Banana Kelly

(click on thumbnails to enlarge)

In the mid 1970s, the South Bronx reached its nadir of post-WW-II decline. Numerous buildings were intentionally burned by property owners who could no longer make a profit on their investments and wanted to collect insurance. At the start of the second game of the 1977 World Series at Yankee Stadium, an aerial shot of the stadium also caught a large fire in the neighborhood and sportscaster Howard Cosell famously remarked, "There it is, ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning."

However, within this battle-scarred neighborhood, a number of grassroots organizations rose up to regain control of their community. One such group under the leadership of Harry DeRienzo, Leon Potts and Mildred Valez coalesced to renovate three buildings at 936, 940 and 944 Kelly Street ( Lat/Long 40.8205, -73.8957). The group formed the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, Inc., using the nickname for the crescent-shaped section of Kelly Street where their first renovation project was located. The group "liberated" these three abandoned buildings and returned them to habitability using funds from a Self Help Neighborhood Award Program grant and with "sweat equity" labor volunteered in return for co-op ownership of the renovated building (DeRienzo 2008, 16).

936-944 Kelly
6/19/2009 04:58 PM
936-944 Kelly
936-944 Kelly
6/19/2009 04:58 PM
936-944 Kelly
936-944 Kelly
6/19/2009 04:58 PM
936-944 Kelly
940 Kelly
6/19/2009 04:59 PM
940 Kelly
936-944 Kelly
6/19/2009 04:59 PM
936-944 Kelly

The gentleman seated on the sidewalk in front of 936 Kelly is Robert Foster, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood who was one of the original Banana Kelly homesteaders. Retired from Verizon, he was planning on selling his place and moving "down south." However, his plans were being delayed by the remarkable failure of the NYC Department of Buildings to issue a certificate of occupancy, 32 years after the building had been rescued.

Although there were Irish immigrants in this area in the early 20th century, Kelly Street is actually named after Samuel Kelly, who owned a farm in the area in the 19th century. Emporis is ambiguous on the age of the buildings on this block, giving them ages that range from 1907 to 1928 even though the common styling of the buildings implies that they were constructed simultaneously.

Leon Potts involvement with the group was spurred by his ownership of the six buildings immediately to the south of the Banana Kelly buildings. Potts relatives, many of whom lived these buildings, constituted the core of the Kelly Street volunteers (DeRienzo 2008, 34).

908-944 Kelly
6/19/2009 04:59 PM
908-944 Kelly
908-944 Kelly
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908-944 Kelly
Apts for Rent
6/19/2009 04:45 PM
Apts for Rent
Kelly St
6/19/2009 04:45 PM
Kelly St
Potts' buildings on Kelly St
6/19/2009 04:53 PM
Potts' buildings on Kelly St
Kelly St viewed from the north
6/19/2009 05:02 PM
Kelly St viewed from the north
Kelly St viewed from the north
6/19/2009 05:00 PM
Kelly St viewed from the north
Kelly at East 163rd St
6/19/2009 04:59 PM
Kelly at East 163rd St
Kelly at Intervale - southern end of 'Banana Kelly'
6/19/2009 04:44 PM
Kelly at Intervale - southern end of 'Banana Kelly'

The success of the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association resulted in its transformation from a volunteer effort into comparatively large funded organization controlling around 1,000 units by the mid 1990s. These changes resulted in the loss of many of the qualities (and personnel) that made the group unique and further problems with mismanagement and corruption nearly destroyed the organization in the final years of the 20th century. In 2002, the organization went through a major reorganization that returned it (and its 23 buildings) to solvency and viability by 2007 (DeRienzo 2008, 212).

1010 Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 05:16 PM
1010 Longwood Ave
1010 Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 05:16 PM
1010 Longwood Ave
1010 Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 05:24 PM
1010 Longwood Ave
850-856 Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 05:33 PM
850-856 Longwood Ave
850-856 Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 05:34 PM
850-856 Longwood Ave
850-856 Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 05:34 PM
850-856 Longwood Ave
850-856 Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 05:37 PM
850-856 Longwood Ave

Tiffany and Beck Streets run parallel to Banana Kelly just to the east. In contrast to the historically intact architecture of Kelly Street, Tiffany and Beck were largely rebuilt in the 1980s and 1990s with single-family row houses.

