the South Bronx's vacant manufacturing buildings and public housing high rises--an area Tom Wolfe characterized as a "war zone" in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. But stepping into the bar is like entering a different world. Inside, white candles glow on the tables and copper-top bar. Paintings by local artists hang on the brick walls and an acoustic guitar sits in one of the paned-glass windows.
    "There is no place like this south of 161st Street," says Aronne Baietti, the owner. "People call it a beacon of hope in the neighborhood."

    That hope is gathering force: In February, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, Jr., announced that his office and the Department of City Planning are considering rezoning a large section of Port Morris, the southeast Bronx neighborhood bordered by the East River. Once home to piano, garment and ironworks manufacturers, many of the old factories have been abandoned since the 1970s, when most of the port activity moved to New Jersey and service jobs began to dominate New York's economy. Carrión, an urban planner by trade, thinks these properties are ideal as live-work spaces for artists and small businesses. He has put his borough's planners to the task of studying his idea, and it could go into effect as soon as next year.

    Market forces are the impetus: Soaring rents in industrial-turned-trendy areas like Soho, Dumbo and Williamsburg have artists looking for more affordable loft space. With empty warehouses offering the high ceilings and natural light artists desire, as well as proximity to public transportation and major roadways, Port Morris has become the next frontier.

    "What's happening is just organic," says Carrión. "Artists who are always pushing the envelope, because they need space and affordability, have started coming here."

    He is confident that the change could help the entire neighborhood. Port Morris' 26,900 households earn an average of just $16,000 a year, in a borough where unemployment is about 11 percent, significantly more than the citywide average. Carrión has some convincing to do, however. Many local residents fear they will be left out as jobs for which they are unqualified pop up around them.

    "The rezoning is good if it is giving people jobs and opportunities to learn," says Isabelle Johnson, president of the tenant association at the nearby Mitchel Houses. "It is not so good if it is looking to bring people in."

    Port Morris of 2003 is not unlike Soho of the 1970s. Once teeming with trucks and businesses that made everything from zippers to leather, the latter area slowly cleared out as manufacturers sought larger, more modern facilities west of the city, and as succeeding generations declined to work in family-owned factories. Artists discovered large, cheap studio space in the blocks south of Houston Street and began moving in by the thousands. While the city resisted having them there at first, the artists ultimately won zoning changes that created the community of lofts and galleries.

    Over the years, the area boomed with high-end shops and restaurants and rising rents, pushing out some longtime tenants and ultimately the very artists who made the place.

    Whether Port Morris will face the same fate is unclear. But a pilot program started six years ago to revitalize a strip of old factories and row houses along Bruckner Boulevard may offer a hint of what's to come.

    In 1997, the city redesignated three blocks of row houses from manufacturing space to mixed residential and commercial properties. Since then, the buildings have filled up with antique shops, art studios and galleries, creating the Art and Antique District.

    "We've taken on a physical blight and turned it into a unique area," says Neil Pariser, vice president of the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, which has invested about $1 million to spruce up the area with new sidewalks, trees and decorative lighting. "The street has its own cachet and own style."

    The group's initiatives also include the Bronx Venture Center, a "smart" office building on East 137th Street that is wired for internet access and leased at low cost, thanks to reduced-interest loans and a grant from the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation.

    And the artists are moving in. The Clock Tower Building, once home to the Estey Piano factory, was renovated last year and has started renting out live-and-work space.

    With all these changes, rents have already started rising. "About four years ago I rented my store for around $800. Now I am paying $1,500," says Reies Aguare, manager of David's Antiques. And that's on the low side, according to SOBRO, which estimates average commercial rents are up to $2,500 a month.

    Already, the first wave of new shops may be on their way out. The downturn in the economy and the lack of foot traffic in the area have hurt business. If things don't improve, shop owners say they will close down in the next few months.

    "I used to make $2,000 to $3,000 a month in profit," says Alberto Penafiel, owner of Jenny's Antiques. "Now I take money from my other store"--F & J Furniture, on Tiffany Street--"in order to cover the expenses." His rent is slated to go up by more than 80 percent, to $1,500, in September.

    "We need to have a lot more people coming by," says Aguare. "I might be closing pretty soon after eight years of trying my best."

    Part of the reason for this business trouble, say some longtime Port Morris residents, is the awkward marriage between the needs and interests of local residents and the artists and art dealers who are moving in. "People in the neighborhood don't know about Antique Road," says Rafael Bueno, executive director of the Cherry Tree Association, a community organization. "The development is coming from the outside. Artists are moving in from somewhere else."

