A portrait of the culture, context and the times of mid-twentieth century Bronx.
The Bronx of the mid twentieth century was a place and a people who enjoyed a dreamlike, romantic, and uncritical sense of well-being. We were unrealistically optimistic about everything including our possibilities and place in the greater scheme of things.
Bronx Stardust recalls the music of the period while describing the metaphor of fantasy and dreams indicative of the period. It is a song of great classes played in the make believe ballroom of radio and mind. It was the art of sound that layer over much of the time and was the best of who we could be. Stardust:
"Stardust" was composed and first recorded for Gennett Records by Hoagy Carmichael's band in 1927. Some critics have called "Stardust" the finest love ballad ever written, Parish's evocative lyrics, redolent of loss and nostalgia, perfectly integrated with the phrasing of Carmichael's melody. It is one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, with over 1800 recordings.Its the song that every righteous icon of song wanted to sing and when heard demanded a kind of reverence for its beauty. It is the Bronx I know and remember.
The stardust that was formed in mid twentieth century Bronx are the clouds reifying the Bronx for us to enjoy today.
As my story and my life’s work is so steeped in metaphors and metaphorical thinking it seemed apt to find a metaphoric title.
“Bronx Stardust”; I like it!
The Bronx is art but never Egypt or Babylon. More as Sodom and Gomorrah filled with violence, strife and angst but covered in God’s grace and the forgiveness given to Nineveh of Jonah’s time. There is now a Stardust Ballroom in the Bronx, which hearkens back to the “Stardust Dance Hall” featured in the Paddy Chayefsky movie called “Marty”. Neither of these were my inspiration but naming things Stardust does occur to other of my fellow Bronxites.
Bronx Stardust takes place in the mid-twentieth century Bronx depicting the indigenous affects of lives on the place and the place on lives giving evidence of the reputation of the Bronx. As an architect I believe that every site has its specific characteristic and nature peculiar to it only waiting to be awakened and discovered. It is in these tales about family, recreation, jobs, works, schooling career building ,family ambulating , traveling, etc. that the twentieth century Bronx is reified and exhumed.
The diversity of neighborhood’s unbridled and chaotic social structure in a diversity of neighborhoods such as South Bronx, Hunts Point, Washington Heights, Riverdale, etc.
It takes place in the “Gilded Age” (Mark Twain) from 1937 to 1958 until I entered Pratt and married Dorothy. It is well before I was called and was just “me” ,alone without a shepherd, lost in the wilderness…… but I did not want a quick fix. I was like us all a God created person heading for heaven determined to go before the judgment seat of Christ and live eternally in the lake of fire. So was my life ruled and guided. I was in the stardust of the melody, mesmerized by my context and its challenges.
Like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the Bronx is synonymous with evil, death and destruction the Bronx is a place which is outside of what many consider righteous and acceptable. The Bronx with is current diverse and complex demographics: Black or African American - 36%; Puerto Rican - 24%; Dominican Republic - 10%; West Indian (excluding Hispanic groups) - 8%; Other Hispanic or Latino - 8%; Italian - 6%; Jamaican - 5%; Irish - 4%; Sub-Saharan African - 3%; Mexican - 3%; African - 2%; Central American: - 2%; South American - 2%: German and many others- 1%; Where medium household income is about half of the national average (27,611 Bronx vs 41,994 United States of America Yet its population increases at about 2.3% annually.
The focus of this book is The South Bronx area which is comprised of five community districts in the southwestern portion of the borough (also the county) of the Bronx in New York City with Its total population in 2000 stood at 522,412, which represents about 40% of the population of the Bronx. the population that have incomes below the 1989 poverty level in Bronx County, almost 20% higher than those in New York City and about three times those in New York State and the United States.
The Black and Hispanic populations both nucleated to the south Bronx in the forties and continue to dominate the area. This has churned disputes for “turf” and been the cause a good percent of the violence and “gang wars” (Fort Apache and West Side Story)
This is the Bronx, my family, friends and our context before drugs, marijuana, recreational sex and a general moral collapse covered the Bronx and the rest of the United States of America. It was before the popularity and acceptance of single parent children, OPEC, electronics, high tech and jet planes. Before supermarkets, corporate control, Japanese hi-fi and cars, commercial globalization and illegal immigration as an acceptable practice. It was the Bronx before the Viet Nam war, computers, color TV and the international media explosion. Before digital electronics, sub-urb, rock and roll, go-go girls, mini skirts, night lit cities, fax machines, cell phones, walk man, boom-boxes, micro wave ovens, space program, TV dinners, OPEC, and AIDS. It was during the cold war, mafia and the development of an endless supply of energy and the building of a national net work of high ways. It was a very different Bronx than the one we see today. It was before speed and rapid change and before morals collapsed and the population increased exponentially. Cities and villages were still indigenous and communal places and small business and entrepreneurship flourished.
