The Grand Boulevard and Concourse in the Bronx has a history as one of New York’s most dazzling, stylish thoroughfares. Opened to traffic on November 25, 1909, the Grand Concourse was at the center of the economic and population boom that transformed the borough in the following half-century.
The Grand Concourse was the concept of Alsace-Lorraine immigrant and civil engineer Louis Risse. Inspired by the celebrated boulevards of Paris, Risse designed the Grand Concourse as a four-mile long thoroughfare divided into three roadways by tree-lined dividers. Its broad sidewalks allowed for a lively street scene. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the Grand Concourse soon became the main parade route for the borough, the site of its government and the axis of an important shopping and entertainment district.
Subway service first came to the neighborhood in 1914, sparking a housing boom that continued for forty years. Initial enthusiasm was quickly dampened by World War I but the neighborhood emerged in the 1920s and 30s as a flourishing residential community. In the mid-1930s, almost three hundred elegant six-story elevator apartment buildings in the fashionable Art Deco style were built. These luxurious apartments attracted the borough’s wealthiest residents with their large rooms, cross-ventilation and uniformed doormen. The lobbies of many of the buildings feature elaborate decoration including mosaic walls and painted murals, terrazzo floors, incised elevator doors and gleaming metal accents. In its heyday, a Grand Concourse address was one of the most desirable in the city. The neighborhood was set apart architecturally by sleek lines, graceful curves, and geometric shapes inspired by the beauty and efficiency of modern machinery. The buildings show the development of the Art Deco style, from its more conservative decorative beginnings to the dramatic, streamlined design of later years. The neighborhood’s architectural quality embodies the exuberance and prosperity of the dawning modern industrial age that characterized the years following World War I.
Today, the Grand Concourse is lined with an incomparable concentration of Art Deco and Art Moderne apartment buildings. Much of their elegance has begun to fade, but the neighborhood’s proud history is evident. The majority of the structures in the proposed district were built between 1916 and 1941 in styles ranging from neo-Renaissance to the neighborhood’s renowned Art Deco. While the buildings represent a variety of styles, the apartment houses are closely related in materials, scale and use of ornamentation.
The neighborhood’s significance has already been recognized by its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. However, the protection afforded by a New York City landmarks designation is needed to prevent further insensitive changes to the buildings and encourage careful restorations. The Concourse’s architecture has been compromised in recent years with the replacement of the original steel casement windows with aluminum windows. In addition, the incursion of commercial establishments, which are not permitted under the area’s zoning, has had a detrimental effect on the streetscape. The oversight of the Landmarks Preservation Commission would go a long way in protecting the remaining historic features of the Concourse. The Bronx Landmarks Task Force and the Borough President’s Office have expressed their desire to see this important piece of New York’s heritage protected under landmarks law. HDC strongly supports the designation of this grand thoroughfare in the Bronx.
The Grand Concourse was partially designated on October 2011