Inner City Press Bronx Reporter
Archive #2:  August-October, 1999

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October 25, 1999

    In Bronx housing and real estate news, the city’s Department of Finance has begun the process for Round Two of the city’s Third Party Transfer Program, under which tax delinquent properties are seized and given directly to other non-governmental owners. DoF has filed a list of tax delinquent properties being considered and seizure / transfer. The Bronx list includes 42 properties, mostly on or around the Boston Road corridor in Morrisania. A couple of the planned seizures appear to conform with the Third Party Transfer Program’s purported goal -- saving for housing distressed buildings owned by absentee landlords. For example, Graety Associates of Freeport, New York is slated to lose 1199 and 1195 Boston Road (it’s listed as owing $30,385 on the latter); Howard Fuchs of Scarsdale, New York is slated to lose 1440 and 1442 Boston Road.

    There are some surprises on the list: There’s a church, Revival Time Pentecostal, on the hit list, set to lose 1430 Stebbins Avenue. 810 Ritter Avenue is to be taken away from its Tenants Association (“TA”). Anna M Williams, of 1429 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, is slated to lose the single family house at 767 E. 168th Street.

    601 E. 163rd Street, a building that the City of New York itself sold at auction to William H. Perry on December 12, 1995. According to real estate records, Mr. Perry immediately sold the building to “Millennum Care, Inc.,” of 133 West 179th Street, The Bronx. But now the City is seeking to reclaim the building (and transfer it to another, as-yet-unnamed owner). It doesn’t sound like the “community facility” use restrictions the City purported to impose in the 1995 auction worked out too well...

    Meanwhile, as reported in the New York Times of Sunday, October 24, the City claims it cannot devote 10 acres on Edgewater Road in Soundview for recreational use, because “by charter, we are prohibited from striking a deal with anyone... When we sell or lease a property, it has to be by auction.” (This is attributed to Denise Collins, spokeswoman for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services). As the saga of 601 East 163rd Street (and of the old night courthouse on Third Avenue and 161st Street) show, these city auctions to speculators are not working very well...

    Also on the seizure list is a property at 1368 Boston Road, to be taken, according to the List, from “Galaxy NY, Inc.” -- a construction company, based at 3152 Albany Crescent in Riverdale, to which the City has given numerous properties and contracts in recent years. “What the left hand does, the right hand disclaims.”

    The entire list, including Brooklyn and Manhattan, has graciously been posted by the magazine City Limits (the Bronx list is just under “Manhattan,” but is erroneously headlined “Brooklyn”). This month’s City Limits has a detailed story on fraud in HUD’s 203(k) program, "The Harlem Shuffle," by Kemba Johnson. The article targets the quick-buck schemes of a number of realtors (including Knarf Realty, active in the Bronx), but is slightly too apologetic for the entrepreneurial non-profits who buy buildings caring little if the apartments they create will be affordable. Worth reading.

   The saddest Bronx story of the week is the closure of city-operated group foster home in Edenwald, after the city’s Administration for Children’s Services found at least three “house parents” buying and selling drugs. The 16 residents of the Crossroads Congregate Care Group Home have now been uprooted again, and sent to other group homes. Crossroads resident Raymond Cottman, 18, said that “most of the staff doesn’t care about our welfare. They are just here for their paycheck.” Story of the Bronx...

* * *

October 18, 1999

    Change is the only constant, in the Bronx as elsewhere. This week the Metro North train station at Tremont and Park Avenues was fenced, presumably in preparation for demolition. On Bergen Avenue just east of Third, a long-abandoned department store is being cleaned out, into dumpsters.

    Henry Kravis’ New York City Investment Fund, which began with the promise to serve the five boroughs, has most recently invested in a video delivery service that will only serve Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights. The putative connection to the Fund’s mission? Entry level jobs. The NYCIF, now at $81 million in size, continues to exclude the Bronx (and Brooklyn) from its focus. Other pending investments include a theater on 42nd Street, and an Internet-based trading system for derivatives, (P.R. Newswire, Oct. 14). That’s sure to create a lot of entry-level jobs, and be of much benefit to the Bronx. Meanwhile, in Kravis’ real business, KKR is preparing to buy two European companies for $1.65 billion. Bloomberg London, Oct. 16. For more on the NYCIF’s lack of focus on The Bronx (and other lower income outer borough communities), see Bronx Report Archive #1, Report of April 14, 1999.

    Also on the non-accountability front, this time in housing, the New York Times of October 17 reports the mounting complaints by residents of Parkchester, against the Community Preservation Corporation, which last year stepped in as the “savior.” Residents claim that services have been cut in half; meanwhile, CPC is soliciting new tenants from the 700 empty apartments. Resident Pamela Sanchez is quoted: “They can’t even take care of this place, and they are using us to get more people here.” Banks have gotten massive Community Reinvestment Act credit for their work with CPC -- where are the regulators (or accountability of any kind) now?

[Some archival material cut to save server space - with questions, contact us]

October 4, 1999

    There’s another plan in the air for the long-vacant urban renewal site at 155th Street and Third Avenue. This time is for a mall, to be anchored by the Old Navy retailing chain. Bronx residents will recall that earlier this decade, the land was to go to Rosenshein & Associates, which developed the 161st Street and Sheridan Avenue mall and then went bankrupt. Then, 155th Street was to become a Bradlees -- before that chain went bankrupt. Now, the pitch is Old Navy, and the plan’s being promoted by Kathy Zamechansky & Associates, which recently cut the deal to move the Department of Motor Vehicles to the Belmont neighborhood, despite substantial local opposition.

