Bronx Trilogy: The Bronx Was Burning (1955 to today)

PODCAST The trials and tribulations experienced by the Bronx through the mid and late 20th century.

In the third and final part of our Bronx history series, we tackle the most difficult period in the life of this borough — the late 20th century and the days and nights of urban blight.

The focus of this show is the South Bronx, once the tranquil farmlands of the Morris family and the location of the first commuter towns, situated along the new railroad.  By the 1950s, however, a great number of socio-economic forces and physical changes were conspiring to make life in this area very, very challenging.

Construction projects like the Cross Bronx Expressway and shifts in living arrangements (from new public housing to the promise of Co-Op City) had isolated those who still lived in the old tenements of the South Bronx. Poverty and high crime rendered the neighborhood so undesirable that buildings were abandoned and even burned.

Mainstream attention (from notable television broadcasts to visits by the President of the United States) did not seem to immediately change things here. It would be up to local neighborhood activists and wide-ranging city and state programs — not to mention the purveyors of an energetic new musical force — to begin to improve the fortunes of this seemingly doomed borough.

FEATURING an interview with Inside Out Tours founder and chief tour guide Stacey Toussaint about the new Bronx renaissance.

ALSO: Appearances by Howard Cosell, Sonia Sotomayor, Robert Moses, Grand Wizzard Theodore, and Jimmy Carter!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #213: BRONX TRILOGY (PART 3) THE BRONX WAS BURNING

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Construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway required the mass expulsion of residents from their homes

Lehman College
Lehman College

From this overhead view, you can see the areas of the city about to be wiped away by expressway construction. And you can also observe the powerful impact public housing has already had on the landscape

 NYU Forman Center Archives
NYU Furman Center Archives

 

Life on Arthur Avenue, 1940. The Italian sector of the Bronx would only grow larger in the mid 20th century as more Italians from southern areas of New York City migrated to the Bronx

 Stieglitz, C.M./Library of Congress
Stieglitz, C.M./Library of Congress

The scene on Macombs Road, 1964

Macombs Rd., Bronx / World Telegram & Sun photo by Phil Stanziola.
Macombs Rd., Bronx / World Telegram & Sun photo by Phil Stanziola.

 

Yankee Stadium in 1969

Photo by AP Images
Photo by AP Images

Scenes from the South Bronx, early 1970s, from photographer Camilo J. Vergara, courtesy Library of Congress

Overlooking a portion of the Bronx River, 1970

Camilo J. Vergara photographer/Library of Congress
Camilo J. Vergara photographer/Library of Congress

 

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/vrg.00186/
Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

 

Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress
Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

 

Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress
Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

The view from Hunts Point, 1970

Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress
Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

 

East 167th Street, South Bronx, 1973
East 167th Street, South Bronx, 1973,  Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

 

Members of the Reapers gang clean up a lot in the South Bronx, 1972. Photo by Life Magazine photographer John Shearer. Check out the rest of the photos in this series here.

John Shearer—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
John Shearer—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

 

The termination point of the Third Avenue El (around 147th through 149th) which was torn down in 1977.

Jack Boucher photographer
Jack Boucher photographer

Insanity: One of dozens of fires that occurred in the aftermath of the blackout of 1977.

AP Photo/HG
AP Photo/HG

A child’s baptism at St. Jerome’s Church in the South Bronx

Photo by Susan Lorkid Katz/MCNY
Photo by Susan Lorkid Katz/MCNY

 

bronxburning

June 1977.

Courtesy AP
Courtesy AP

An abandoned building on Charlotte Street was turned into an art project by John Fekner, Broken Promises/Falsas Promesas, 1980

brokenpromises_johnfekner

Planting a community garden in a vacant lot, 1980s

1

 

A current exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York celebrates the photography of Mel Rosenthal in their show In The South Bronx of America, running until October 16

Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY

 

And now a few videos — both of actual events and dramatized, highly exaggerated depictions of the Bronx.

The infamous video from the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers, with Howard Cosell running play-by-play for both the game and the drama outside the stadium.

A film about DJ Kool Herc made in the 1980s

Dramatic video from ABC News of the Bronx as it looked in 1982

A news report about Fort Apache, police precinct in the Bronx. This uses documentary footage (albeit with dramatic music).

Later the film Fort Apache: The Bronx dramatized the events at this police precinct:

The trailer from the exploitation film ‘1990: The Bronx Warriors’ made in 1982

 

  • RM

    Well done post.
    I remember going up to the Bronx in the early 70s, it was a sh*thole and no one cared. It’s practically Manhattan now.

  • Liebo

    My family would drive up the Cross Bronx sometime in the late 70s or early 80s on our way to visit relatives in New Jersey. I remember spring in the back seat and seeing all the burned out buildings. At some point, those empty spaces where windows used to be were replaced by plywood painted with an image of a window pane and a flower pot on the sill. Does anyone else remember that?

    • Liebo

      Sitting in the back seat. Not spring.

  • Elisa Peimer