Row house apartments built  on Tiffany St. in the 1980s
6/19/2009 05:05 PM
Row house apartments built on Tiffany St. in the 1980s
More substantial buildings on Tiffany St.
6/19/2009 05:06 PM
More substantial buildings on Tiffany St.
Contemporary row houses on Tiffany St.
6/19/2009 05:06 PM
Contemporary row houses on Tiffany St.
The backs of the Potts buildings viewed from Beck St
6/19/2009 05:07 PM
The backs of the Potts buildings viewed from Beck St
Apartment houses on Beck St.
6/19/2009 05:07 PM
Apartment houses on Beck St.
Beck St. at Intervale Ave.
6/19/2009 05:10 PM
Beck St. at Intervale Ave.
St. Vincent de Paul Residence - Beck St. (1992)
6/19/2009 05:09 PM
St. Vincent de Paul Residence - Beck St. (1992)
St. Vincent de Paul Residence - Beck St.
6/19/2009 05:08 PM
St. Vincent de Paul Residence - Beck St.
St. Vincent de Paul Residence - Beck St.
6/19/2009 05:11 PM
St. Vincent de Paul Residence - Beck St.
Apartment buildings on Beck St. east of Rainey Park
6/19/2009 05:12 PM
Apartment buildings on Beck St. east of Rainey Park

Rainey Park (to the south of Banana Kelly) used to be the 800 block of Kelly Street but by end of the 1970s it was a wasteland of vacant lots and derelict tenements. Community leader William F. Rainey (1920-1985) spearheaded an effort to convert the area into a large recreational park, which was posthumously renamed in his honor in 1991. (NYCDPR)

Rainey Park
6/19/2009 04:38 PM
Rainey Park
Rainey Park
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Rainey Park
Rainey park
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Rainey park
Bodega - Intervale Ave. north of Rainey Park
6/19/2009 04:44 PM
Bodega - Intervale Ave. north of Rainey Park

In the subsequent two decades after the formation of Banana Kelly, billions of public dollars were invested in the neighborhood, leveraging additional private investment and resulting in the construction or renovation of tens of thousands of residential units. The presence of Banana Kelly and other strong grassroots organizations gave the neighborhood an institutional advantage over other depressed parts of the city, resulting in a disproportionate share of investment and a remarkable restoration of a sense of community order.

The investment paid off financially for the city in the return of considerable amounts of property to the city's tax rolls. The strengthening of the community resulted in levels of crime reductions that significantly outpaced reductions in other depressed areas of the city, despite the high numbers of teenagers and young adults residing in the area. But unlike the urban renewal efforts in areas like Manhattan's Upper West Side or later gentrification trends in neighborhoods like Harlem, these gains came while the neighborhood remained something unique in the city: "...a place where lower-income people [could] live affordably, in tranquility and safety" (Grogan and Proscio 2000, 29).

Block party at Adams Houses
6/19/2009 04:19 PM
Block party at Adams Houses
Adams Houses
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Adams Houses
East 152nd Street
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East 152nd Street
New buildings - Wales Ave at E 152nd
6/19/2009 04:22 PM
New buildings - Wales Ave at E 152nd
Union Ave at East 152nd
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Union Ave at East 152nd
Kelly St at Prospect Ave
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Kelly St at Prospect Ave
620 Prospect Ave
6/19/2009 04:28 PM
620 Prospect Ave
Kelly St at Prospect Ave
6/19/2009 04:28 PM
Kelly St at Prospect Ave
Kelly St at Prospect Ave
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Kelly St at Prospect Ave
Kelly St at Ave St. John
6/19/2009 04:29 PM
Kelly St at Ave St. John
Kelly St at Ave St. John
6/19/2009 04:29 PM
Kelly St at Ave St. John
Demera/Santiago Garden
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Demera/Santiago Garden
PS 52 / MS 302
6/19/2009 04:31 PM
PS 52 / MS 302
Playground 52
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Playground 52
Playground 52
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Playground 52
Kelly St at Leggett Ave
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Kelly St at Leggett Ave
Shed on Kelly St
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Shed on Kelly St
Prospect Family Inn
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Prospect Family Inn

Despite the level of devastation experienced in the South Bronx during the era of disinvestment and arson, there are quite a few lovely, turreted row houses that survived in the blocks south of Longwood - some in excellent condition. In contrast to the curved 900 block called "Banana Kelly", the more pastoral 700 block was called "Country Kelly."

156th St at Kelly St
6/19/2009 04:34 PM
156th St at Kelly St
939-941 156th Street
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939-941 156th Street
700 block of Kelly St
6/19/2009 04:36 PM
700 block of Kelly St
700 block of Kelly St
6/19/2009 04:37 PM
700 block of Kelly St
Beck Street south of Longwood
6/19/2009 05:26 PM
Beck Street south of Longwood
Beck Street
6/19/2009 05:26 PM
Beck Street
Alley behind apartment building on Beck Street
6/19/2009 05:27 PM
Alley behind apartment building on Beck Street
Dawson Street
6/19/2009 05:29 PM
Dawson Street

There are a pair of clumps of pseudo-period row houses on Longwood Avenue that were constructed around 1993. Unlike some of the buildings from the 1980s, these have brick exteriors and appear to be fairly solid in construction. The only unfortunate marrings are the inferior replica cornices that lack the detailing of the original styles and that are not meaningfully integrated with the building structure.