    Ms. Zamachansky is the “get-things-done” Bronx realtor; she’s listed as having given $1,000 on December 30, 1998 to the (as yet undefined) next campaign of the current Borough President. There’s a need for more politico - real estate transparency, in this borough at this time.

    At this same HUB, Marine Midland / HSBC closed its last South Bronx consumer banking facility in May, 1999, with nary a peep from the political structure.

    Meanwhile, things are heating up in Hunts Point, where American Marine Rail L.L.C. has applied to open a 5,200-ton-a-day waste transfer station on land owned by a decades-old Manhattan-based community development corporation, the Harlem Commonwealth Council. The New York Times’ informative Sept. 29 article reported that “Harlem Commonwealth officials did not return repeated phone calls.” Rather like the Longwood-based non-profit Banana Kelly, after the revelation of a number of scandals this summer...

    Harlem Commonwealth Council is located at 361 West 125th Street, and has been granted millions of dollars by the federal government since the 1970s. In 1975, it bought a hotel in the U.S. Virgin Islands; in the same time frame, it bought the Washburn Wire Factory in East Harlem, stating it would retain hundreds of jobs. Washburn’s been vacant for years, and is now slated for a Home Depot. HCC, along with the Washington-based Opportunities Funding Corporation, owned nearly 50% of Freedom National Bank in Harlem, until that bank’s shut down by the FDIC.

    In the Bronx, Harlem Commonwealth Council owns land at 500 and 1132 Oak Point Avenue in Hunts Point. In 1980, then Congressman Robert Garcia announced that HCC was being given a $2.8 million federal grant to buy a 15.5 acres South Bronx site formerly owned by the National Gypsum Company. “Garcia said... the project, which he said would begin in six months, was expected to generate 300 private jobs and more than $5 million in private investment.” NYT, Sept. 16, 1980, Pg. B3. There’s been little follow up. And now, HCC leases its Bronx land to a waste transfer station, and declines to return reporters’ phone calls. Welcome to the South Bronx...

    Finally (for this week), Browning Ferris Industries has applied to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to convert the medical waste incinerator at 910 East 138th Street into a medical waste transfer station...

September 27, 1999

    As the school year begins in the Bronx, society’s future, and a fair opportunity for children here, is being squandered. At Public School 75, kindergarten-age children in the school’s catchment area have not been admitted, due to lack of space. For now, they stay home, waiting for their names to rise to the top of the waiting list that has been implemented. At P.S. 246 on the Grand Concourse, classes are held, six students to a desk, in what are essentially supply closets. The bathrooms have no stalls, and many children are too embarrassed to use them.

    But the war of sound bytes continues. Last week, ABC’s John Stossel came to the South Bronx, purportedly to answer the question, “Is America Number One?” His crew filmed a line of people waiting for food, and found that some of the people on the line have (gasp!) cable television. It’s a shame that Stossel didn’t inquire into the widely-reported school overcrowding scandal here. But that wouldn’t have supported his point... They call this country a “meritocracy,” but with beginnings so disparate and unfair, that’s a misnomer...

    Elsewhere in the Bronx, early last week, the city’s Homeless Services Commissioner Martin Oesterreich reiterated his belief that he can begin using North Central Bronx Hospital as a homeless shelter. Meanwhile, Health and Hospitals Corp. president Luis Marcos sided with the mayor, and criticized local officials who have challenged the hospital-as-shelter plan: “HHC would appreciate it if officials concerned about the future of NCB would spend... less time alarming the patients and the community.” What alarmed patients was the mayor’s and Marcos’ plans to begin using the hospital as a homeless shelter. Meanwhile, state health Commissioner Antonia Novello said that “[t]he governing body of the state has made a determination... It behooves the Giuliani administration to obey the law.” But Oesterreich and HHC maintain they can place the homeless in the hospital “if and when the need arises.” Behind it all appears to be a plan to reduce medical services at NCB, then sell it to Montefiore.

    Meanwhile, charges have surfaced at Lincoln Hospital that nutritionists were ordered to alter patient records, adding notations of dietary assessments that never took place, just before a state Health Department examination this last summer. The two whistle-blowing employees were fired, they say, after they refused to alter the records. State Health Department spokeswoman Kristine Smith has promised that the allegations will “be looked into quickly.”

September 20, 1999:  Bronx Media Review(s): An Occasional Series

    In early 1998, Cablevision Systems Corporation announced that it was initiating its fifth local news channel, “New 12, The Bronx,” patterned after the Long Island News 12 it began in 1986. Shortly thereafter, Cablevision, which has the franchise to provide cable service in the Bronx, said it wanted the public access BronxNet to return two of the four channels it was awarded in exchange for Cablevision’s monopoly. In October 1998, Cablevision’s Bronx monopoly was extended for another ten years. The company’s press release cited News 12 The Bronx as “underscor[ing] Cablevision’s deep commitment to the people and communities” of the Bronx. Business Wire, October 8, 1998.

    In mid-September 1999, one of BronxNet’s four channels, 68, has been replaced on free cable by an endless loop that promotes Cablevision’s pay-per-view offerings. News 12 The Bronx is into its second year -- while it is 24 hours, the same stories are repeated every half-an-hour, with only the anchors alternated to make it look updated. For one half-hour, the anchor is George Estavez; the next half-hour, it’s Victoria Montdesir, then back to Mr. Estavez. During the day, Kevin McCabe reads the “National” news; at night, he or reporter Andrea Bond is the anchor.

