Last year I was hired to write a piece for NYC neighborhoods for the Village Voice and it was finally published today!
When you walk through the streets of Melrose, you’ll be hard-pressed to find signs of the urban decay most of the world thinks of when they hear the words “South Bronx.”
Founded in the 1850s and largely settled by German immigrants fleeing the ever-more-crowded conditions on the Lower East Side, the Village of Melrose was carved out of farmland belonging to the descendants of U.S. Constitution preamble author Gouverneur Morris. By the time the Bronx was fully annexed to New York City in 1895 — three years before Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island joined the party — Melrose had already grown into an important gateway to the borough, connected to Manhattan by several bridges and rail lines. Once the subway was extended into the Bronx, in the early twentieth century, office buildings (and even an opera house) began sprouting along 149th Street, a nexus which would become known as the Hub, the Times Square of the Bronx.
The golden years lasted for decades, as Italian and Irish immigrants, and eventually African Americans and Puerto Ricans, settled in. But then things began to change: Federal redlining rules, following the National Housing Act of 1934, led banks to refuse to provide loans to any property owners once a person of color moved in on a block. The result was white flight, as homeowners unable to obtain mortgages for necessary upkeep abandoned their properties, some even committing arson to collect insurance and cut their losses.
By the end of the 1970s, the Bronx had lost over 300,000 residents during the decade, and Melrose was filled with abandoned buildings and rubble-strewn lots. But life continued: Community gardens created by residents overtook vacant space, and the stage was set for one of the nation’s most successful examples of urban renewal. Today, little vacant land is left, and what remains is slated for development. More than 5,000 new units of housing have been constructed since 2000, much of it affordable to low-income residents, and streets once vacant for blocks on end are now tree-lined strips of townhouses. Melrose is now home to 25,000 residents, up from just 3,000 in 1980, among them Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Mexicans, West Africans, and Dominicans.
Check out the top places we recommend in the neighborhood: Your Guide to Melrose: The Bronx in Technicolor Glory | Village Voice