The Grand Concourse -- The Champs Elysee of the Bronx

Click on any image to get the full sized view.

The Grand Concourse was constructed to be the premier thoroughfare in the Bronx. According to Lloyd Ultan, Bronx Historian, it was designed and constructed in the late 1800's to provide access from the densely populated sections of New York in Manhattan to the parkland in the northern Bronx. The 1967 "AIA Guide to New York City" (American Institute of Architects, MacMillan, 1967) describes its history in the following way:

The Grand Concourse, one of the grand boulevards of New York, was designed in 1892 by Louis Risse as the "Speedway Concourse," to provide access from Manhattan to the large parks of the Bronx. The original design provided separate paths for horse-drawn vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians, and for grade separation through bridges at all major intersections.
The Concourse soon began to become lined with fashionable apartment buildings designed to accomodate members of the middle class who were leaving the crowded tenements in Manhattan on the way up the ladder of material success. The "New York City Guide" (Works Progress Administration, Random House, 1939) says
The Grand Boulevard and Concourse (commonly called the Grand Concourse) runs about four and a half miles through the center of the West Bronx from Mott Avenue and 138th Street northe to Mosholu Parkway near Van Cortlande Park. The Grand Concourse is the Park Avenue of middle-class Bronx residents, and a lease to an apartment in one of its many large buildings is considered evidence fo at least moderate business success. The thoroughfare, 180 feet wide, is the principal parade street of the borough, as well as a through motor route. Along the center the American Legion has planted maple trees in memory of Bronx men who died in the World War.
Of the maple trees, no evidence remains today. The Concourse, like much of the rest of the Bronx, experienced decay and decline during the 1970s and the 1980s. However, the decline of the neighborhood may have had one salutary effect: almost no buildings were razed to make way for "progress". (Contrast the Grand Concourse to Park Avenue north of Grand Central, which is a ghetto of glass and steel boxes which might as well be located along the freeway in any American city!) Therefore, the Concourse remains lined with many signature Art Deco apartment buildings.

Today, accompanying the fledgling revitalization of the Bronx is a growing awareness that the Grand Concourse is an architectural treasure, and could someday fulfill its original vision: a boulevard of grand apartment buildings lining a tree-lined park.

Because I enjoy exploring cities, and am always interested in discovering lost and forgotten beauty, this spring I took a car-load of friends through the Bronx for a photo trip of the Grand Concourse: the Champs-Elysees of the Bronx.

We started at the top of the Concourse near the Mosholu Parkway IRT station, and slowly traveled southward looking for cool Art Deco buildings. At 206th street, we took a detour east because we saw the lefthand building on a sidestreet. As I was positioning the camera to take the photo, a man walked out of the building and noticed me taking pictures. "It's a shithole!", he shouted to me from across the street. "No, it's beautiful!", I replied, whereupon he shook his head in disagreement and walked away.

The building on the right is not an Art Deco style building. Instead, the style is referred to as "Moorish Style", since it incorporates decorations and adornments designed to evoke the spirit of Moorish architecture in Spain. This building style is also very common in New York, as well as in Westchester County.

Deco on 206th St. Moorish style apartment.
The "shithole" -- a beautiful Art Deco
apartment on 206th Street.
A Moorish style apartment
building on the Grand Concourse.

The building on the left is near the corner of Concourse and 197th. The horizontal stripes on the window lines and vertical bands are distinctly Deco, as are the castle-like crenelations along the roofline of the building. Pictured on the right is a smaller building on the corner of Concourse and 182nd. Like the building on the left, it has strong vertical lines formed by brickwork, as well as a castle-like roofline.

Concourse & 197th. Concourse & 182nd
A grand Art Deco building on
the corner of Concourse and 197th.
Another beautiful building
on the Concourse near 182nd St.

The vertical lines on the lefthand building break horizontally below the roofline. There is also interesting detailing around the front window area. Notice the windows set into the building's corners. Corner windows are a innovation of the Art Deco period.

The front facade on the right-hand building is staggered to conform to the curvature of the street -- also an Art Deco innovation. The windows are again set into corners.

This building has beautiful brick
detailing framing the windows, as well as
corner-set windows.
This building's staggered front
conforms to the street's curvature.

More photos of Art Deco Buildings
along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

Please send your questions, comments, or reactions about this web page to Stuart Brorson.