Two remarkable but unheralded Bronx sites could be remembered, restored and reborn thanks to recognition from a powerful advocacy group.
The Historic District Council this week recognized the Port Morris Gantries and Van Cortlandt Village as New York neighborhoods in need of preservation, according the New York Daily News.
"Neighborhoods throughout New York are fighting an unseen struggle to determine their own futures," said Simeon Bankoff, HDC executive director.
The soaring gantries arched cranes once used to lift ferry boats in and out of the East River could become the heart of a new waterfront plaza in gritty industrial Port Morris near E. 134th St.
Meanwhile, highlighting the rich history of middle-class housing in Van Cortlandt Village could help local residents beat back what they call inappropriate real estate development.
The sites were two of six recognized by the HDC this week. Last year, no sites honored by the nonprofit were in the Bronx. "To some degree, the Bronx is overlooked, said Bankoff, pledging to put the borough on the map."
Friends of Brook Park, a South Bronx community group, asked HDC to recognize the Port Morris Gantries. The group is working on a proposal for the redevelopment of the abandoned ferry terminal as a waterfront recreation and education center, said Harry Bubbins, executive director.
"We have no official public waterfront access along the coast of the South Bronx," said Bubbins. "The gantries are an example of the rich nautical history of New York and could become a bridge to future community use."
The Historic Districts Council, the city-wide advocate for historic buildings and neighborhoods, included the Port Morris Gantries in its recently announced Six to Celebrate, the group's annual listing of historic New York City neighborhoods that merit preservation attention. "By bringing these locally-driven neighborhood preservation efforts into the spotlight, HDC hopes to focus New Yorker’s attention on the very real threats that historic communities throughout the city are facing from indiscriminate and inappropriate development,” said Simeon Bankoff, HDC’s Executive Director. (Photo: Jake Dobkin)
The Port Morris site was a ferry terminal from 1906 through the 1960s, carrying New Yorkers from the Bronx to Queens, Long Island and North Brother Island.
Used briefly as a police marina, the site is now mostly abandoned, and the gantries are decrepit and rusty. But the property is still owned by the city. Bankoff said HDC plans to help Friends of Brook Park gain access to the site for youth programs and boating.
In Van Cortlandt Village, the Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association has been fighting a handful of land grabs and new housing projects.
The community sits atop the ruins of a Revolutionary War fort and was designed by legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. It boasts small Tudor revival homes and during the 1920s became a mecca for socialist factory workers fleeing the tenements of the lower East Side to build cooperative housing.
Now that former co-ops such as the Shalom Aleichem Houses have fallen on hard times and the character of the neighborhood is threatened by overdevelopment, HDC will help FIPNA get it listed on the national historic register, said Kristin Hart, president of the community group.
“We want people who live here to know about and celebrate the great history of the neighborhood,” she said.
Friends of Brook Park hope to launch human-powered watercraft and provide recreational and educational youth programs from the Port Morris Gantries site.