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Boulevard of Dreams

Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx

Constance Rosenblum

Publication Year: 2009

Stretching over four miles through the center of the West Bronx, the Grand Boulevard and Concourse, known simply as the Grand Concourse, has gracefully served as silent witness to the changing face of the Bronx, and New York City, for a century. Now, a New York Times editor brings to life the street in all its raucous glory.

Designed by a French engineer in the late nineteenth century to echo the elegance and grandeur of the Champs Elysées in Paris, the Concourse was nearly twenty years in the making and celebrates its centennial in November 2009. Over that century it has truly been a boulevard of dreams for various upwardly mobile immigrant and ethnic groups, yet it has also seen the darker side of the American dream. Constance Rosenblum unearths the colorful history of this grand street and its interlinked neighborhoods. With a seasoned journalist's eye for detail, she paints an evocative portrait of the Concourse through compelling life stories and historical vignettes. The story of the creation and transformation of the Grand Concourse is the story of New York—and America—writ large, and Rosenblum examines the Grand Concourse from its earliest days to the blighted 1960s and 1970s right up to the current period of renewal. Beautifully illustrated with a treasure trove of historical photographs, the vivid world of the Grand Concourse comes alive—from Yankee Stadium to the unparalleled collection of Art Deco apartments to the palatial Loew's Paradise movie theater.

An enthralling story of the creation of an iconic street, an examination of the forces that transformed it, and a moving portrait of those who called it home, Boulevard of Dreams is a must read for anyone interested in the rich history of New York and the twentieth-century American city.

Published by: NYU Press

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

I’d especially like to thank Sam Goodman, Mark Caldwell, Thomas Mellins, Lloyd Ultan, Evelyn Gonzalez, Mark Naison, Jerome Charyn, Marshall Berman, Leonard Kriegel, Arthur Gelb, Avery Corman, James Crocker, Gelvin Stevenson, Deborah Dash Moore, and Robert Caro, all of whom were...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-11

One scene takes place a few years after the Second World War in a tiny candy store called Philly’s, on Sheridan Avenue near 165th Street, just east of the broad, tree-lined boulevard that cut a majestic north-south swath through the borough. It is a September afternoon, and the place is jammed. Children...

I: A PROMENADE FOR THE BRONX

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1. “A Drive of Extraordinary Delightfulness”

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pp. 15-40

In the last half of the nineteenth century, the sparsely populated acres blanketing southern Westchester County—the territory that would one day be known as the Bronx—might have struck most New Yorkers as the dullest place on earth; the action in those years occurred largely in Manhattan. But...

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2. “Get a New Resident for the Bronx”

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pp. 41-58

The name Theodore Dreiser conjures images of the windswept prairies of the Midwest or the grimmer precincts of turn-of-the-century Manhattan, the place some of his more hapless characters end up. Between 1904 and 1906, however, this writer so closely associated with the heartland lived...

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3. “I Was Living in ‘a Modern Building’”

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pp. 59-84

The creation myth for the style known as Art Deco has a breathtaking simplicity. It decrees that Art Deco was born during a single glorious moment at a single glorious event—the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne held in Paris in 1925. The story is compelling and...

II: THE GOLDEN GHETTO

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4. “Something That Everybody Had in Awe”

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pp. 87-123

In the mid-1950s, the artist Franz Kline used the phrase “Miss Grand Concourse” to express his disdain for Ruth Kligman, the sexpot from New Jersey who was Jackson Pollock’s lover, the sole survivor of the car crash that hurled Pollock’s body into a tree and, with what everyone who hung out at the...

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5. “An Acre of Seats in a Garden of Dreams”

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pp. 125-139

Of all the memory-drenched spots along the Grand Concourse, the place remembered with the greatest fondness is almost certainly Loew’s Paradise, the gorgeous picture palace just south of Fordham Road. Decades after its heyday, the mere mention of its name elicits sighs, even among...

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6. “By the Waters of the Grand Concourse”

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pp. 141-157

In November 1945, in the wake of the Holocaust, the greatest cataclysm Jews the world over had ever known, a new magazine sponsored by the American Jewish Committee burst onto the American scene. The publication’s name was Commentary, and although its official goal was to engage young...

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7. The Grand Concourse of the Imagination

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pp. 159-174

Many memoirists and a few novelists have drawn compelling portraits of what it was like to live on and near the Grand Concourse during the years of its greatest fame, portraits ranging in tone from grim to sugarcoated. One of the most revealing depictions, however, takes the form of a long-out-of-print first...

III: TO HELL AND BACK

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8. “The Borough of Abandonment”

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pp. 177-200

Executive Towers, the last luxury apartment house on the boulevard to be built with private money, opened at 165th Street in June 1963. With its wave-shaped balconies punctuating a curvy façade of glazed white brick, the twenty-three-story building looked like a vagabond from the Upper East Side...

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9. Who Killed the Concourse?

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pp. 201-214

People looking for someone or something to blame for the tumultuous changes washing over the Grand Concourse didn’t have to look far. Co-op City, the cluster of brick towers on the great sweep of marshland along the Hutchinson River, emerged as so potent a symbol of the dismal fortunes...

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10. “Bends in the Road”

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pp. 215-228

One unseasonably warm evening in the autumn of 2005, a group of Bronx residents came together to talk about the place where they lived. The gathering, held at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, was the first in a series of events examining how a thoroughfare draped in memories could...

Sources

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pp. 229-242

Bibliography

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pp. 243-252

Index

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pp. 253-266

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About the Author

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pp. 267-

Constance Rosenblum, the longtime editor of the City section of the New York Times, is the author of Gold Digger: The Outrageous Life and Times of Peggy Hopkins Joyce and the editor of New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of the New York Times, available from NYU Press. Previously...


E-ISBN-13: 9780814777404
E-ISBN-10: 0814777406
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814776087
Print-ISBN-10: 0814776086

Page Count: 279
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.) -- Social conditions.
  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Grand Concourse (New York, N.Y.) -- History.
  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.) -- History.
  • Jews -- New York (State) -- New York -- History.
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