This past Saturday was the first-ever Bronx LGBT Expo, in what is planned to be an annual event.
Clearly, by the turnout and the positive response to this exposition, the creators were spot on when they conceived the idea!
The vision of the event, conceived by artist, Jose Ramon Medina and Bronx Historical Tours founder, Alexandra Maruri, was to bring together local businesses, entrepreneurs, talent and artists from The Bronx, showcased under one roof in celebration of World Pride 2019 and the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and a half-century of LGBT liberation.
This vision became a reality thanks to the tireless efforts of The Bronx LGBT Expo CEO, Albert Rodriguez and a committed team of volunteers, who did an outstanding job bringing together the participating LGBT Bronx-based businesses that serve the Borough in a variety of industries, securing sponsors and donating their time to the set up of this event.
The venue hosting this event, is home to Bronx Barx, the only Doggie Daycare in the borough, and was clad with colorful rainbow flags, balloons and artwork covered walls.
Graciously opening up their space, this independently owned business reinvented their interior for the celebration, turning it into a forum for over a dozen enterprises to display their respective products and services.
The exhibitors consisted of both LGBT-owned companies as well as those in the Borough and surrounding area that serve, in a specific and heartfelt way, the LGBT community.
I had an opportunity to meet and chat one-on-one with Alexandra, Jose Ramon and the wide variety of exhibitors and speakers participating in the day's festivities. The atmosphere was upbeat, cheery and positive.
As an ally to the community, I attended along with my 15-year old daughter and we couldn't have found the staff and attendees more welcoming and eager to talk about their goods and services.
The cross section included a financial institution, healthcare providers, medical centers, a pharmaceutical company, outreach program organizations, a music and dance company, a specialist in counseling training and job placement, artists, authors, an online news outlet and more.
LIST OF THE BRONX LGBT EXPO
EXHIBITORS AND SPONSORS
Bronx Historical Tours
Gefface Photo Booth
(Latino Outreach and Understanding Division)
Mott Haven Historic Districts Association
Montefiore Medical Center
NYC Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Recoveries R Us
In addition to the plethora of information shared, there was no shortage of swag and fun merchandise to fill the totes being given away!
Equally important and perhaps more heartfelt than creating a celebration and event to showcase local businesses, was the highlight put on mental health, namely, the emotional and mental illnesses that continue to affect individuals within the LGBT community with a panel that included mental health professionals, counselors and activists.
The panel was of an important aspect to The Expo, from day one when the event was conceived by Jose Ramon. As a survivor of mental illness himself, the Bronx artist has made it his mission to bring awareness of the suffering experienced by lesbians, gays, transgenders and others within the community, through his White Shirt Project and his ongoing advocacy.
Moderated by Gary Axelbank, founder and publisher of ThisIsTheBronx.info, the panel discussions began with and a prayer given by Rev. Carmen Hernandez. In his introductory speech Axelbank said it best, stating that this event was an example of inclusiveness for everyone to be who they are, "with no one left behind."
The morning panel included a special focus on the challenges facing those member of the Transgender community, which was led by Kim Watson, author of The Modern Woman and trans activist.
Nicole Bowles, another activist and founder of Sister 2 Sister 4 Real Network, made a heartfelt statement about how all humans should be treated with respect, asking for support and understanding within the LGBT community for their transgender brother and sisters.
The afternoon program focused on the important issue of depression, which is quite prevalent within the LGBT community, highlighting recovery services provided by non profits.
The event received television coverage as well from News 12 providing a great audio-visual overview of the day, entitled "Inaugural Bronx LGBT Expo creates safe space for community!"
Next year's 2nd Annual Bronx LGBT Expo is sure to be even more expansive so stay tuned for updates on the scheduled date!!
Until next time,
I don't need your tolerance
I don't need your acceptance
What I demand
is your respect
For my Humanity
As the famous writer, Miguel de Cervantes said in Don Quixote, “All sorrows are less with bread,” and based on the success of the many bread bakeries and wholesalers in The Bronx, it is safe to say, most of the general public would have to agree.
