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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Parranda @ Coqui Mexicano - A Puerto Rican Holiday Tradition Continues on the Mainland

Today at Coqui Mexicano, the community was treated to amazing fine Puerto Rican and Mexican cuisine with their first ever Parranda NavideƱa which is Puerto Rican Christmas Caroling.  Parrandas are composed of a bunch of locals who dance, sing and play traditional Puerto Rican bomba y plena christmas songs and the likes.  The food was absolutely amazing, the chicken mole, ropa vieja (shredded beef in a spicy tomato stew), fresh guacamole and gandules guisa'o (stewed pigeon peas) and on and on.

With Coqui Mexicano's live music tonight as well as PeaceLove's live Jazz on Fridays and Saturdays and even live music at local Mexican restaurants such as Xochimilco on the weekends, Melrose has a burgenoing musical scene that is still remains a hidden gem where locals can relax, eat and have some good ol' fun without having to travel too far.

Here's a big MelroseTHANK YOU to Coqui Mexicano for all their hard work and believing in our community or as they like to call it...La Comunidad!  Thanks for opening your kitchen tonight to the community and sharing the old traditions from Puerto Rico.  Coqui Mexicano is not only a place to eat but it is a true cultural pillar in the community for their great efforts to preserve traditions.

Danisha and Diego - The wonderful proprietors of Coqui Mexicano

Locals Bill Casari and Clarisel Gonzalez enjoying the music while having a lively discussion.

Danisha showing her traditional Puerto Rican dress to a patron which her aunt hand made for her.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving - Immaculate Conception Style

Today while most of us may be fortunate enough to spend Thanksgiving with family and loved ones, there are still many out there who cannot for various reasons, whether economic or simply that they are just alone for the holidays.  For the past 33 years, Immaculate Conception Church on East 150th Street at the corner of Melrose Avenue has been filling that void through volunteers from the parish and even youth from the school and the community.  

It was a great to watch our community at work - dozens of eager volunteers, cheerfully welcoming the people, engaging them in conversation and basically giving them more than just a plate of food - human companionship.  They were even treated to table service and all they had to do was sit down, relax and the food was brought directly to them by their particular server.

Here's a big Melrose THANK YOU to everyone at Immaculate Conception Church for their years of dedication to the community, one which was abandoned by many but never by Immaculate during the worst of times.

Father Francis Skelly, C.Ss.R., Pastor, Cristina and Marty Rogers
Both Fr. Skelly and Marty Rogers are life-long Melrose residents!
More to come about them!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Welcome to Melrose Gets Major Attention!

The buzz about the possibility of reviving the Old Bronx Courthouse and the exclusive visit by yours truly to the landmark building this past Monday has caught the attention of 2 of the most important news sources for all that is Real Estate in New York City, Curbed and The Real Deal.  Much to my surprise, The Real Deal placed the story on their #1 slot for their 8AM Real Estate roundup links yesterday, November 24, 2009!  Guess we're not the only ones excited about seeing the Old Courthouse get a new life.

A big Melrose THANK YOU goes to the folks at Curbed and The Real Deal for help spreading the word on such a great building!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Old Bronx Courthouse - An Old Tomb is Opened...

Yesterday under cloudy skies and with a chill in the air, 5 individuals from all walks of life entered the Old Bronx Courthouse.  A little after noon, Henry Weinstein, owner of the landmarked building opened the gates and we all followed him inside eager with anticipation and emotions probably not too dissimilar to an archaeologist entering an old temple for the first time or one of the great pyramids for after all the building has sat much like a sealed tomb for the past 35 years.  Immediately upon entering, the amazing architectural details come alive, the daylight dancing upon the intricate iron-worked doors and carefully detailed marble.  Mr. Weinstein then proceeded to the basement to switch on the lights and without warning we were transported to a time a little over a 100 years ago. 