    Most interestingly, however, is the advertising that Cablevision has attracted to News 12 The Bronx. High interest rate home equity and credit card lenders, like Advanta and The Money Store, proliferate. Multichannel News of August 2, 1999 reports that News 12’s broadcasts in Connecticut and New Jersey are sponsored by Fleet Bank, and on Long Island are sponsored by European American Bank. In the Bronx, it’s not a bank, but a higher interest rate finance company.

* * *

    A mysterious Long Island real estate developer, technically a non-profit, Family Preservation Center, which has bought buildings in Harlem assuming they were vacant and then thrown the residents out without notice, has now made a move into The Bronx. The always informative news monthly City Limits is preparing a more detailed treatment of FPC for its next issue -- but, in the interim, the Bronx angle surrounds 358 East 184th Street, which FPC bought in late 1998, for $205,000, from Knarf Realty Corp, of Mineola, New York. A similar purchase by FPC of 58 Edgecombe Avenue (between 137th and 138th Streets) at the same time frame resulted in an unannounced eviction of all tenants in late February 1999 (with “hammers and crowbars” -- see New York Times of April 11, 1999, Sec. 14, Page 6), and subsequent monetary settlement by FPC with some of the ousted tenants in April 1999.

    FPC buys and “repairs” these buildings by using the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 203(k) program. One wonders why HUD hasn’t reached out to Harlem (and South Bronx) community development corporations, if it intends to use this “revitalization tool” in these communities. Syndicated columnist Jack Anderson wrote a piece run in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News on September 6, 1999, the “203(k) Program Supports Swindlers,” reporting flaws in the 203(k) program, in that lenders seek to lend right up to HUD’s limit for the loans, using their own inspectors.

    Family Preservation Center, which targets properties in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx, is located at 179 S. Ocean Avenue in Patchogue, New York; its manager is listed in the US Business Directory as Alfreda Taylor-Horne. All of the property listed in FPC’s name is in New York City: in Harlem, Central Brooklyn, and now the Bronx. FPC’s lender, on the Bronx property and many others, is “Mortgage Lending of America, Inc.,” which only lists Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, for FHA loans, in the NYC and Long Island Metropolitan Statistical Areas. In NYC in 1998, Mortgage Lending of America lists, for FHA home purchase loans, 17 loans to African Americans, 14 to Latinos, 7 to whites, and 173 to “race not reported.” This reflects both a presumptive violation of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (which required lenders to request, record and report race data on borrowers, for fair lending enforcement purposes), and, for the race-specific loans, a form of targeting of communities of color. Bronx property records also reflect Mortgage Lending of America making an FHA loan on 637 Eagle Avenue, to the “Helpline Soul Rescue Ministry.” HUD? Where are you? Or the New York State Banking Department, charged with regulating companies like Mortgage Lending of America?

    Finally, in positive news: The Point, at 940 Garrison Avenue in Hunts Point, is holding its third annual South Bronx Film and Video Festival, from September 23 -25. For information, call 718-542-4139. And, Con Edison has held off on closing its customer service center on Kingsbridge and Fordham Roads, while the NYS Public Service Commission reviews the complaints filed about its planned closing.

September 13, 1999

    While death can find you in many ways in the Bronx -- a hit-and-run death in Soundview on September 8, corner of Underhill and Story Avenues, a body-dump in Co-op City on September 6, later attributed to the very same witness who called it in -- we’ll focus this week on environmental dangers. Particularly, USA Waste’s application to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to begin operation of yet another waste transfer station in the South Bronx, in the Harlem River Yards. Bronx residents may remember that several years ago, Banana Kelly and the environmental group NRDC the NRDC tried to shout down opposition to their still-planned paper mill in the Harlem River Yards, by emphasizing the no project with NRDC and Banana Kelly involved would ever pollute the South Bronx. Well, the paper mill may never be built, but USA Waste is now ready to open a waste transfer station in the Yards... Below is ICP’s initial comment letter to the DEC, along with the DEC’s address and fax number.

September 10, 1999

VIA TELECOPIER [to 718-482-4975]

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Attn: Mr. John Ferguson
47-40 21st Street
Long Island City, NY 11101

Re: Opposition to Applications by USA Waste Services of New York
      No. 2-6007-00159/00001

Dear Mr. Ferguson and others at NYSDEC:

On behalf of Inner City Press / Community on the Move and its members and affiliates (collectively, “ICP”), this is a timely comment opposing the Applications of USA Waste Services of New York, Inc. (“USA Waste”) for approval of a plan to purportedly reduce transfer station capacity and to modify its permit to construct and operate the Harlem River Yard Transfer Station. ICP is a Bronx-based membership organization, that has been active in housing, banking, health and environmental matters in the Bronx since 1987.

Currently, USA Waste’s ability to commerce operation of yet another waste transfer station in the South Bronx, in the Harlem River Yards, is conditioned on USA Waste reducing putrescible solid waste (“PSW”) transfer station capacity elsewhere in the Bronx by 3,000 tons per day. According to your agency’s August 12, 1999 Notice, USA Waste now claims that it is unable to comply with this condition, and asks to be allowed to use construction and demolition debris (“C&D”) capacity, in addition to PSW capacity, in order to meet the 3,000 ton offset requirement. The Notice includes of list of the facilities that the Applicant proposes to close or at which it proposes to reduce permit capacity.

As you should be aware, in April 1999, a state inspector found that Waste Management’s facility at 900 East 138th Street is actually being used for maintenance, not as a waste transfer station. See, e.g., New York Times of August 24, 1999, at B1. USA Waste uses its proposed “closure” of that facility to account for a purported reduction of 287.5 tons per day of PSW.  There would, in fact, be no actual reduction. Thus, granting these Applications and allowing USA Waste to commerce operations in the Harlem River Yards would result in a further increase in waste being transported through, and processed in, the South Bronx. ICP opposes the variances, and these Applications.