For nearly 100 years, less than a handful of bread bakeries, located right here in The Bronx, have been producing fresh bread daily and supplying stores, restaurants, delis and bodegas regularly with a constant supply of this beloved and age old sustenance.
Four Bronx bakeries in particular, have built their reputation and fame in the area over the past century, known by name throughout the neighborhoods for which their bread can be found. Take for example, the South Bronx and Washington Heights, where Prince Bread has been an important staple since the 1970’s and ‘80’s.
Personally speaking, I have my own very personal memories of this Bronx-made bread from my days as a college student at Fordham University. Spending my sophomore year summer living on Arthur Avenue to attend classes, I’ll never forget the smell that filled the air in the wee hours of the morning of the baking bread from Prince Bakery on Belmont Avenue in Little Italy.
In fact, on those “mornings” when we strolled home from a late night out at the bars, we would make a pit stop on our way home to purchase a loaf or two of the freshly-baked bread, still hot and steamy.
And, I’m not the only one whose youth was filled with “Prince bread” memories. Alexandra Maruri, founder of Bronx Historical Tours recalls, “I remember going to the local bodega after school and ordering a spiced ham and cheese hero. Spiced ham and American cheese was the sandwich of the times and all the kids ordered it - on Prince bread with extra mayo.”
Prince Bakery was actually described best by a reviewer on Yelp, who is quoted as saying, “Prince Bakery supplies the Bodegas of the Bronx and Washington Heights with some quality bread. Started by Johnny Prince, this bakery is the talk of the hood. Ask any resident of any hood in The Heights and The Bronx who makes the best bread and the inevitable answer will be Prince.”
Another Belmont section based bakery, with a fifty year history is Terranova Bakery. Founded in 1967 by Pietro “Peter” Terranova, with the goal of honoring old world baking methods, Terranova earned the proud distinction of “Top Bread in New York City” by Zagat.
The young Terranova arrived in America from Sicily in 1961, settling in the Little Italy section of the Bronx, where he began working at a local bakery sweeping the floors. Learning the craft and trade of bread making, Peter bought the business in October 1967, giving birth to Terranova Bakery on 187th Street.
With the addition of his brother Gandolfo in 1969 and the tireless efforts of their respective wives, Terranova Bakery has grown into a steady supplier of bread throughout the North and East Bronx and Westchester County, which includes significant distribution to Italian restaurants.
DID YOU KNOW...
THE WONDERS OF WONDER BREAD
The Ward Bread Company, founded by Irish immigrant
Hugh Ward in 1849 on the Lower East Side, was a major
company with factories all over the country,
including one in Brooklyn and in The Bronx.
In the early 20th century, the company revolutionized
the baking process, employing new technology
to bake bread in a mechanized assembly line.
In the 1920s, Hugh’s grandson William attempted
to monopolize the American baking market,
using dirty business tactics.
To distance itself from the negative press
and its tarnished reputation, the company
assumed the name of one of the companies it acquired:
Wonder Bakeries, makers of Wonder bread.
Going back a bit further to the 1920’s, The Bronx has two historic bread makers, who are part of the fabric of the Borough. These include Nicosia’s Original Bronx Bread Company and Zaro's Family Bakery.
A bread tradition that started in 1925 on a side street in Harlem, Nicosia’s Original Bronx Bread Company is now a 4 generation business. According to their website, “Calogero Nicosia began cultivating his passion for bread in the foothills of a town in Sicily, Santa Caterina. It was here that the tradition began.”
Made fresh daily, their bread is “slowly fermented and baked to a light golden color to enhance flavor.” Clearly, they have a winning formula having served the communities of the North and East Bronx, as well as Westchester for nearly 100 years, which appears to have no end in sight for the family-run bread company based on Burke Avenue.
And if bread is a family tradition, so is the business of bread making, as is the case withZaro's Family Bakery. Opening the doors to his first bakery in The Bronx in 1927, Joseph Zaro started a business based on great customer service. According to their website, “Our business is inseparable from our family—great customer service is a personal Zaro family mission.