    A better strategy for the area, he says, would be to create mixed-income housing and jobs that pay a living wage. "We need training for people to get jobs with a living wage and a working waterfront to provide those jobs," he says. "Right now, it seems people will come in their cars, do their business there and then leave their trash behind."

    Luis Cerezo, a long-time resident of Mitchel Houses and president of Cherry Tree, agrees. "We need to have a big company come in, a factory of some sort, that will hire a lot of people from the community."

    Carrión says he recognizes these issues, and plans to do what he can to mitigate them. Rezoning the area from the Major Deegan Expressway south to the Harlem Rail Yards, and between the Third Avenue and Triborough bridges, he says, would help. Artists will help draw more restaurants, retail shops and other stores to the area, which will provide jobs and boost business for stores that are already there. "The support services for a neighborhood aren't there yet, but they'll come as the population increases," says Paula Caplan, Carri"n's deputy director for planning and development.

    Carrión also says he hopes the Harlem Rail Yards can be redeveloped to create 2 million square feet of either retail or distribution space as another job-creating venture.

    In the meantime, Pariser says they plan to work to preserve existing industrial operations like the New York Post, S & J Sheet Metal Supply Inc., and City Waste Management, which he says together provide between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs in the South Bronx.

    "The choice for us is do we go the route of creating manual labor jobs with some technical skill, or do we go with the retail sector and service jobs? Either way, there's going to be several thousand jobs," Carrión says.

    As for displacement and gentrification, the borough president argues that these aren't issues in Port Morris because the population is so small. "We're not going to box people out," he says, "because they're not there."

    Some of the newcomers agree. "There is not going to be the overflow. There is a lot to be filled up all along the waterfront. You are not moving out the small Spanish restaurant for a trendy one," says David Graham, who opened Storage Art Space, a nonprofit gallery, in 2000.

    To keep artists in Port Morris, Graham suggests mimicking moves made in Peekskill, where buildings received government subsidies for renovations and were designated strictly for artists. Carrión says a similar formula for Port Morris is still being hammered out.

    In the meantime, the businesses that are there now are hoping to profit from busier roads.

    William "Willie" Williams stumbled upon the Blue Ox Bar while trying to beat traffic one day. "I turned off the highway, saw this place and thought I'd better check it out." Nestled in the corner of 139th Street and Third Avenue, the bar draws a regular crowd of artists and local entrepreneurs, as well as people like Williams, who lives in the north Bronx but comes for the relaxed atmosphere.

    "All the people you never knew who were here in the neighborhood are here at this bar," says Baietti, who bought the empty bodega in 2001 and transformed it into a bar. He's also renovated the upstairs apartment, and has settled in.

  10. #10


    The Clocktower building in Port Morris charges outrageous prices for space, not to mention the fact that it's not even legal for live/work space and the landlord greatly exaggerates the square footage. If anyone is thinking about moving there, think again.

  11. #11


    July 30, 2006
    Hipsters, Hard Times

    Slide Show: Opposite Faces

    THE aspiring artist, a 38-year old with stark blue eyes, thinning reddish-orange hair and a matching soul patch, took his seat in a corner of Haven Arts, an upstart gallery in a converted apartment building on Rider Avenue and 141st Street in Mott Haven.

    The artist, J. C. Rice, was nervous. Two years earlier, he had left a teaching job in Anchorage to live with his girlfriend, Jackie Davis, a ponytailed graduate student in social work at Hunter College, and to try his hand at being an artist. But his anxiety this evening involved something more specific than the task of adjusting to a new city. Back at his apartment, he had already drunk two glasses of Scotch to calm his nerves, because, as he put it, “I’m not totally over just looking at a naked stranger.”

    The model slipped off her sweats and began her poses for a weekly drawing class that is held at the gallery, as Mr. Rice, wearing paint-stained jeans, settled into his headphones and picked up a piece of charcoal.

    “Music’s good,” he said as he worked. “I didn’t have music last time.”

    After class, Mr. Rice headed south to unwind at the Bruckner Bar and Grill, which sits under the Third Avenue Bridge. Then he made his way to the loft apartment that he and Ms. Davis shared in the Clock Tower, a renovated piano factory around the corner at Lincoln Avenue near Bruckner Boulevard.

    Taisha Pearson, a 27-year-old with dark skin, short hair and long bangs, lives six blocks north of the Clock Tower, on Beekman Avenue. Her home is a cramped, subsidized three-bedroom apartment that she shares with her partner, Jose Cintron, the father of four of her five children, and her mother, Angela.

