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Borough preservationists recommend landmarks

A Baptist synagogue. A Gothic study hall. A Hapsburg fountain. A Nyorican casita. A Gaelic sports field. A Yiddish coop. A 300-year old cemetery. The birthplace of hip-hop.

In 2008, a crack team of Bronx historians, planners and architects identified 42 landmarks worthy of preservation, landmarks that reflect the borough’s crazy-quilt cultural legacy. They also chose ten historic districts.

Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr. sponsored the report, released on February 10. Carrion asked for heritage sites rather than trophy buildings. The city Landmarks Preservation Commission will have the final say.

“We identified so many historic landmarks and districts – too many,” said Bronx historian Lloyd Ultan. “So we prioritized the sites most in danger of deterioration.”

Ultan and friends awarded the Grand Concourse Historic District top priority. Modeled after Paris’ Champs-Élysées and known for its art deco style, the Concourse turns 100 this year.

According to Carrion aide Paula Caplan, NYC considered the Concourse for historic district status in 1999.

“Hopefully, within the next month or so we’ll submit a new request,” Caplan said. “The timing would be perfect.”

Carrion’s task force also recommended the Concourse Plaza Hotel and Lorlei Fountain in Community District 4. Built in the 1920s, the hotel hosted President Harry Truman and Babe Ruth. The fountain is more than a century old. Austrian royalty commissioned the piece to honor poet Heinrich Heine.

A number of churches received nods, including St. Anselm’s Catholic Church, St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church and the First Presbyterian Church of Throggs Neck. The Morrisania Baptist Church was once a synagogue – Congregation Adath Israel.

The task force recommended Pelham Parkway as well. Built in 1911, the parkway attracted Jewish and Italian immigrants. Recently, its six-story apartment houses have welcomed Hispanic and Albanian Bronxites.

According to Jewish Community Council of Pelham Parkway president David Edelstein, Columbia University recommended the parkway for historic status in 2007.

“Go to 601 Pelham Parkway North,” Edelstein said. “People have lost sight of the parkway’s value. But it’s gorgeous. Pay attention to the way the trees are planted – you’ll see.”

Two sites in particular demonstrate the borough’s dynamism: 1520 Sedgwick Avenue – where DJ Kool Herc threw the first hip-hop party – and the Rincon Criollo Casita, a colorful house where Bronxites gather to garden and play music.

“It’s no Grand Central Station,” architect Michael Goldblum said. “But we need to preserve the cultural impact of the Puerto Rican community.”

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