Today, that original Bronx location has grown into a bakery chain with 11 stores throughout the New York City metropolitan area, which even extends to New Jersey and casts a net even further with its wholesale business. Here in The Bronx, Zaros distributes through its neighborhood pastry shop as well as the small coffee shops within Montefiore Hospital.
Eighty-five years since Joseph Zaro came to America, Zaro's is a fourth-generation family-owned and operated business.
Till next time,
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
This month, Bronx Historical Tours is celebrating its 8th Anniversary. With the foresight of entrepreneur and Bronx native, Alexandra Maruri, The Bronx is now a destination for tourists and locals alike to learn about the fascinating history of one of New York City’s greatest boroughs!
What started off as an idea, a “concept” as Alexandra herself puts it, has turned into the best-rated Bronx tour resources around.
Let’s take a step back in time to 2010, when Ms. Maruri was working at a New York City hotel. Having been downsized from her corporate job of nearly two decades, this proud Bronx-loving young woman conceived of the idea to develop tours around her favorite borough after a brief conversation with a hotel guest who said, “I would visit The Bronx if I would go with you.”
These words were all it took for the young business woman to turn her idea into a full-fledged business. Her concept was twofold. First, to offer a vehicle by which people from near and far could get to know the history of The Bronx, through tours; and secondly, and simultaneously, to promote small business within her beloved borough.
Her goal was to build self-sustaining tourism, whereby, the intredity of the neighborhood is maintained, while, at the same time, bringing awareness and promoting local Bronx businesses.
Taking money from her 401K to fund her new venture, Alexandra Maruri registered her new business, eight years ago this month on June 13, 2011. She spent hours at the Rambling House mapping out the concept, creating tours and routes around the Borough that would appeal to tourists.
Maruri told me, “I told the people in the neighborhood and Tara at the Rambling House, that I was planning to bring tourism into The Bronx and everyone asked me how? I said I will promote The Bronx as a destination.”
And that is precisely what she did!
Initially selecting three of the most historic and quintessential Bronx destinations, she launched her new business with three tours - Little Ireland in Woodlawn Heights, Little Italy in Belmont and Bronx Cultural Tour on the Concourse.
As fate would have it, Woodlawn Cemetery, one of the largest cemeteries in New York City and located in the Woodlawn section of The Bronx, better known as “Little Ireland,” was slated to be designated as a National Historic Site and added to the National Register of Historical Places that same month - June 23, 2011, to be exact.
It was perfect timing for featuring The Cemetery, which opened during the Civil War in 1863 and covers more than 400 acres. The resting place for more than 300,000 people, that include such notables as Frank Winfield Woolworth, Bat Masterson, Diana Barrymore, Nellie Bly, George M. Cohan, Celia Cruz, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, Woodlawn Cemetery is also home to some of the most beautiful architecture and buildings on its grounds.
Take a visual tour of The Bronx with BronxHistoricalTours.com
I can attest to the beauty of this Bronx destination, having taken the Little Ireland - Woodlawn Heights tour with Maruri, and the incredible knowledge she bestowed upon me during the tour.
“I created all the routes based on places I frequented, grew up around and the historical landmarks throughout the Borough,” Maruri explains.
Her knowledge of The Bronx is only matched by her passion and love for her home borough! During my Bronx Church Tour with Alexandra, I had the joy of meeting several of the local business owners, who have become fixtures in the Belmont section and have made the neighborhood what it is - a warm and special place.
Since it's humble beginnings, Bronx Historical Tours has grown by leaps and bounds to include a plethora of tours in every category imaginable for visitors with any and all interests.
In addition to the above mentioned tours, Maruri's company now offers a variety of walking and bus tours that include the following:
With more and more being added all the time!
Thanks Alexandra Maruri for putting The Bronx on the international tour radar scene!
-Till next time,
You know what I love about The Bronx — the spirit and sense of pride
of its residents in being from The Bronx, regardless of their gender,
race, ethnicity, cultural background or sexual identity.