The median income for a household in the borough is $27,611, and the median income for a family is $30,682. Males have a median income of $31,178 versus $29,429 for females. The per capita income for the borough is $13,959. 30.7% of the population and 28.0% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 41.5% of those under the age of 18 and 21.3% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.
Despite the stereotype that The Bronx is a typical poor urban area of New York City, it is not necessarily true of the entire borough, or even a majority of it. The Bronx has much affordable housing (as compared to most of the rest of the New York metropolitan area, as well as upscale neighborhoods like Riverdale, Throgs Neck and Country Club.)
The Bronx underwent rapid growth after World War I. Many immigrants, most notably the Irish settled here. Author Willa Cather, Pierre Lorillard who made a fortune on tobacco sales, and inventor Jordan Mott were famous for settling the land. After the war, thousands of immigrants flooded the Bronx. French, German and Polish immigrants crowded into the city and changed it forever.I
However from 1950 to the present the Bronx has lost a small percentage of its population
In the prohibition days, bootleggers and gangs ran rampant in the Bronx. Mostly Polish and Italian immigrants smuggled in the illegal whiskey. By 1926, the Bronx was noted for its high crime rate and its many speakeasies.
After the 1930s, the Polish immigrant population in the Bronx decreased as a result of better living conditions in other states. The German population followed suit in the 1940s and so did many Italians in the 1950s, leaving a thriving Hispanic and African-American population which would continue to live and dominate in the Bronx to this day.
The South Bronx growth rate between 1990 and 2000 of 11.8% is slightly higher than that of Bronx county (10.7%) and the City (9.4%), and double that of New York State (5.5%).
Population sectors within the South Bronx have changed in size over the past decade in different ways between 1990 and 2000: the Black population has declined (by 3.5%) while the Hispanic population has increased dramatically (by 18.8%).
The Bronx is a metaphor of the underdog of our times representing a place which is full of potential it has yet to achieve yet having all the ingredients to succeed. Indeed it is a place where a renaissance can take place. The renaissance is in its population who like myself let God intervene, lift and set on a high place. As Jesus did to Legion God rebuked evil,sat him down,dressed him and gave him a voice. This is my prayer for the Bronx and it s population. “Look what the Lord has done” in my life: he has healed and delivered me. This is my praise.
He touched my body,he touched my soul he changed my mind. This can happen to some one in the Bronx and the Bronx can rise and find its cultural power.
I am everything I am because God has faith in me He stood by me when I had no love and no chance. This is the story of Barie in the Bronx. This is the story of pain and God’s deliverance in a place and time where faith and life was dark and bleak. It is a story about Bronx Stardust.
Why did I begin to write this work?
Aside from the instinct to exhume the metaphors of a valuable worthwhile place and time, I was saddened and angered by the twenty-first century synthetic ways our habitations and life is being churned out. I know there was another time and place where people, places, music, entertainment, education and neighbors had value and importance. It was long before I was called and a saved soul but the context and environment were alive with potential and authenticity. It was a time of Bronx Stardust.
It had hope and heart.
My present anomie includes recalling the past where I can write this work; an experience, which revealed a chain of anomie, I had held then in the past. A past which held delight, passion, and images.
So, I bring the past to the present through the eyes of a current anomie. Where I interrupt the present to enter the past. Where I break the standards and values now in place for those of another time.
With each and all anomies of the past I mourn and can bridge the present by reifying the moments of the past.
It seems a delight and, at times, relieves a stress, which I uncover in the past. I am also able to add information and mature perspective to the past giving past emotion, feelings and perceptions the advantage of setting each in the context of a lifetime of anomie, experiences and adventures. It is the ultimate metaphoric experience where I talk about the past in terms of the present and then make what was in the past familiar by reckoning it with the present.
The time the boys hammered a stick and broke my foot, there were so many traumas and unexpected interruptions.
In those moments there are contexts, people, relationships, experiences, accomplishments, arts, yearnings, and family that I know because I remember and write about them. They come alive and now through mature eyes as I recall them in this anomie and not the anomie in which the dissolution of standards and values occurred.
Most of the anomies are not stressful but ones of joy where I even had a role in ending a situation, yet, I do regret its passing and see the world in its image.
As a child each moves and changes of neighborhood and saying farewell to friends, buddy, schools and schoolmates. Leaving New Haven for Puerto Rico; leaving Arlene for an education; leaving Junior High for High School, leaving Faile for Simpson and leaving Simpson for Holland Ave.
For me those anomies occurred in contexts, recreation, music, and radio programs, movies, places, times, fashions, etc.
It is with an anomic sense of alienation and passion to reconnect to this time and place when I bring the past into the present and relate to it as in the present.
It is my way of aggressively dealing with the stress and the disorientation of the past anomi.