    On an overcast day last October, Ms. Pearson could be found in Room 625 of Bronx Supreme Court, awaiting a pretrial proceeding for Rene Bonilla, the man accused of killing her 10-year-old daughter, Naiesha.

    The killing occurred the evening of Sept. 5 at Saw Mill Playground, on 139th Street between Willis and Brook Avenues, where Ms. Pearson had gone for a barbecue with some friends and relatives.

    She was feeding a bottle to Tamia, her 4-month-old daughter, while Naiesha — NaNa to everyone who knew her — stood nearby watching as Leonardo Deaza, a family friend, fixed the seat of a bike she had won in a church raffle. According to one witness, Mr. Deaza had had an altercation with Mr. Bonilla earlier in the day.

    Whatever the circumstances, the bullets found not only Mr. Deaza, who was seriously injured, but also Naiesha. The moment Ms. Pearson heard the shots, still clutching her baby, she ran to Naiesha, arriving just as the girl slumped into her arms. That was when Ms. Pearson saw the blood.

    Naiesha was rushed to the operating room of Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center. Two hours later, the surgeon emerged to deliver the news: The bullet in the girl’s chest had been removed, but her heart had stopped.

    It was several weeks later that Ms. Pearson was waiting in the Bronx courtroom for Mr. Bonilla, who was charged with the second-degree murder of Naiesha and the attempted murder of Mr. Deaza. She was wearing a white T-shirt bearing a photo imprint of her daughter’s face. The next pretrial hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 12.

    Ballyhoo, Bullets

    J. C. Rice and Taisha Pearson represent the opposite faces of SoBro, as the energetically gentrifying South Bronx communities of Mott Haven, Port Morris and Melrose have been rechristened.

    Hipsters and artists have flocked to the three neighborhoods, which make up Community District 1, just across the Harlem River from Manhattan, to open fashionable businesses and find cheaper rents. There has been ballyhoo about the area’s changing face. But for Mr. Rice, the artist, and Ms. Pearson, the welfare mother who saw her child fatally shot, living in a community like Mott Haven couldn’t be more different.

    In the eyes of many longtime residents, the area’s dreary past continues to shadow its present. The area started failing in the 1970’s as drugs, violent crime and poverty overwhelmed it. Controlled rents combined with rising maintenance costs and an increasingly troubled population to produce waves of arson and looting. The Bronx burned, and the words “South Bronx” became synonymous with the arson, drugs and gangs that pummeled what was fast becoming one of the nation’s poorest areas.

    Although the borough started to revive in the 1980’s, reported felonies in Community District 1 increased, topping out at nearly 9,000 in 1990, and murders reached a peak of 84 in 1991, which ranked among the five highest totals in the city that year. The Bronx was no longer burning, it was bleeding.

    Then, unexpectedly, crime began to drop sharply across the city, leading to the redevelopment of formerly blighted neighborhoods with apartments designed to appeal to higher-income residents.

    Bruckner Boulevard, once a symbol of the area’s violence and blight, is perhaps the starkest example of change. Antique shops dot the street, and studio apartments at the Clock Tower rent for $1,500 a month. The Bruckner Bar and Grill serves arugula salad and chicken clubs with avocado.

    The city has encouraged that sort of development. In 1997, the City Planning Commission established a special mixed-use zoning district in Port Morris that allowed the conversion of several industrial buildings within a five-block area into businesses and apartments. Last year, the City Council approved rezoning of an additional 11 blocks to permit redevelopment of other vacant and underused buildings.

    “It just ain’t the old South Bronx here,” said Neil Pariser, senior vice president of the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit group whose mission is to keep businesses and jobs from fleeing the area. SoBro, a shorthand name for Mr. Pariser’s group, has spawned a moniker for the area and has become a catchy real estate label.

    But trouble persists. Residents of Mott Haven are 20 percent more likely to die of chronic lung disease than are other New Yorkers, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Community District 1 is home to some of the city’s most overcrowded and worst-performing schools. Add to that a concentration of guns and illegal drugs — last fall the police arrested 28 members of a gang accused of selling cocaine and heroin near public housing projects — and a neighborhood nickname that echoes SoHo strikes many as decidedly premature.

    In addition, the borough’s southernmost tip still provides relatively steady fodder for headlines about violence. Last year, 10 murders were reported in the 40th Police Precinct, which covers Melrose, Mott Haven and Port Morris. In October, a man delivering Chinese food was robbed and fatally shot in a vestibule in a Mott Haven apartment complex. And in a Halloween prank, a group of kids threw eggs at a man’s car and, when he protested, shot him to death.

