Boule­vard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heart­break, and Hope along the Grand Con­course in the Bronx

  • Review
By – August 25, 2011

As Amer­i­can and Euro­pean cities mod­ern­ized, nar­row streets and alleys were replaced with wider thor­ough­fares to speed trav­el and pro­mote com­merce. Some grand boule­vards were icons and sym­bols of the good life like the Champs Ely­seé in Paris, Ocean Park­way in Brook­lyn, and the Grand Con­course. In the Bronx of the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Con­course was the place to live. Not the wealth­i­est but cer­tain­ly more attain­able than Park or even West End Avenue.

With­in three decades, the Con­course had changed. The ele­va­tor men and door­men were gone; Art Deco build­ings lost their sparkle; and mid­dle class strivers moved out. While the sit­u­a­tion on the Con­course was nev­er quite as bad as in oth­er parts of the Bronx, where build­ings were burn­ing, it was no longer a boule­vard of dreams.”

Con­stance Rosenblum’s account of the his­to­ry of the street is evoca­tive and infor­ma­tive. Pub­lished at its cen­ten­ni­al, the book reminds the read­er just how recent­ly the Bronx was an area of farms and forests and how the Con­course, designed to be the heart of the bor­ough, was part of larg­er planned devel­op­ment which fea­tured sub­stan­tial park­land. She chal­lenges com­mon the­o­ries about rea­sons for the Bronx’ sharp decline, not­ing that there were mul­ti­ple caus­es rather than it being the fault of the con­struc­tion of the Cross Bronx Express­way and Co-op City. Rather, chang­ing norms and expec­ta­tions led a new gen­er­a­tion of strivers to eschew the small apart­ments in the Art Deco build­ings in favor of sin­gle-fam­i­ly sub­ur­ban homes.

Susan M. Cham­bré, Pro­fes­sor Emeri­ta of Soci­ol­o­gy at Baruch Col­lege, stud­ies Jew­ish phil­an­thropy, social and cul­tur­al influ­ences on vol­un­teer­ing, and health advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions. She is the author of Fight­ing for Our Lives: New York’s AIDS Com­mu­ni­ty and the Pol­i­tics of Dis­ease and edit­ed Patients, Con­sumers and Civ­il Soci­ety.

Discussion Questions