Osterbeck said the sense is the doorway into the event of the past and often it is not the five senses but the pain or joys that recall the event.
This work provides me with a media to relive, vent and relieve the stress of anomie. Success brought an anomie in Saudi Arabia of a miraculous nature.
So, I asked my self, what had prepared me to able to succeed on a mission, which no one else was able?
Many had tried and failed.
God made the way, but who was this instrument that God choose to use for this particular work?
And, as Ezekiel did, I walked on God’s path?
It seemed that answering this question might be of interest; and worth revealing and rendering for observation and analyzes.
To do this well I’d have to surrender and reveal many things, which may have been hidden and obscured by time and circumstance.
Realizing that God uses sinners and ordinary people, I just had to reveal whom it is that God had chosen to encourage others.
Who is Barie? And where did he come from? Like the Jewish Dutch boys with whom I visited Arles to find the secrets of what made van Gogh’s work so important the answer was van Gogh and not Arles. But it was Arles where all of what he did played out. Just as Israel, Galilee and Jerusalem is where Christ lived. Knowing the context helps us to understand the person and his accomplishments.
My “big” question.
Why are things the way they are? How do buildings, streets, and interiors get to be the way they are?
What makes the world? How is it decided? How is it formed?
Once I knew, I asked what does it mean to me?
What have I been able to do with this knowledge?
The knowledge led to ability.
Like Daniel and Joseph I contributed to shaping things; not just knowing. God brought me to serve the corporate giants, decision-makers and leaders of kingdoms and great fortunes.
In the Bronx, the answer that I sought as a child was answered when I researched housing for a book I wrote about Leipzig. As I read it many of the observations and hardships I suffered on Simpson Street became clear. The tenement has become a symbol of my youth and the context of my urban identity.
The tenement prototype was actually developed France, Germany and England. It was later exported to the USA.
The “Hof” was its prototype name in Leipzig, Berlin, and Dresden. Its application to the USA had some very serious and significant differences. The ones in Europe were through -units from the street front to the rear Hof.
The Hof, backyard, was, and, is today common and accessible to all and is not used as a throwaway for outsiders.
It is private and well guarded by residents who use and view it. The buildings were doomed to become slums when they were made subject to both rent control and absentee owners. These owners finally traded the buildings beyond their value and over their potential return so that eventually the tax burden well out paced the income, revenue and ultimately the sales price. I know this because Dorothy’s father and Jose Fernandez shared these facts with me about building s they owned.
Indeed my visits to so many cities have indeed answered the curiosity of little Barry. My design studies and works have added to this knowledge and together helped me to understand how the grid and its utilities were laid and then building formed to house “the people” in a country/urban setting. That is to day; to have all the amenities of the country while living in the city. Wow, was that a failure!
Converting “they” to “me” the person
Blessed are they, which do hunger and thirst after righteousness. --Matt. v. 6.
Who are they? Trades, professionals, ranks, citizens of countries, nationalities, etc. We group people together and identify them as the “they”. Husbands, wives, spouses, children and animals all become they and soon cast into our file of nameless beings being as a unit in a vast group too numerous for us to recount and recollect.
For all of our time’s increase population, speed and depersonalizing the individual into bodies, sea, groups, armies, nations, bands, tribes and “theys” it is necessary to convert ones self from that anonymous, insignificant and trivial status to the personal being seen and known by god. The person who beats and throbs within each mind and spirit. It in confrontation to and contrast of that this work strives to exhume from the many “they’s” Barie became to the individual which in-fact he really is. Not a they but a persona with a unique and peculiar combination of experiences and accomplishments. This combination and its manifestations are what set each of us apart from the “they” society wishes to cast and into the “no-they “of the God created persons we really are.
Yet, it is this very “they” which was so convenient and needed in one context becomes a detriment to our very soul loosing the detail and specificity of relationships, contexts and memories of senses, feeling and motivations consumed in the urge to shelve collections into categories and blurred perceptions.
If I could walk back down the streets from which I came and give each person I met a copy of my book, perhaps this might encourage them about what lies ahead about the potential and possibilities. I would the books in the candy stores, groceries, libraries, public and high schools. I’m afraid I’d make some people angry, but there might be some that find a beautiful hope for tomorrow in what was given to them from the past that walked the same streets and then some. I can only remember how encouraging it was when Jan Murray spoke at our Junior Hugh graduation.
We saw him frequently on TV and were thrilled when he appeared at our graduation as a former student and told us about his experiences in our neighborhood. As I grew up I met so many people who told me they had changed their name. It was common practice amongst immigrants and their children.
Later, after knowing so many such people from Shore Haven and the stage shows, as Maitre’d in the Catskills I got to personally spend time with entertainers that came to our hotel. It was one of my duties to feed and logistically help them. They were so funny and friendly; we had great times.