    The killings seem to be rising. As of July 9, there had already been 9 murders in 2006. In February, police found a body under the Third Avenue Bridge, with a gunshot wound to the leg. In June a man was shot and killed at Club Naybar, a nightclub on Third Avenue in Mott Haven.

    After a steady decline, reports of shootings in the 40th Precinct have also risen, to 46 in 2005, from 31 the year before. But Sgt. Chris Murphy, who compiles crime statistics at the precinct, says that a better question than why shootings were up last year is “Why were they down for so long?”

    A few blocks north of where most of the newly arrived artists live, longtime residents refer to their neighborhood as the ghetto. Even Mr. Rice says the area can be shady at night. And Ms. Pearson says of the frequency of shootings in her neighborhood: “All the time. Even in broad daylight.”

    The recent influx of higher-income residents has not yet transformed the community. Capt. John J. Nicholson, commander of the 40th Precinct, says the community has made “real and positive” strides, but he cautions against downplaying the level of local crime. Drug dealing and gang violence are “entrenched,” he says, and the progress the police make is “incremental.”

    Ms. Pearson put it another way. “Every time you look on the news,” she said, “somebody’s dying.”

    Duct Tape and ‘Disrespect’

    At Christmastime, Naiesha smiled out from a color photograph on the front door of Ms. Pearson’s apartment, but today the door, bare of decoration, looks like any other in the building. Inside the apartment, a narrow hallway leads to a trio of cluttered bedrooms. Two duct-taped black vinyl couches furnish a modest living area, where one recent afternoon a television set with poor reception was playing reruns of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Appliances are crowded together in a back corner, and in Naiesha’s old bedroom, the family keeps a pit bull locked up.

    Ms. Pearson and Mr. Cintron, who met when they were children, are not married. For the most part they get along well, although both acknowledge that the relationship has its bumps, generally involving Mr. Cintron’s activities. A heavyset six-footer with a large Afro, Mr. Cintron, 30, has a benevolent demeanor that belies a troubled past; he has spent the last nine years in and out of jail for selling, as he puts it, “crack, dope and sometimes weed.”

    In the wake of his daughter’s death, he has vowed never to return to prison. But he has no job. He is trying to obtain disability insurance in connection with a broken leg he suffered playing football as a child and back injuries sustained in a car accident; those injuries, he says, have left him unable to do physical labor.

    For now, the family collects about $1,000 a month in welfare and food stamps, said Ms. Pearson, who is expecting a baby in late summer. She has looked for jobs at sneaker and clothing stores, she added, but never seems to get called back after the first interview.

    Mr. Cintron, meanwhile, realizes he could be a far more responsible member of the household. “I have a lot of respect for her,” Mr. Cintron said of his partner as his body sagged in one of the old couches. “You going to disrespect someone, disrespect me. I’m the bad one, not her.”

    Guitars and Granite Counters

    A few nights before his art class, Mr. Rice stood on the roof of the Clock Tower, throwing a ball to his Boston terrier while waiting for Ms. Davis to return from classes in Manhattan. He could see both the Empire State Building and the George Washington Bridge glowing in the distance.

    The couple’s loft was a 1,000-square-foot space with hardwood floors. Shelves lining the ceiling held speakers, boxes and a guitar case. In one corner stood a modern stove and refrigerator flanked by granite kitchen counters.

    The Carnegie Corporation had converted the old Estes Piano Factory into the Clock Tower after the 1997 rezoning, and Mr. Rice and Ms. Davis, who had lived briefly in Westchester with her parents, were attracted by the cheap rent. They settled on the Clock Tower in November 2004 and paid a starting rent of about $1,420; earlier this summer, they moved to a bigger and cheaper apartment around the corner.

    A few blocks north, people are buying historic town houses on Alexander Avenue for less than $500,000; some tenants rent apartments in them for $1,200 a month. The Corcoran Group, the Manhattan real estate firm, has started showing clients housing in the area.

    The Bruckner Bar and Grill, the only place nearby, Mr. Rice says, that “feels like Lower Manhattan,” is where many of the newcomers end up. The room is dark, lighted only by small candles on tables and a lamp above the bar. A baby grand sits in the corner. In a back room is a pool table surrounded by leather booths.