So it is no wonder that a few members of The Bronx LGBT community have decided to
come together to plan the first-ever Bronx LGBT Expo. The event will
bring together local businesses, entrepreneurs, talent and artists
from The Bronx under one roof in celebration of World Pride 2019 and
the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and a half-century of
Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. A 1969 police raid here led to the Stonewall riots, one of the most important events in the history of LGBT rights (and the history of the United States). This picture was taken on pride weekend in 2016, the day after President Obama announced the Stonewall National Monument, and less than two weeks after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. (Rhododendrites / Wikimedia Commons)
The Bronx is home to twelve colleges, four of which have NYC Landmarks and/or buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places found on their respective grounds.
With such an enormity of structural treasures right in our own backyard, enjoying a close up and personal visit is easy for Bronx history buffs like myself! The College of Mount St. Vincent has two NYC Designated Landmarks, both of which, date back to the 1850’s.
Located in Riverdale, the 70-acre, urban College of Mount St. Vincent is home to Fonthill Castle and the Administration Building, two landmarked historic buildings.
To fully understand the significance of these celebrated national historic structures, let’s take a step back in time to examine the foundation of the college on whose grounds they reside.
Founded by the Sisters of Charity of New York, and serving over 1,800 students with professional undergraduate programs, the college is under the care of the Sisters of Charity of New York, one of several Sisters of Charity congregations that trace their lineage back to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, who established the order in the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1809.
In 1847, the Academy of Mount Saint Vincent was established as a school for women in Manhattan on land known as “McGowan's Pass,” which would eventually become part of Central Park. It was named to honor Saint Vincent de Paul, the 17th-century French priest who worked with the poor and founded the original Sisters of Charity.
As the city of New York began acquiring land for Central Park in 1855, the sisters, under the leadership of Mother Angela Hughes, sister of Archbishop John Hughes (founder of Fordham University), purchased the 70-acre "Fonthill" Estate in Riverdale, owned by the famed and arguably the most important Shakespearean actor of the 1800s, Edwin Forrest.
The focal point of this estate was Fonthill Castle, set high above the Hudson River with breathtaking views. The residence took four years to build from 1848-1852, and its construction was under the watchful eye of Edwin Forrest’s wife, actress Catherine Norton Sinclair.
In 2006, Texas A&M University professor Steven Escar Smith is quoted as saying “that in laying the cornerstone, Forrest set into it a few coins and a volume of Shakespeare.” The name Fonthill was derived from English Novelist, William Beckford's Gothic Fonthill Abbey in England.
According to the Historic Campus Architecture Project, Fonthill was not intended to parallel Fonthill Abbey in England, but there are some similarities in interior decoration and in certain architectural details which were copied. An example is the fan faulting of Forrest's drawing room ceiling, probably modeled off of Beckford's St. Michael's Gallery.
There is a bit of controversy regarding the architect of what is now recognized as an historic building, as some believe it was built by Thomas C. Smith, and others claiming it was Alexander Jackson Davis. From the research that stands, it cannot be accurately determined.
One thing that cannot be disputed, however, is the Gothic Revival style of Fonthill, which consists of a cluster of six octagonal towers at varying heights, built of hammered grey stone. Five of the towers radiate from a three-story central tower.
Interestingly and quite ironically, Fonthill Castle was never occupied by the acting couple as they divorced before they could occupy it, at which point Forrest sold the estate to the Sisters of Charity.
Throughout the years, the building has served multiple functions for the College of Mount St. Vincent, including a chapel, a residence for the Sisters, a museum, an annex to the main building, a chaplain's residence, the Elizabeth Seton Library from 1942 to 1968, and in 1969, the college admissions office. It was designated a New York City Landmark in 1966 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Adding to this already illustrious and historic background, The Administration Building on the campus was also designated a NYC Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places at the same time as Fonthill Castle.
Built between 1857 and 1859 in the Early Romanesque revival style, there is no uncertainty about the architect, with the initial structure of the Administration Building designed and built by Henry Engelbert,.