Among the five of us besides myself and Mr. Weinstein were Fred Connolly, principal of Real Estate Financing, Inc and friend of Henry Weinstein, Dr. Richard Izquierdo, MD, founder and Medical Director Emeritus of Urban  Health Plan, Inc. as well as a pillar and legend of our community and Clarisel Gonzalezthe editor and publisher of Puerto Rico Sun Communications, an independent multimedia social entrepreneurship as well as a local resident who is passionate about empowering our residents.  Last week, Mr. Connolly reached out to Dr. Izquierdo, Ms. Gonzalez and myself to begin a conversation about the future of the Old Bronx Courthouse along with Mr. Weinstein and himself.  During the tour of the landmarked building, which we scoured every inch from rooftop to the basement, Henry Weinstein walked us through some of the history of the building itself, from the old holding cells 3 levels high and the old dumbwaiter system used to feed the inmates on each of those levels to the walk-in safes in the judges' chambers.

After what seemed like hours (infact was probably almost 2 hours) of walking through the old corridors and massive court rooms with soaring 25 foot ceilings and ironworked window frames which once housed stained glass we headed over to Coqui Mexicano which is located across from the Old Courthouse to continue our conversation.  One of the ideas that I am pushing for as well as many local residents is to have the building utilized as a mixed-use building much as the successful Chelsea Market is as well as luring Barnes and Noble to the building as a possible anchor tenant because everyone in The Bronx knows we are in desperate need for a book store as we only have 2 in the entire borough and none below the Cross-Bronx Expressway.  

The idea of a mixed-use development works very well with the current changing demographics of Melrose which is becoming more and more solid as each day passes because multiple tenants, retail and a charter school as well as possible office space is more sustainable than having a single tenant in such a massive building.  Dr. Richard Izquierdo, or Doc as most people know him, has opened up a dialogue with Mr. Weinstein to discuss the possibility of becoming a tenant of the Old Bronx Courthouse for his Health and Science charter school which he is currently seeking to get approval to open up in The Bronx.  The charter school itself will be a legacy of Dr. Izquierdo that will be left to the community and its children and has been designed for grades 6-12 where once its students graduate, they will graduate with certificates as EMTs and even nursing techs to be able to enter the workforce immediately as well as an educational advantage to continue to higher education to pursue degrees in the health care industry.  The school will essentially cultivate local, home grown future physicians, nurses and healthcare professionals of tomorrow.  It should be noted, however, that Dr. Izquierdo's charter school is NOT the original school that was in negotiations with Mr. Weinstein.  That particular charter school after working with Henry Weinstein for over 2 years, decided to move to another location on River Avenue leaving the the Old Courthouse without a future again.  Mr. Weinstein stated yesterday that so much preliminary work has been done that the work needed to bring it back to life would take about 6-9 months in his estimation, and to his credit and 30+ years in the industry, this is a man who knows what he is talking is not his first time around with such developments.

Another idea that I posed to Henry Weinstein as well as Fred Connolly is the possibility of having a small space donated as an art gallery for the local community as well as utilizing the common hallways and areas as art space to display local talent that will be curated by local artists as well.  All these ideas blended together will create a place that will unite the past with the present as well as a window on the future through the charter school and will make the building a destination for Bronx residents as well as outsiders.  

The Bronx is Building as Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. loves to tell us at every opportunity and it is time for this gem of a landmark building to rise from the ashes and open for business once more.

A big Melrose THANK YOU goes out to Henry Weinstein for believing in The Bronx and truly loving this landmark much that he has waited over 10 years to find the right fit for the building's future as well as the community, to Dr. Izquierdo, our pillar, legend and inspiration for dedicating so many of his 80 years on this earth to provide a better life for our residents as well as his vision of creating a charter school to produce local home grown future physicians and health care professionals, Fred Connolly for having the vision and believing in our vision for the Old Courthouse and getting us all together and Clarisel Gonzalez for her hard work and dedication to empowering the local community and keeping us abreast of all that's newsworthy as well as her wonderful insight yesterday to the potential future uses of the Old Courthouse.