    Ms. Davis, who is 29, acknowledges that some local artists feel guilty about igniting a gentrification wave that could hurt longtime residents if it hasn’t hurt them already. Still, she and Mr. Rice plan to remain in the South Bronx for at least one more year. He has sold some paintings and splits time between administrative work at Haven Arts and a local community center, where he prepares ex-cons for high school equivalency exams.

    “I will be really interested to see what this place is like in 20 years,” Ms. Davis said while Mr. Rice stepped outside the bar to smoke a cigarette. But she worries that the current trend may not serve the community’s best interests. “It doesn’t need revitalization in the sense of new people,” she said. “It needs money.”

    Rosary, Roses

    Ms. Pearson held her head low as she walked up the long asphalt path to St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. It was a blustery Sunday morning, and the journey to her daughter’s plot had already been a trek. Most members of the family had driven there in a friend’s car, but because the car was small and there was not enough room for everyone, Ms. Pearson had to take the No. 6 subway and then the Bronx 42 bus.

    The section of the cemetery she was headed for was marked by a large white marble cross bearing the message “Those who put their faith in the Lord will live forever.” In the distance, Ms. Pearson saw Mr. Cintron and the rest of the family, who had arrived moments earlier for what had become a new weekly tradition: the Sunday visit to Naiesha’s grave.

    Everyone, even baby Tamia, who was wrapped in a blanket, gathered around the small granite headstone that bore the words “Beloved Daughter and Sister. Naiesha M. Cintron. 3-28-1995 — 9-5-2005.” The plot was dotted with stuffed animals, paper hearts and bundles of roses.

    Mr. Cintron hung a bright yellow rosary around the gravestone, then left with the children for the car.

    Ms. Pearson remained and stared at the stone for several minutes. Except for the hum of traffic from the Cross Bronx Expressway, there was no sound.

    She marveled at the pile of mementos surrounding her daughter’s grave. “Her stone looks nice,” she said.

    After blessing herself twice, she blew kisses toward the stone, then headed back to the path. “Is she all right?” Ms. Pearson wondered aloud as she walked away. “How’s she doing? Does she know we come over here?”

    She has vowed that she will visit the grave every Sunday for as long as she can. Though the trip makes her sad and angry because it reminds her of her daughter’s violent and random death, she will return, she said, “just to make sure she’s all right.”

    Where is her daughter now? “Heaven, probably playing,” Ms. Pearson said. “Playing around.”

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  12. #12


    Im going to have to look into this.

  13. #13


    Quote Originally Posted by jacek

    Now my question is, when will the Yuppies move into East New York.
    My question too. Or east flatbush for that matter. They're starting to colonize bushwick, so maybe anything is possible. Open up a few rock clubs and espresso bars and its a done deal.

  14. #14


    Hello, I am new to living in new york city and have a lot to learn. I actually will be living in the Clock Tower (that charges the outragous prices for apartments) Building. I went to visit, it's pretty neat looking. We have the top 3 floors including inside the clock itself. It's being transformed into a photography studio ( I am in charge of marketing at this particular studio. The clock tower's top 3 floors will be our new studio area area for 2 make up artists and myself. There's a lot of room and it will look great when finished. I come from a different part of the US and I've never heard of being able to use any apartments are you adding a sprial staircase (in the studios case we are). I think its very cool, not sure if it is illegal to do like the guy said above but I think the south bronx IS in fact up and coming. Very cool board though. Glad I found you all. half of expects you all the be complete assholes back to me lol and my other half expects you all to welcome me to new stereotypes. I apologize


  15. #15


    Quote Originally Posted by i_commit_sins
    Hello, I am new to living in new york city and have a lot to learn. I actually will be living in the Clock Tower (that charges the outragous prices for apartments) Building. I went to visit, it's pretty neat looking. We have the top 3 floors including inside the clock itself. It's being transformed into a photography studio ( I am in charge of marketing at this particular studio. The clock tower's top 3 floors will be our new studio area area for 2 make up artists and myself. There's a lot of room and it will look great when finished. I come from a different part of the US and I've never heard of being able to use any apartments are you adding a sprial staircase (in the studios case we are). I think its very cool, not sure if it is illegal to do like the guy said above but I think the south bronx IS in fact up and coming. Very cool board though. Glad I found you all. half of expects you all the be complete assholes back to me lol and my other half expects you all to welcome me to new stereotypes. I apologize

    Be careful not to sound like a broker and you'll fare well.

    Also helpful is that this forum is 90% male and atleast 70% of that population will appreciate your profile pic.

    Welcome to the Forum!

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