The original building is a five-story red brick building on a fieldstone base. It features a six-story square tower topped by a copper lantern and spire. The tower is flanked by five story gabled sections. At the base of the tower, a double stairway rises from a porte cochere to the level of the veranda, leading to the entrance. Subsequently, the building was expanded in 1865, 1883, 1906-1908, and in 1951 respectively.
Till next time,
One of the things on my "Bronx Bucket List" was a visit to some of the historical Catholic Churches. So, who better to call for a tour than Alexandra Maruri, founder of Bronx Historical Tours - the first-ever company to show locals and tourists alike, the beautiful Bronx!
My day began with a quick breakfast before heading out into the rain for a car ride to the Belmont section of the Bronx, aka Little Italy.
My timing could not have been more perfect! In spite of intermittent downpours and the flooding of the Bronx River Parkway (which I avoided!), I arrived on 187th Street and Hugh’s Avenue at 9:50am, ten minutes early for my rendez-vous with Alexandra.
Call me crazy, but, I adore the rain and wet weather, and as a world traveler, it has never stood in the way of me touring.
With my slicker and umbrella in tow, we made our way through touring two Catholic Churches - what a delightful day we had!!
Our first visit was to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on 187th Street and Belmont Avenue. A bit of history about this magnificent church…
The late 1800’s and early 1900’s saw the arrival of large numbers of immigrants from Italy. Arriving via lower Manhattan, many Italians settled downtown, however, a large number of these made their way north to the Bronx, establishing large Italian communities.
At this time, there existed one Catholic Church located in the Northwest Section of the Bronx on the Grand Concourse and 202nd Street. St. Philip Neri Church, had an Italian-speaking priest, to which the newly arriving immigrants of Belmont would travel for Sunday Mass, sacraments and funerals. However, it was a long and difficult trip in those days.
Realizing that a burgeoning Italian neighborhood was evolving, a mission was opened in a store front at 659 E. 187 Street to serve the faithful of Belmont, with the first Mass celebrated on June 13, 1906.
From the store front, a basement Church was built on 187th Street and Belmont Avenue in 1907, and then, ten years later, in 1917, the upper Church was built and dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
This history explains the two dates, prominently featured on the church.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel would become the largest Italian National Parish in the Archdiocese of New York. At the height of its history in the 40’s and 50’s, more than 40,000 Italians made Our Lady of Mount Carmel their parish.
The inside of the church is just lovely, with its beautiful stained glass windows throughout, painted frescoes on the ceiling, and stately marble columns.
The church has undergone much restoration, breathing new life into the beloved church. Many necessary modifications were made to keep up with the neighborhood’s changing demographics and serving a whole new wave of latino immigrants arriving from Central and South America.
Combining reverence for the old with the implementation of the new, restoration included replacing worn out floors, painstakingly matching original Italian marble used to repair church columns, refurbishing ceiling frescos, relocating existing statues of saints within the church and adding much-needed exterior lighting.
Additionally, new statues of saints, held in high esteem by the new neighborhood immigrants from Mexico and Latin America were added. New paint colors were used to brighten certain interior spaces, such as the baptism area, and a new church organ was purchased.
The church also uses new candles that do not emit soot, in order to better preserve the ceiling frescos.
Spanish language masses were added to the existing English and Italian ones for more inclusiveness to the members of the community.
One gorgeous church down and one more to go! With the rain coming down on and off, we made our way to the Allerton section, about five miles away from the Belmont section (and our visit to Our Lady of Mount Carmel) to St. Lucy’s Roman Catholic Church in the East Bronx.
The atmosphere and mood on this visit was a bit different. Whereas Our Lady of Mount Carmel is located in the very populated and hustle bustle area of Little Italy, with its stores, restaurants and cafes, St. Lucy’s is situated in a more residential, less congested area.
Parking, as a result, was no problem, and there were no meters to worry about. As we walked up Bronxwood Avenue from my parked car, we approached a tall fence, which enclosed the caves and catacombs on the grounds of the church, located behind the infamous Grotto!
Once again, allow me to digress and present a bit of history about St. Lucy’s and the Grotto …
The history of The Grotto dates back to 1937 when it was built under the leadership of Pastor Monsignor Pasquale Lombardo.