ICP also urges your agency to closely inquire into USA Waste’s purported compliance with the other condition imposed in 1997, the so-called “host community benefit plan.” USA Waste proposes to meet this condition by granting $1 million to Hunts Point Multi-Service Center, purportedly to open an “asthma center.” This purported compliance was barely vetted in the affected communities; housing and good government advocates have long questioned management at HPMSC. On the current record, allowing USA Waste to commerce operations in the HRY would have a negative impact on the South Bronx and its residents.

There are other questions about the Applicants(s) that your agency should inquire into before ruling on this Application. See, for example, The Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch of April 23, 1998, Regulators Discover Illegal Medical Waste, reporting that Virginia state regulators discovered illegal medical waste “in a truckload of bailed trash that originated in Waste Management’s garbage transfer station in the Bronx.” Note also the serious allegations of securities fraud that continue to swirl around Waste Management.

This Application should not be approved. If, as should be required, USA Waste modifies its proposals, USA Waste’s new proposals must be put out for further public review and public comment.

    If you have any questions, please telephone the undersigned, at (718) 716-3540.

Very Truly Yours,

Matthew Lee, Esq.
Executive Director

   Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.

September 7, 1999

   Newspapers as far away as Chicago opine the Yankee Stadium “is not what it used to be.” Chicago Tribune, September 5, 1999. In a final end-of-summer report, Inner City Press has re-reviewed the Stadium, and find it going strong. By the numbers, the Yankees are close to drawing three million fans -- their largest attendance ever. Experientially, from Burnside Avenue to 161st Street, here’s how it goes:

    Jerome Avenue under the elevated 4 train is traffic by day, prostitution by night. But at dusk, it all glows. The methadone clinic and the post office is closed, but an African restaurant is serving spicy roots, and the bakery churns out pastries, meat pies, and Puerto Rican lard bread. From up on the platform, looking south, you can see the lights of Yankee Stadium on already. The train approaches the station, sparking down the straight line from Fordham Road. It’s a reverse commute -- while the trains going north are full, the trains heading from the Bronx toward Manhattan are nearly empty. Standing by the windows, you see the roofs of garages, with neatly hidden piles of bumpers and auto glass. The once-abandoned buildings are mostly fixed up, or demolished. A new development is going up on 165th Street, down the hill from the Bronx Museum of the Arts. The train pulls into 161st Street, letting you off before you see the sliver of a view into the Stadium, the green grass and blue seat, just before the train goes underground.

    The sidewalks around the stadium are full of cops and ticket scalpers: “Need tickets?” The Stadium’s hardly sold out, for a midweek night game, so it’s unclear why you’d buy a scalped ticket. On the west side of the Stadium, six tour busses are parked. “Ohio State University,” they say. Seems like a long way to come for a game... On the south side of the Stadium, a man is playing an alto saxophone, “Putting on the Ritz.” Suburbanites coming down from parking their cars throw dime and nickels in the hat the horn player has put by his feet. Entering the Stadium, they check your backpack, but only for glass bottles and other things you could throw on the field. If you’re smart, you’ll bring a sandwich and soda with you, and avoid buying the four dollar hot dogs, and five dollar sodas in a plastic “memento” cup.

   Up the escalators into the cheap seats. Tier Reserved means upper deck, but the view’s not bad. In fact, at dusk before they start the game, the sky is golden over the Bronx County Building, and the Concourse Plaza Hotel (now an old age home), up the hill on the Grand Concourse. They say there’s a judge who can watch the game from his office, on the 10th floor of 851 Grand Concourse. And see the empty stadium sit all winter.

   They play the National Anthem, but no one sings. No one even pretends to sing. It’s that the song is difficult -- later in the game, at least half of the crowd mumbles along with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Some kids from Morris High School are given an award down by the Yankees’ dugout. And the umpire calls, “Play ball!.” Irabu’s first pitch is a ball, and it goes from there. An error by Knoblauch. A teen age girl with a handwritten T-shirt, “I’ll kneel for O’Neill.” Relief pitchers are no longer driven in to the mound in the pinstriped Toyota -- they run through the outfield, met by a ball boy who takes their warm-up jacket. The scoreboard television asks TV trivia, and announces marriage proposals. The crowd cheers good-naturedly. Most of the suburbanites leave by the seventh inning, trying to beat the traffic on the Deegan. And if you wait long enough, Frank Sinatra is singing, “It’s up to you, New York, New York.”

   Ten blocks east from the Stadium, the old Third Avenue courthouse still stands abandoned. It was auctioned two years ago to an electrical contractor from Queens, who’s done nothing to fix it up. One of the two abandoned buildings in front of it has just been fixed; the other still has its windows covered with cinder blocks. An abandoned bank branch sits regal by the fish store. Up Third Avenue, the Franklin Avenue Armory, now a men’s shelter, sits like a castle on the hill. At the corner of Third Avenue and St. Paul’s Place, across from the Morris Houses, a new grocery is opening. It’s name? “Kosovo Grocery.” At Third and Claremont stand another long-abandoned bank branch, now turned into a church. Inquiries with long time residents yield three different recollections of which bank this used to be: Northside (now North Fork); Dollar (now Emigrant); or, most likely Corn Exchange (now Chase). At Third and Tremont teens mill around; a dance is being held up in the Judo and Karate studio. A larger crowd’s at Third and 181st Street, where police have burst into the Jet Set Cafe. Belmont is already filling with the smell of baking bread, and delivery trucks heading out to the five boroughs and beyond. This is the Bronx that doesn’t get seen. And yet it all works together, and yes, it still works...