New row houses - 948 Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 04:38 PM
New row houses - 948 Longwood Ave
New row houses on Longwood at Hewett Pl
6/19/2009 05:31 PM
New row houses on Longwood at Hewett Pl
Fake cornice
6/19/2009 05:31 PM
Fake cornice
New row houses
6/19/2009 05:32 PM
New row houses
New row houses
6/19/2009 05:32 PM
New row houses

The 41st Precinct was popularized in the 1981 Paul Newman film, Fort Apache, The Bronx, a work that was typical for its time in depicting New York as a corrupt, crime-ridden, post-apocalyptic wasteland. The original precinct house was at 1086 Simpson Street, but relocated to this new building on Intervale Avenue at Southern Boulevard in the 1980s.

41st Precinct
6/19/2009 05:19 PM
41st Precinct
41st Precinct
6/19/2009 05:17 PM
41st Precinct

Just to the west of the precinct is a building for the Police Athletic League, which was formed in 1914 to provide recreational activities for poor children (PAL 2009). Jacobs (1961, 143) points out the research of Karl Menninger that showed violent play (along with work and contact with other people) was a meaningful activity that could combat the "will to destruction" plaguing cities with few opportunities for positive outdoor recreation.

Police Athletic League
6/19/2009 05:15 PM
Police Athletic League

Prior to WW-II, Eastern Boulevard (later renamed Bruckner Boulevard after a former borough president) was a major thoroughfare through the South Bronx and was an approach to the Triboro Bridge (which opened in 1936). As early as 1936 the Regional Plan Association recommended construction of an expressway on this alignment. Robert Moses made his initial proposal for an elevated expressway in 1951 but political and community opposition delayed its approval until 1956. With its designation as an interstate highway (I-278), the project was eligible for 90% federal funding. Work on this six-lane, 2.3-mile connector between the Major Deegan and the Sheridan Expressway began in 1957 and was completed in 1962. (NYCRoads.com).

From an engineering and economic standpoint, fitting the elevated expressway in this narrow corridor between the neighborhood on the west and the NYNHH Railroad (later Amtrak) on the east made sense. However, the concerns of neighborhood business owners, residents and the Borough President about the "blighting" effect of elevated expressways proved prescient. Harry DeRienzo remarked that the Bruckner, "...seemed to have been expressly designed to both by-pass and bury this community." (DiRienzo 2008, 22).

Bruckner Boulevard and Expressway headed south from Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 05:20 PM
Bruckner Boulevard and Expressway headed south from Longwood Ave
Bruckner Boulevard and Expressway north of Longwood Ave
6/19/2009 05:20 PM
Bruckner Boulevard and Expressway north of Longwood Ave
Auto shops on Southern Boulevard
6/19/2009 05:18 PM
Auto shops on Southern Boulevard

The building of the IRT subway into the Bronx provided a fast and inexpensive way to commute into Manhattan and, thus, was pivotal to a massive influx of development in the South Bronx in the early 20th century. The three-track, three-mile elevated line between Brook Avenue and Bronx Park at 181st Street was section #10 of IRT contract #1 and work began on on August 19, 1901. The section was completed a few months before the rest of the IRT and opened in November of 1904 with a connection south of Jackson Avenue to the now-defunct Third Avenue El (NYCSubway.org)

Looking North on Westchester Avenue Under the IRT White Plains Line
6/19/2009 05:35 PM
Looking North on Westchester Avenue Under the IRT White Plains Line
Fight on the corner of Longwood and Westchester Ave
6/19/2009 05:39 PM
Fight on the corner of Longwood and Westchester Ave

Bibliography

DeRienzo, Harold. 2008. The Concept of Community: Lessons from the Bronx. Milan: IPOC di Pietro Condemi.

Grogan, Paul S. and Tony Proscio. 2000. Comeback Cities. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. http://books.google.com/bbooks/id=o5sbdWh_B8ICC

Jacobs, Jane. 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1993 Modern Library Edition.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR). Rainey Park. http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/X255/highlights/8170 (last accessed 20 June 2009)

NYCRoads.com. Bruckner expressway: historic overview. http://www.nycroads.com/roads/bruckner. (last accessed 20 June 2009).

NYCSubway.org. The Bronx IRT, Lenox/White Plains Road/Dyre Avenue Line. http://www.nycsubway.org/lines/whiteplains.html (last accessed 20 June 2009).

Police Athletic League Website (PAL). 2009. History. http://www.palnyc.org/800-PAL-4KIDS/History.aspx.