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Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx - Constance Rosenblum

Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx

Author: Constance Rosenblum
Book title: Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx
ISBN: 0814776086
ISBN13: 978-0814776087
Publisher: NYU Press; First Edition edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
Category: Americas
Rating: 4.5/5
Votes: 132
Pages: 274 pages
More formats: docx doc mobi lrf

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.

Reviews: (7)
Although I'm not Irish, I often listen to and totally get Irish music, which reveals the hopes and dreams of immigrants, speaks of the pain of parting, and mourns for the Emerald Isle that they'll probably never see again. Humans develop an attachment to their environment and it sometimes doesn't seem to matter how harsh it might have been. Most of my childhood was spent growing up in the intergraded Patterson housing project on 145th and Morris Avenue in the South Bronx hub, within walking distance of the shopping area, government and legal offices, and the Grand Concourse, which Constance Rosenblum has titled "Boulevard of Dreams" in this wonderful book.

We bought stamps at the majestic post office at 149th and Grand Concourse, zone 51 because zip codes didn't yet exist; we visited Franz Siegel Park, which is south of the Court House, and knew of the nightclubs and the Alex and Henry's catering hall that most people rented for their weddings and other special events. I bought strawberry egg creams at one of the local candy stores. As a teenager, one of my friends worked as a doorman at the Concourse Plaza, which is on 161st Street, facing the Court House. And, there was always that luxurious and elegant estate with its wrought iron fence and carefully landscaped grounds that I often wondered about: "What is this place?" I asked myself whenever I passed by.

Naturally, when I heard that a hard cover book about the Grand Concourse would soon be out, I ordered it for less than fifteen dollars at Strand's via the Amazon website. The original hard cover edition is a beautiful book includes a few color photos that this smaller paperback version does not have. Unfortunately, I had a mishap in my apartment and had people accommodate my books in boxes and toss out the bookcases in order to make preparations to repair the floor. In the chaos, my prized hardcover "Boulevard of Dreams" and several other books disappeared and I didn't notice anything missing until weeks later. It broke my heart, especially since I had only skimmed through that beautiful book. When I went back on line, the price of that treasure had increased to $175, so I opted for this paperback version. Though informative, it's a disappointment by comparison; it's all black and white and the photos and text are smaller. That's why I didn't give this edition five stars; I loved the hard cover book. I'll treasure this version nonetheless because memories are precious.

UPDATE: Minutes after writing this review, I found a hardcover book from two different Amazon tertiary dealers; with shipping and tax, the books were less than $40 each. That's more than twice what I paid for it the first time, but considerably less than $175, but I've learned the hard way that the edition I previously owned, which was about twelve inches high, is apparently no longer available. One copy is the same small disappointing softcover that I presently have and the other is its twin, in hardcover. If you're also looking for that original edition and you buy from Amazon or another dealer, ask about the photos inside and check the book's size, for the hardcover that I recently received and the paperbacks are about 9.5 inches high, with smaller, non-color photos.
As someone born and raised in the Bronx I'm always interested in reading books about my borough. Rosenbaum's book is an interesting history of the Grand Concourse, from its inception and construction, the people who lived there and left, and it's decent into pretty much a ruin. Though it is bouncing back it will never be as glorious as it was, and it was an amazing place to be. Unless you're from the Bronx I don't see how it would hold much interest for a reader. Those people interested in urban studies might find it worthwhile, but for most it would be a nostalgic look back. I took off one star because it does get somewhat repetitious in spots.
The subtitle of "Boulevard of Dreams" is "Heady times, heartbreak, and hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx". Constance Rosenblum assuredly does bring the reader through all three of these H's throughout the course of the narrative, as promised. This book is, as previous excellent reviewers have noted, a history of the Bronx (brief, at 228 pages) told through the story of the Grand Concourse, an enormously important artery through the Bronx, whose life began as a dream in the mind of a French immigrant named Risse in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Incidentally, I am a Long Island native whose 32 years of experience of the Bronx amounts to trips to Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Zoo and up I-95 to New England. I really have no nostalgia or even memory of the Bronx as a borough, but this book nearly had me in tears followed by beaming smiles in the last third of the telling. That's some indication of how effective and heartfelt Ms. Rosenblum's account is.

The "Heady Times" span the period of 1875 through the 1960s, when the Bronx was transformed overnight from an ethereal wildwood north of the City, to a flourishing minitropolis of NY. Though Rosenblum herself is not a Bronx native, she threw her heart and soul into creating a beautiful, evocative account of the buildup of dreams and the culmination of those dreams for thousands of immigrant Jews, Italians, Irish and others in the first half of the last century. Unfortunately, "Heartbreak" follows, in the form of the fleeing of the middle and upper class residents to the suburbs, followed by an influx of dangerous and frightening criminality, which nearly destroyed the borough. "The Bronx is burning" is Howard Cosell's famous quote upon seeing a school engulfed in the flames of arson during a Yankee's game, and burn it did, for decades. The author creates a particularly moving and heartwrenching picture in this section by taking the beautiful locations introduced in the first section and describing their decay and death in the second. I felt like buildings and parks I have never even seen were falling and crumbling around me, and I felt so sick and saddened by the loss of history and vibrancy. Rosenblum even offers some possible explanations (beyond traditional racial ideas) for the decline of the Bronx, drawing upon scholarship to discuss events that may have contributed: the creation of the concrete megalopolis Co-Op City; Robert Moses' construction of the CBE, etc.

Fortunately, Rosenblum ends on a hopeful (though unresolved) note, by mentioning the hard work recently undertaken by some hard-charging borough presidents and civic associations, in a valiant attempt to make the Bronx great again. She even offers the idea that, no, the borough does not have to "become white" again; the hardworking Hispanics, blacks, whites and others who now form the New Bronx can be the catalyst and indeed the heart and soul of a new world for this region.
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