August 30, 1999

Inner City Press Book Review: “The Bronx, Lost, Found and Remembered:” -- Niche Marketing the Nostalgia of Ex-Bronxites

    As summer winds down, we’ll do a Bronx book review. Recently released is “The Bronx, Lost, Found, and Remembered, 1935-1975,” by Stephen M. Samtur and Martin A. Jackson. It’s published by Samtur’s own press, Back in the Bronx, which also publishes a quarterly magazine by that name. The book is similar to Lloyd Ultan’s books, such as “The Beautiful Bronx: 1920-1950,” published by (and written in collaboration with) the Bronx Historical Society in 1979. Samtur’s book does not have the same pretensions of professionalism -- it’s blatantly an “interactive” book, expending 32 pages on a listing of candy stores in the Bronx, with descriptions sent in by readers of Mr. Samtur’s magazine. At the back of the book is a mail in form -- “let us know about YOUR candy store.” The target market for the book is explicitly ex-Bronxites, while Ultan’s books aim for a slightly wider audience, which would include other historians.

    Mr. Samtur’s book is in the middle of a continuum -- less professional than Ultan’s, more professional (or at least more glossy) than Rocky D’Erasmo’s self-published reminiscences of Belmont (“the Bronx’ Little Italy”), which he sells out of delicatessen in California. It’s a growth industry: quirky books about the old Bronx, sold to ex-Bronxite who are feeling a little nostalgia.

    Samtur’s second chapter focuses on Orchard Beach, and has a nice silhouetted photograph of the since-closed cafeteria. Also covered is the long gone amusement park, Starlight Park, which was in West Farms Square, where there’s now a bus depot. Reportedly, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based developer is putting together plans for a movie theater on the site, which would be co-sponsored by MBD Community Housing. Samtur notes that the movie theater on Boston Road just south of West Farms was shown as a backdrop in the 1955 movie, “Marty,” based on Paddy Chayefsky’s television drama. The theater’s been long closed; remaining, however, is the Swiss Alps motel, and the “Murder Burger” deli, just off the square on East Tremont Avenue. Samtur refers to a 1935 documentary called Bronx Morning; it’s unclear where one could obtain or see this movie (footnotes would have been helpful).

    Most striking is a photograph of Moisha’s Appetizing, at 1579 Bathgate Avenue. Samtur writes that “[t]he Jewish equivalent of Arthur Avenue was Bathgate Avenue, a strip of several blocks off Tremont on the Crotona Park district.” He describes the slaughter of live chickens, and negotiating over the price of meat, adding “to the younger generation, Bathgate Avenue became a symbol of all that they hoped to overcome.”

   While Arthur Avenue remains, virtually unchanged, fifteen blocks to the north, the Bathgage Avenue shopping strip is gone. All of the buildings were demolished, and have been replaced by a two-story, windowless industrial park.

    As all of these Bronx books do -- that is, Ultan, D’Erasmo and Samtur -- Loew’s Paradise movie theater on the Grand Concourse is given much play. There were goldfish in the fountains, and 4,000 seats. Later it was subdivided into four smaller theaters, and then closed down. It sits vacant today, with landmark status but no developer.

    Samtur includes a chapter of “Then and Now” photographs: the same corners, from virtually the same angles, four decades apart. Fordham Road is largely similar, except that Rogers Department Store long ago became Sears. Kingsbridge and Fordham is similar; the Con Edison office on Kingsbridge is now closing. Third Avenue at Tremont used to have an elevated train. Where Webster Cabs now is, on Webster just above Tremont, was previously a vaudeville theater, the Fox Crotona. The first movie studio in the United States was at Decatur Avenue and Oliver Place in 1905; the building is long gone.

    Samtur’s chapter, “Politics, Bronx Style,” is a little thin. There are photos of Ed Flynn and James Lyons, followed by the statement that “Despite some noble exceptions, the political leadership of The Bronx failed miserably in the 60’s and 70’s to cope with these conditions or to inspire any alternative choices. They deserve a polite silence.” No mention of the corruption, or of white ethnic political machines hanging on too long, and then turning power over to a “machine of color.” Some silence is too polite.

    Samtur’s book ends with interviews of “Bronx Celebrities:” the comedian Red Buttons (nee Aaron Chiwatt; moved in 1929 to Southern Boulevard and 176th Street, near the Biograph Studios on 176th and Marmion Avenue); Judd Hirsch (171st and Walton Avenue); Dion (of Dion and the Belmonts); and more local celebrities like the Mets’ Ed Kranepool (Castle Hill Avenue) and TV newsman Marvin Scott (Mount Eden). In a classy move, Samtur included an interview with Lloyd Ultan, with whose books Mr. Samtur’s effort is sure to complete. But Samtur’s pitch to ex-Bronxite’s is more explicit: the ad at the end of the book says, “The stories of your life have now been published!”. And Samtur has started a web site, with a discussion board for ex-Bronxites. Notably, Samtur’s chat rooms competes with (and constantly refers to) another site for ex-Bronxites, the Bronx Board. Nostalgia seems to be catching, as we near the millennium...

    Samtur’s book is available through the above mentioned web site, or through Back in the Bronx, Box 141H, Dept. LFR, Scarsdale, NY 10583.