After traveling to the famous Grotto in Lourdes, France, Monsignor Lombardo set out to build a replica of the Lourdes Grotto on the church grounds of St. Lucy's.
Lourdes is a French town in the Pyrenean foothills which was home to eighteen sightings of the Virgin Mary beginning with Bernadette Soubirous’ vision on February 11th, 1858.
Monsignor Lombardo’s goal was to provide parishioners, as well as visitors, with the spiritual experience of the Lourdes, France Grotto without the transatlantic pilgrimage.
Situated within the churchyard, but clearly visible from the street, Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto is made of stacked stones that form a thirty foot “cave.”
Completed in 1939 at a cost of $10,000, the Grotto has a large two-level catacomb section underneath and behind it, filled with statues of saints. Unfortunately, it is rarely open to the public, and the gates were closed and locked during our visit.
As with the original French cave, the water from the waterfall near the Bronx Grotto is said to be holy.
Each Sunday, the bell at St. Lucy’s is rung, creating the same D natural tone as the church in Lourdes, France. The Grotto is open daily, morning to sunset, weather permitting.
During my visit, it started to rain a bit, but, it was still beautiful to behold. There were a handful of visitors who came to collect the holy water. Some arrived with small plastic bottles, while others arrived with gallon-sized ones.
I noticed many rosary beads hanging around the Virgin Mary statue, that had apparently been placed there by visitors. Standing beneath the Grotto was a wonderful experience and I felt very fortunate to have visited a place with so much history and spiritual meaning to so many so close to home.
Inside St. Lucy’s Church, a rather humble and unassuming space, is the most gorgeous tile mosaic on the wall closest to the entrance. Alexandra informed me that it was originally behind the altar, but was subsequently moved to its current location. As we were exiting the church, the church bells were playing Ave Maria, which was more lovely than I could ever describe.
Attached to the church through a separate entrance is the Hall of Saints and a door and staircase that led up to a small gift shop. I enjoyed perusing through the shop, with its many interesting items, including holy water from the Lourdes France Grotto, as well as empty bottles for which to fill with water at St. Lucy’s Grotto.
The store manager, Michael was extremely helpful and most knowledgeable about the church.
In a word, my Bronx Church Tour Day was Divine!!
Till next time,
Looking at a few old photographs of Fordham Road, shown to me by our own Alexandra Maruri, founder of Bronx Historical Tours, I was immediately intrigued to do some research into this well known thoroughfare that stretches east to west from the Harlem River to Bronx Park and from High Bridge on the south to Spuyten Duyvil on the north.
Sometimes I think, instead of being a writer, I should have embarked on a career as a historian. I cannot tell you how much I love history and delving into the details of people and places from times gone by.
According to UrbanAreas.com, “Fordham Road we know today stems from the Fordham Manor, but it has its closest ties with a rural village (Fordham Village) that developed around the New York Central Railroad station of Fordham (on Webster Avenue and Fordham Road) and St. John’s College (now Fordham University).”
Prior to the 20th Century, most of The Bronx, including Fordham Village, was comprised predominantly of small farms and estates. Moving into the 1900’s, the Borough saw an influx of new residents coming from Manhattan and the lower Bronx which coincided with the emergence of inexpensive and accessible rapid transit like the Third Avenue El, the Jerome Avenue IRT, and the IND under the Grand Concourse.
The new residents included a mix of ethnic groups, resulting in the development of a variety of diverse neighborhoods and an increase in the number of mom and pop shops and businesses in the area. “This little economic boom included the construction of the $4 million Loew’s Paradise Theater in 1929 and the opening of an Alexander’s department store in 1938.”
“Fordham Road went on to replace 149th Street (the Hub) as the Bronx’s prominent shopping and entertainment centers” according to UrbanAreas.com.
5 Fun Facts About Fordham Road
Historically, Fordham Road has some of the most notable Bronx landmarks in all of the Borough and worth every moment of a visit whether you are a Proud Bronx resident or a visitor.
-Till next time,
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.