If you squint your eyes and cover your ears while observing The Andrew Freedman Home, you’d be hard pressed to ever guess that you were standing in the middle of the Grand Concourse.
Architecturally, this century-old building is designed more akin to a French or Italian Renaissance edifice with its soft gray and yellow limestone rather than structure found on a main avenue in the South Bronx.
Today, and as of 2012, The Andrew Freedman Home is known as a daycare center as well as an event space venue for a variety of artwork exhibitions in various mediums including photography, live installations and video projections.
But just how did this exquisitely designed building originate and for what purpose?
The creation of The Andrew Freedman Home was the vision of the man for whom it is named. While there is not much information to be found about Andrew Freedman, which causes me a great deal of frustration, being a history fanatic, I will share the few facts that I was able to ascertain in my research.
Andrew Freedman was born in NYC in 1860, becoming a successful businessman, who built a multi-million dollar fortune by the end of the 19th century. There is not much known about his personal life, except that he was Jewish and attended Grammar School No. 35 in lower Manhattan. It appears that he was never married, nor did he have any children. Records do not really exist for exactly how he created his personal wealth.
His business accomplishments are, however, pretty impressive. Freedman became the principal owner of the New York Giants of the National League in 1895, after purchasing a controlling interest in the ball club from Cornelius C Van Cott, at a cost of $53,000, which in today's dollar terms would amount to approximately $1,596,148.
He would remain owner until 1902, but not after first purchasing a controlling interest in the Baltimore Orioles of the American League that same year.
According to a New York Times Article published on December 1, 1901, Freedman's difficult personality, which led to many run-ins with his players, resulted in National League presidential candidate Al Spalding calling Freedman an "impossibility in baseball," further stating that the "only condition under which he would accept the Presidency of the National Baseball League would be that Andrew Freedman should be forced out of baseball." Freedman refused.
Apart from baseball, Freedman's financial interests extended across other areas of industry. For one, he was director of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), which was founded and owned by August Belmont and John B. McDonald, for which Freedman reportedly invested $1.7 million (or approximately $49,228,077 by today's standards) into the company in 1901 and 1902.
This business mogul also served on the board of directors of the Wright Company, established in 1909 to market the Wright brothers' airplanes in the United States. Further, as the owner of an ice yacht, named "Haze", Freedman won a pennant race in North Shrewsbury, New Jersey in 1904.
Quite an interesting resume of business ventures for a man whose methods for financial accumulation is not very clear. According to Christopher Gray's NYTimes article on May 23, 1999, "He (Freedman) had been involved in real estate and subway financing, owned the New York Giants baseball team and was a close associate of the Tammany Hall boss Richard Croker. But Freedman's entry in the authoritative Dictionary of American Biography ventures only that ''by ways that are no longer traceable he achieved a conspicuous success.''"
The facts remain that Andrew Freedman was a man of substantial means, who lived a wealthy lifestyle, realizing that life could very easily take a turn for the worse, leaving even the richest individuals poor and destitute, after he encountered a scare during the Panic of 1907, when he nearly lost his entire fortune.
His fear would prompt him to create a charitable trust, with which to build a home for older individuals who had lost their fortunes, where they could live in their retirements in a style they had grown accustomed.
At the time of his death in 1915, Freedman left an estate valued over $4 million ($99,100,000 in current dollar terms) and bequeathed money to build the Andrew Freedman Home.
The home was intended to serve as a retirement home for "aged and indigent persons of both sexes", who had formerly been of "good circumstances" financially, offering each resident a rent free place to live, along with free servants. This exquisite retirement home included formal English gardens, a well-manicured lawn, public rooms with fireplaces and oriental rugs and each private residence contained a white marble shower stall. The Home could accommodate 130 residents at a time.
Interestingly, another prominent Bronx individual, Samuel Untermyer, lawyer, civic leader and former owner of the Yonkers estate which is now Untermyer Park, served as executor of Freedman's estate. It was he who would oversee the construction of The Andrew Freedman Home, in the purchasing of the land on the Grand Concourse in The Bronx and hiring architects Joseph H. Friedlander and Harry Allan Jacobs to design the two-story building.
At a cost of $1 million ($14,620,000 in current dollar terms), the new edifice took two years to construct, being completed and opened in 1924. An expansion would be added between 1928 and 1931, with the addition of two new wings designed by architect, David Levy.
Unfortunately, as the years went by, the trust's money decreased and by 1965, residents were required to pay rent. Shortly thereafter, as the area around the Grand Concourse began to decline, people started to move out.
In 1992, The Andrew Freedman Home was named a New York City Designated Landmark and remains today one of the grandest buildings in the Bronx.
Till next time,
* New York Times - December 1, 1901 (reprinted 2012)
* New York Times - January 4, 1904 (reprinted 2012)
* New York Times - October 3, 1913 (reprinted 2012)
* New York Times - November 23, 1909
* New York Times: Streetscapes/The Andrew Freedman Home; A Retirement Home Built for the Formerly Wealthy By Christopher Gray, May 23, 1999
* Landmark Preservation Center, 1992
Elisa is a travel blogger and freelance writer. She is co-founder of TravelinCousins.com travel blog and writes a weekly column for ThisIsTheBronx.info.