Following this theme:  here's an Inner City Press Bronx History Poem:


                                                                 c. Matthew Lee 1999

Tremont and Washington, Part I

When we came to this place, the land was barren.
An old Jewish man raked it, cursing the government.
He’d walk back toward Railroad Avenue, invisible.
He rented the land to Dominicans, who fenced it,
Put up a sign, offering to park cars for twenty a month.
The police shut them down, no license, no taxes.
Months later they got the required franchise
And moved in three guard dogs who howled and ate old rice and beans,
Who slept before the electric heater while rats turned over their bowl.
Toyotas and surfboards and the rusting trucks of restaurants
Were parked, in the shadows of a furniture warehouse
Whose Irish owners visited less and less often.

Tremont & Washington, Part II

Last night I leafed through a book of old photographs of the Bronx:
Elevated trains since torn down, replaced with busses;
The Cross Bronx being blasted through tenements,
Trolley tracks being cut with blow torches
Beer gardens and RCA Victrolas
House boats in rivers now filled with the carcasses of cars
The Mayaguez Shoe Store, at 229 Brook Avenue,
First Puerto Ricans business in the borough--
And suddenly a glimpse at our block,
Entirely different with buildings still standing:
Across the street, where wild dogs howl
Was a two-story building, storefronts with electric signs:
Electric and Radio Shop, Chinese & American Restaurant
De Luxe Chop Suey, Entrance on Tremont Avenue,
F.W.Woolworth & Co., an egg store, a printing shop
And a music school upstairs...
No wonder we here voices still...
On the corner was Poultry in Parts
Telling the world Buy the Part You Like Best.
Next on the strip was Mills Formal Wear,
Dress Suits to Hire, with a neon Fred Astaire.
The De Luxe Chop Suey was Air Conditioned
And italicized, had Steaks and Chops
To go along with Chow Mein...
Upstairs they taught violin and trumpet.
No wonder we here voices still...

Tremont and Washington III

Encyclopedic street corners
         flush like a parfait rose
I am air conditioned chop suey
         the purloined tuxedo
We celebrate the parts of chicken
         blowing on cellos to the warping of wood
Too late, it was, to celebrate
          our dusty-eyed blood of Laredo
So fragmentary, like the curl of a queen
          flash my blade, ‘fore trolley tracked buried
Suck the smog, we accept credit cards
          poker games with ham-faced cops
If I can imagine an era, con clave
          perhaps this thought of your hand is real

* * * *

    The Bronx news of the week (August 22-29, 1999) is too depressing for full reporting, in this last week before Labor Day. Retired police detective Donald Pagani was shot and killed in a robbery at eleven in the morning on August 27, in the course of his work as a security guard for American Sirloin Meat and Poultry Co. on 149th Street. USA Waste is planning a million dollar pay off to Ramon Velez’ Hunts Point Multi-Service Clinic, to get approval of a new waste transfer station in the Harlem River Yards. It’s similar to the paper mill’s reportedly six million dollar pay-off to Banana Kelly, except that USA Waste is represented by Dennis Vacco, Republican ex-Attorney General, while the paper mill is steered by NRDC. Meanwhile, Velez’ ally Georgie Rodriguez, of Community Board 1, backpeddles from his previous approval of the project (and pay-off), giving convoluted speeches about environmental harm “to these particular community.” Obfuscation by rhetoric. The same is taking place with SOBRO’s planned AIDS residence on Brook Avenue and 148th Street. SOBRO’s tried to sweeten the pot by adding plans for a day care center in the building. Local NIMBY opposition persists; opponents are meeting with the city’s housing agency, HPD, to try to force a relocation of the proposed AIDS residence.

   Views of the Bronx from outside were scarcely better. During the rain storm on August 26, Metro-North commuter trains were stopped at 149th Street, and backed up into the Melrose Station. The New York Post of August 27 quotes commuter Kory Geller of Norwalk, Connecticut: “the bathrooms were bad, and now we have to find a way to get home from the South Bronx... But Pepe Paberas, owner of Pepe’s Grocery next to the Melrose station, said the delays made his day -- by flooding his store with hungry customers. ‘I was surprised to see so many white people in suits walk into my grocery store,’ he said. ‘I hope it happens again.’”

    NBC’s John Wells, who’s produced the show “ER” and is now working on another show about emergency workers, “The Third Watch,” explains the expense of his new show: “we’ve set fire to buildings up in the Bronx and Harlem... Anytime you try and do that kind of action, it’s expensive.”

    People who’ve lived in the Bronx for decades, and seen whole neighborhoods burn, can confirm: Yes, that kind of action IS expensive...

August 16, 1999

The Bronx, Reported and Not Reported

   The Daily News has reported a proposal by “ABB, a Zurich-based worldwide engineering and technology firm,” to build a $700 million power plant on the toxic land at the end of 149th Street in Oak Point. The paper reports that “Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer has praised ABB’s plan to use natural gas, saying he expect it to meet federal clean air and water standards.”

     Contemporaneously, however, ABB is involved in a bribery scandal in Africa, charged with having made secret payoffs to Masupha Sole, the former head of the Highlands Water Project in the southern African kingdom of Lesotho. Calls are mounting for ABB to be “debarred” from bidding on projects funded by the World Bank. See, e.g., Washington Post of August 13, 1999, E1.

Question: if Swiss-Swedish conglomerate ABB is being debarred from doing business in the Third World, why are they being welcomed with such open arms into the Bronx? Developing...