Beautiful scalloped window at the main entrance in the main hall

Fred Connolly, Dr. Richard Izquierdo, MD, Henry Weinstein & Clarisel Gonzalez (from left to right) discussion the potential uses of the space.  Note the 25+foot ceilings.

Judge's Chamber

Spiral staircase that goes all the way up to the top floor.  The inner open space rose from the lobby to the 4th floor allowing for the flow of warm air during the winter months.

Henry Weinstein

What's left of the iron-framed stained glass windows on each mezzanine landing throughout the spiral staircases.

Eastern Elevator Door

View of Boricua College from the rooftop

View of Melrose looking south...our beautiful village

Mega Development, St. Ann's Terrace slowly rising

Facing west along 161st Street

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Breath of Life to Come to the Old Bronx Courthouse?

A few days ago I received an email from a friend and colleague of Henry Weinstein, who is the owner of the Old Bronx Courthouse, about what my thoughts as well as the community at-large would be on what should be done with the Old Courthouse while keeping in mind that SELLING IS NOT AN OPTION.  I capitalize this for emphasis as that is not up for discussion but I am opening this discussion to all of Melrose and The Bronx since we are all in this together.  For decades this old structure on 161st and Third Avenue has been a symbol of urban decay and collapse and now the time is right for it to become a new symbol.  A symbol of renewal, a phoenix literally rising from the ashes of the neighborhood it once proudly served.

Sometime in the next week or so, I have been asked to take a walking tour with Mr Weinstein and his representative to talk things through and as humbling of a request that is, I cannot do it without YOUR input so this entry is specifically for YOU to sound off on the issues...let us know what you think should be there.  Do keep in mind to keep it realistically because it is something that needs to be viable for the individual who will be developling the property as well as the future tenants of the building and the residents they will serve. 

One of the ideas that I have for it (and the credit for this goes to Irwin Cohen, the mastermind behind the Chelsea Market)  is to create a Bronx version of the Chelsea Market.  Now as early as 2005, I read in a Q & A from the Center for an Urban Future where Mr. Cohen would like to develop such a mixed use project that is so successful in Chelsea - but with a Bronx twist and flair where the ethnic vendors displaced by the creation of the Gateway Center Mall would have a home.  My idea as well as some locals who I've spoken to would be try and convince to have as an anchor in that building a Barnes and Noble open up because

  • 1. We do no not have anything remotely that is a bookstore in the Bronx outside of Barnes and Noble at Bay Plaza in Co-op City yet neighborhoods such as the Upper East Side on 86 and Lexington had TWO Barnes and Nobles within 3 blocks of each other.
  • 2. People are tired of having to go to places as 86th and Lex and go out of their way to buy books. Many residents are clamoring for one...just not to the right people...until now.
  • 3. A bookstore will more than attract business, Boricua Village, once completed, will open up 700 apartment units bringing in at least 1500 new residents to just that ONE block alone where the Old Bronx Courthouse sits and that is not counting the 2,000 students plus 200+ faculty and staff that will be housed in Boricua College.  

Just those three points alone should be enough incentive for Barnes and Noble to want to invest in Melrose and the South Bronx as a whole.  The 161st Street/3rd Avenue corridor is a transportation rich corridor with a Metro North Station at 162nd and Courtlandt, the 2/5 train at 3rd Ave/149th Street, a plethora of buses, 4, 15, 21, 19, 6, 44 just to name a few!  Much better connected for those who rely on public transportation than Barnes and Noble in Co-op City.

And Barnes and Noble or a similar book store would only be the anchor.  The rest of the facility could house mom and pop markets, like the Chelsea market and the upper levels can give way to offices who knows? Maybe even Department of Motor Vehicles would like to take shop up there...aren't we being touted as Downtown Bronx anyway?  Maybe the Bronx Chamber of Commerce can also have new digs there...the options are endless and Mr. Weinstein is not opposed whatsoever to even donating space for the arts or maybe even a gym for local community children.

So I leave you with this:  Please comment away publicly or privately.  You all have my email if you rather would discuss this privately.  Just hit me up at !

