Friday, May 25, 2007

(Insert Phoenix Simile Here)

“The fires were set by landlords who were tired of trying to evict delinquent tenants. They were set by vandals who intended to return for the plumbing systems, which were easier to extract and sell once the firemen had knocked down the walls. They were set by idle kids who wandered the streets aimlessly after school….Sometimes ignition was preceded by the ritual removal of property, meaning that the fire had been started by the family that knew that Social Services was obligated to provide new housing and moving expenses to victims of disastrous combustion.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning, by Jonathan Mahler

There’s a stretch of the Cross Bronx Expressway, between Crotona Park and Webster Avenue, where the road elevates, offering a three-hundred and sixty degree view of the surrounding neighborhood. Traveling that section today recalls memories from my childhood in the mid-eighties when many of the apartment buildings in that area were abandoned and boarded, the result of arson almost a decade earlier. What I found particularly interesting at that time was the addition of silhouettes – human, plant and domestic animal – to the window boards. Literal window-dress, used to mask one of the emblems of New York City’s near-total economic collapse in the late-1970’s.

Today, those buildings have been repaired and are again housing tenants. However, a little further south in the almost equally revitalized Hunts Point I discovered a sight that I had once thought vanished from The Bronx. Four twenty-nine Bruckner Boulevard (pictured upper right), between E. 144th and E. 149th Streets, caught my eye while zipping by on my bike last summer.

Given the neighborhood’s notoriously rough history I found one window (pictured lower left) particularly ironic. It appeared that there was a man being held at gun point. When I made a u-turn for a closer inspection, I realized that it wasn't just a random criminal act, but a cop collaring a criminal. The window silhouettes also seem to have a film noir-ish quality to them - the one to the immediate left of this one features a female with a pin-up girl hairstyle smoking a cigarette - the femme fatale, if you will.

A Google search revealed that the building belongs to Cayne Industrial Sales Corporation, a company which sells steel lockers and shelving. Despite the fact that the building is occupied and functional, its initially deceptive ‘abandoned’ quality speaks to a different period of time in New York when the city was once again on the verge of re-inventing itself.

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