     Similarly, it was reported on August 12 that Kleener King, “a former South Bronx mom-and-pop business,” is getting funds from the Upper Manhattan and South Bronx Empowerment Zone to expand from nine stores to 33 stores in the next four years, and to put its headquarters in the Bathgate Industrial Park in the Bronx. “‘I’m looking forward to being an example that there are great things that come from the inner city,’ said Jose Aguiar Jr., the company’s CEO...The funding represents an unprecedented partnership between the Manhattan and Bronx empowerment zones.”

     The Borough President’s most recent filing with the Board of Elections discloses a $1,500 donation from Jose O. Aguiar of 2 Bay Club Drive, Bayside, New York, president of Kleener King Industries.

Bronx notes: The lack of any distance between Bronx (Democratic club) politicians and Bronx media became clearer this week, when the Borough President appointed Cablevision’s Bronxnet Channel 67’s Arlene Mukoko as deputy press secretary. This revolving door works two ways: Bronxnet’s news director was previously one of the Borough President’s press secretaries. If you’re looking for objective coverage of Bronx politics, you’ll have to look beyond the four channels Cablevision was required to give up, in exchange for its cable monopoly in the Bronx.

     But look where? The Sunday, August 15 edition of the New York Times mentions The Bronx 20 times: but four are death notices, two are weddings, two concern summer camps, and the two “substantive” stories concern alleged holy water at a church, and Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson’s bare compliance with the requirement that he live in the Bronx. Johnson lives in a sliver above Pelham Bay Part that has a Westchester County, 914 area code, but is technically in the Bronx. The hundreds of city blocks below the sites of these two stories -- are not covered by the Sunday New York Times, this week at least.

     The developing news in the Bronx this week concerns North Central Bronx Hospital. The city has been inching toward closing this hospital for months, eliminating inpatient pediatric and rehabilitation services, closing the asthma unit, cutting back on obstetrics and capping inpatient beds at 60. Services are being shifted to Jacobi Hospital, and rumors circulate of a planned sale of North Central to always acquisitive Montefiore Hospital.

     On August 11, in an exclusive that even the usually dismissive paper of record had to credit, the Daily News reported the city’s new plan to place homeless families in North Central Bronx Hospital. Health and Hospitals Corporation President Luis Marcos hadn’t mentioned this plan in his August 10 testimony to the City Council’s Health Committee (chairman Luis Robles now calls Marcos a “liar,” and promises to summon him for more testimony in September). Marcos, when contacted, claimed that the State Department of Health (which would have to sign off on this use of North Central) “is aware” of the plan; but on August 12, the Times quoted State Department of Health spokeswoman Kristine Smith that “from a public health standpoint the proposal is not something we can support... We will not approve the proposal to house homeless individuals at North Central Bronx and Harlem Hospitals.” Couldn’t be clearer...

     To follow the theme above: the August 12-25 issue of the Norwood News does not cover this story. Norwood News is published by the Mosholu Preservation Corporation, which is affiliated with.... Montefiore Hospital. [Ed.'s note: we stand corrected: their Web site links to several stories they did on the crisis at NCB. To get to this group of articles, click on the "ongoing story" button at the top of their site; it leads to the NCB links. Elsewhere on this site, we thank Norwood News for various things -- to those, we add a thanks for this correction / amplification.]

     Finally (for this week), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has just published notice of USA Waste’s application to modify its permit to run a waste transfer station in the Bronx’ Harlem River Yards. USA Waste had committed to eliminating 3,000 tons per day of its putrescile solid waste capacity elsewhere in the Bronx. USA Waste now claims that its divestitures, while merging with Waste Management, no longer allow it to meet this goal, and that it should be allowed to comply by including elimination of construction and demolition debris capacity in its offset plan. Comments are due on September 22; this will be covered in more detail in this space before then.

August 9, 1999

NIMBY in the South Bronx? Or Is It More?

     An abandoned casket factory on Brook Avenue and 148th Street in Mott Haven has become a flash point for rare “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) opposition in the South Bronx, and for a not-so-rare flip-flop by Bronx Community Board 1.

   After dozens of Mott Haven residents, many of them from the new middle income homes built by the New York City Partnership along Brook Avenue, chanted their opposition at Community Board 1’s monthly meeting, the Community Board rescinded its letter of support for a 61-unit AIDS housing project sponsored by SOBRO, the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. The residents say they are not opposing the proposal because of the HIV-positive status of its future residents, but because SOBRO and the Community Board did not inform them of the project until the last minute.

   SOBRO admits it has been planning the project, which would bring SOBRO $12 million in construction and other funds, for four years. Details only recently became known in the neighborhood, where in recent years the NYC Partnership has sold dozens of homes for $200,000 a piece. One Partnership Home purchaser says, “I was lured here from Manhattan, and now this...”. Now this, indeed...

   Community Board 1 has a history of quietly giving it support to projects, then later (usually too late) feigning opposition to them. CB 1 supported Bronx Lebanon’s medical waste incinerator in Port Morris, then, after community marches down 138th Street, said it had been duped. CB 1 supported Fransesco Galesi’s Harlem River Yards project, and now is faced with a massive waste transfer station there, proposed by Waste Management. And now, the casket factory.

     Two blocks north, on Brook between Westchester Avenue and 149th Street, the city in recent years built a youth jail, topped with razor wire. CB 1 voiced opposition, but, again, too little, too late. As with most South Bronx development, long time low income residents get nothing. Middle income homes few here can afford are built, along with projects like the youth jail. On 149th Street between Brook and St. Ann’s Avenue stands a five story tenement, with crumbling wooden window frames and mountains of tenant complaints. The hype surrounds them, and, with $12 million dollars up for grabs, SOBRO will not give up easy. Nearly $700,000 of this funding is to be in the form of tax credit, which will be foregone if SOBRO cannot give assurances that 10% of the construction would be completed this year. SOBRO’s latest defense: to portray its empire-building as based on compassion, and to portray its opponents as bigots. But if the past is any guide, SOBRO goes wherever the money is -- including to Boston a month ago, to testify in favor of Fleet Bank, which hardly lends to South Bronx residents. Next stop for the SOBRO / casket factory project: the City Council, and its Land Use Committee. Developing...

   Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Vito Fossella (R-NY) has taken his sound byte on the road. The sound byte fell on his lap in March: the EPA came to New York City to investigate environmental justice complaints about the proliferation of waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, and declined his invitation to visit the Fresh Kills dump on Staten Island.

     Fossella quickly went to the floor of the House of Representatives, and denounced this as “environmental injustice.” An analogy: this is akin to criticizing a bank regulator for investigating a claim of discrimination in lending, rather than automatic teller machine surcharges more generally. There’s no contradiction: each is analyzed under a different applicable law. Fossella’s claim seems to be that our government is too solicitous of low income and minority communities.

    The EPA’s EJ initiative is a minuscule part of its budget, is based on a presidential Executive Order, and findings that toxic uses have disproportionately been sited in minority communities. There are various existing buttons at the EPA, and in the U.S. Code, that Fossella could push about the Fresh Kills dump. But he sees the opportunity to ridicule a single program requiring the EPA to consider civil rights violations in the siting of toxic facilities as a way to distinguish himself from the 535 other ambitious Congresspeople. Hence:

   Fossella published an op-ed on August 6 in the Detroit News, the anti-EJ newspaper of choice, nationwide. Fossella begins his op-ed by appealing to “[r]esidents of Detroit and Michigan,” and ends it with a “question that Michiganians and Detroiters have been asking for some time.” Does Fossella represent Michigan, or Detroit? No -- he is a freshman Congressman from Staten Island, New York. With “national aspirations,” apparently. Or, frustrated that the New York dailies didn’t view his sound byte as worthy of a whole op-ed, he sought out a sympathetic daily elsewhere. Perhaps he could modify it for the Louisiana market...

     Meanwhile, in California, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has adopted its own loosely-worded environmental justice resolution, promising “equal access to file complaints and equal enforcement of pollution violations.” Most environmentalists find the resolution relatively toothless; the San Francisco Examiner of August 5, on the other hand, emphasized that the resolution “went far beyond a measure recommended by its legal and technical staff.”

August 2, 1999

    The theme in The Bronx this summer, as elsewhere, is HEAT. Day after day in the mid- to high-90s. In previous summers, it was easier to find a fire hydrant open, splashing cool water on children in bathing suits. Not unreasonably, city officials pointed out that this wasted water. The solution was supposed to be spray caps, which would reduce the flow to that of the sprinklers so prominent on suburban lawns. But in most of the Bronx this summer, the spray caps have not been distributed, or, even where they are in place, the Fire and Police Departments simply turn off the hydrant, in ways they cannot be reopened. And in the dry streets, the children sweat. The other day at the Mapes Avenue swimming pool on 180th Street, someone let their pit bull dog into the pool, leading to a mass scramble out of the pool. Some are now looking at the shut-off fire hydrants, visions of sledge hammers dancing in their heads...

    All fantasia to the side, the New York Times’ coverage of the Bronx has reached a new low. The massive Sunday Times of August 1, 1999, contained only 18 references to the Bronx -- down 50% from previous weeks. The only substantive article was a months-late report of racial tensions surrounding School Board 10’s vote to expand Middle School 141 in Riverdale, focusing it on children from this most-affluent section of the Bronx. This has been brewing for months, and so hardly qualifies as news. Two society wedding announcements peripherally touched on the Bronx, as did a sports story about the Yankee’s Roger Clemens. Where the beef?

    The beef, as usual, is to be found in the “alternative” press. For the following emerging story, ICP wishes to credit the Big Apple Garbage Sentinel, available on the internet at <>. Any errors, or gun-jumping, are ICP’s fault. But it’s better to report emerging outrages before they happen, rather than in the post-mortem format the New York Times, for example, so often uses for the Bronx.

     Reportedly, Waste Management, the garbage behemoth that has gained a City contract to transport waste to Virginia, is angling to open a waste transfer facility in the Harlem River Yards. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is considering allowing Waste Management to process up to 10,500 tons a day in the Harlem River Yards, purportedly in exchange for closing or selling some of the company’s transfer stations in Hunts Point. This tonnage is well beyond the volume of garbage created in the Bronx; furthermore, Fransesco Galesi’s Harlem River Yard Ventures’ 99-year sweetheart lease for the property reportedly precluded Galesi from using the land for waste-related activities.

    All of this takes place against the backdrop of pending environmental justice complaints pending at the federal EPA, about the concentration of waste transfer stations in the South Bronx. DEC seems to have an interest in appearing to decrease the NUMBER of transfer stations in the South Bronx, even if the actual tonnage being processed here goes up. Local politics has reared its head: Community Planning Board 1 (which adopted a secret “yes we approve,” then public “no we don’t” approach to Galesi’s overall HRY project) is concerned that the transfer stations WMI would close are in Community Board 2, in Hunts Point. (CB 1, meanwhile, is beginning to report opposition to SOBRO’s plan for AIDS housing in the ex-coffin factory on 148th Street and Willis Avenue -- report forthcoming).

    It is the politics here that stinks more, this week, than the garbage. This transfer station story is developing; Freedom of Information Law requests are pending, but in the interim, for or with more information, contact us.

* * *

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