27 February 2018

Concrete Plant, Banana Kelly And Longwood

The past couple of weeks, we've had our best weather during the work week--just when I've had to teach classes and go to meetings.  And all through the past weekend, we had the sort of weather only Marlee could love--because it keeps me home and she can cuddle with me!

So, yesterday, I snuck out for a ride between classes and a meeting.  A curtain of clouds crept between us and the sun, but no rain fell and the air was rather mild.  Once again, I rode in the Bronx, within a few kilometers of my job.

Yes, that really is dust in the background.  But it has nothing to do with the tall cylindrical structures in the background

though it could have at one time.  Until the 1980s or thereabouts, they served as an industrial facility.  Now they are part of the Cement Plant Park along the Bronx River.  I've ridden by and through that park before.  It's small, and not exactly rustic, but is oddly quaint and bucolic in the way an old industrial town in New England or the Midwest might be.

Out the other side of the park, I followed a few streets to the area around The Hub, and into a neighborhood often referred to as "Banana Kelly" after the shape of Kelly Street.  On another street a couple of blocks from Kelly--Dawson Street--I saw this

and this

and this

all within a block.  Not surprisingly, that street is landmarked as part of the Longwood Historic District.

All of those houses, and others on nearby streets, were designed by the same architect, Warren Dickerson, in the 1890s.  At that time, the Bronx was still developing:  much of the northern and eastern parts were still marshlands, woods or farms.  

The houses in this district are 2 1/2 stories tall and semi-detached, separated from each other by side driveways and ornamental iron gates.  As attractive as they are, they seem, at first glance to be variations on a theme.  That is becuase they are, and that is what Dickerson intended.  He wanted to create a unified streetscape, and that he did.  While they started with the same basic design, they distinguish themselves from each other in the details in much the same way family members have their own individual characteristics but resemble each other.  But what makes them work together is that houses alongside or across from each other "mirror" the angles curves of each others' stoops and bays.  

The houses in that district were one of the first attempts--if not the first attempt--to create such visual unity in a neighborhood in New York City.  That such a block, and others like it, were created is all the more remarkable when you realize that there were basically no zoning codes in Westchester County--of which the Bronx was a part until it joined New York City, which also had no zoning laws, in 1898.

That those houses remained intact is practically a miracle given the devastation and abandonment that consumed nearby streets and communities during the 1970s.  While some of those surrounding areas in the South Bronx have been rebuilt, they do not have the character of the houses I saw on Dawson Street.

Then I biked back to the college, and a meeting.  Nobody tells you about such things when you're in graduate school!

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