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Picture of the Day

Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church and School
Now in their 97th Year serving Melrose and the surrounding communities!
838 Brook Avenue at the Corner of East 159th Street.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pictures of the Day

As part of the Mayor's 1,000,000 tree planting program, workers here are diligently planting trees on the small stretch of East 150th street between Third and Melrose Avenues.  A block that had no trees will now have about 7-8 beautiful trees.  

Boulevard of Dreams - A Book Talk with Author, Constance Rosenblum

On Thursday, November 12th I had the privelage of attending Boulevard of Dreams Book Talk and Dramatic Reading at Hostos Community College.  The book, Boulevard of Dreams, Heady Times, Heartbreak, And Hope Along The Grand Concourse In The Bronx is the work of Constance Rosenblum, editor of The New York Times City section as well author of the beloved Habitats articles of the Sunday Times Real Estate Section.

After formal introductions by Lucinda Zoe, Interim Provost & Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Felix Matos Rodriguez, President, Hostos Community College and Sam Goodman, Urban Planner, Bronx Borough President's Office, Ms. Rosenblum took us on the journey of both the project of writing such a book as well as the tale of the Grand Concourse from its early years to the present day.  According to her when she first wanted to publish the book in the early 1980's she was rebuffed by publishing houses who essentially said that, " one wants to read about The Bronx".  Although she would have wanted the book published then, Ms Rosenblum has embraced the appropriateness that Boulevard of Dreams has been published now during both the 100th anniversary of our Grand Boulevard and Concourse as well as the rebirth of The Bronx.

During her talk, Ms. Rosenblum introduced Hostos students Salonia Cook and Ebony Ross who both beautifully read an excerpt from the introduction of the book which describes what was known as The Bronx Slave Market along The Concourse.  Ms. Cook and Ms Ross brought to life in such vivid detail with their readings of that particularly dreary period of the Concourse of African American men and women lining the streets, as modern day-laborers would, waiting for the Jewish women who would look for labor to clean their stately apartments along the Grand Concourse all for meager wages.  These conditions were brought to light thanks to, "...Marvel Cooke a black investigative reporter who went undercover to describe its operations for the Crisis, a publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People...", Ms. Rosenblum writes.

The evening ended with a brief Q & A session between the audience and Ms Rosenblum followed by a small reception where she autographed her book for the audience.

Welcome to Melrose highly recommends this book to both the lovers of The Bronx and to those not so fond of our great borough to the North or as we were referred to in yesteryears past - The Great Northside for it beautifully chronicles the history, struggles, dreams, sorrows, hope of The Grand Concourse which resonates throughout generations of families and people who lived on or in its shadow. 

A big Melrose THANK YOU is in order for Constance Rosenblum for writing such a wonderful book and showing her love for our great borough and our stories to be told and also for William Casari, MLS, College Archivist and Instruction Librarian at Hostos who tirelessly put together this wonderful presentation as well as getting a thank you from Ms Rosenblum in the book itself. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pet of the Day

Say hello to Mocha!  

Here's Mocha striking a pose for the camera - she definitely knows how to work it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Please Stand By!

Welcome to Melrose is moving!  Please make a note of our new home: and stay tuned for our new look as well!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Update: Illegal Dumping in Melrose

A month to the day when it was first reported that 688 Courtlandt Avenue's side lot was being used as an illegal dumping ground, Welcome to Melrose is happy to report that the problem has been corrected.  As I walked by yesterday, wooden panels had been erected, sealing off the lot to the public.  At first I was skeptical that the wall was erected and the trash left behind but i managed to get a good peak (although was unable to get a good photograph) and saw that 95% of the trash had been removed.  The owner of the building could have been a little more diligent in cleaning up as many wrappers, papers and little pieces of trash were still left behind.

That being said, it DOES take a Village and 311 DOES work.  If you see anything in our neighborhood that is a problem and needs to be corrected, please do not hesitate in contacting us and Welcome to Melrose, together with you and the community, will get the job done.