The Boogie Down Bronx, it's one of a kind
It's the place to be, it's a state of mind
So check out the beat and listen to the sound
And if you're from the Bronx just boogie down...
- Man Parrish
We moved back to the Bronx in the early 70’s. My family moved into an apartment building in Morris Heights .
It was a different time the 1970’s. The feeling in the air was that anything was possible and yet it was a time of contradiction. Popular thinking at the time was the belief that love was all you needed, while the war in Vietnam waged on. I remember movement. My parents were young and hopeful, trying to get a little part of the American dream. They wanted something better for us than they had.
Puerto Ricans had begun to arrive to the mainland United States in the late 1950's because there was a lack of jobs and opportunities on the island. With the advent of air travel, a huge migration of Puerto Ricans flooded New York City and my parents were part of that migration.
The Jones act made all Puerto Ricans citizens, but they might as well have stepped off of Ellis island. They were treated as non citizens. Puerto Ricans experienced much discrimination and racism when they arrived.
Both of my parents talked about missing the island. I also missed Puerto Rico’s warm tropical breezes, beautiful waters and the ability to play all day outside. New York was dirty, cold, and far away from the balmy island of Puerto Rico.
My father told us that when he was as a child and a teen, he thought America’s streets were paved with gold. After his family moved to New York City, they soon found out what others did that the gold streets were not for people like him.
Maybe the faded old Art Deco apartment building we moved into was what he had expected when he moved to New York at 14. It still had some charm, and the neighborhood had not yet become the nightmare it became later on when crack aids and arson destroyed a lot of the Bronx.
The Bronx was once a place for the social elite. The Grand Concourse was built in 1909 and modeled after Paris’ Champs-Élysées. All of the Art Deco buildings along the concourse were built by 1929. They were 5 and 6 story buildings with elaborate lobbies and beautiful Art Deco elements .
37 Feather bed lane was a beautiful, if worn building. The lobby had a faded marble staircase . An old birdcage elevator, that probably at one time had an elevator operator, took us from floor to floor.
My father, who was an artist, appreciated the Art Deco design of the place. He would comment and point out the features.
In the apartment itself there was crown molding, wood floors, tiny black and white tile in the bathrooms, and French doors. The bedroom I shared with my sister and brother had an old fire escape where we would feed our wild pet squirrel, Skippy.
The people in the apartment building stood out. I remember one little old Jewish lady, Clara, still had her concentration camp numbers on her.
My mother kept us indoors. She was too afraid to let us out to play. At the time I didn’t understand why, but now looking back I understand she wanted us to be safe.
My best friend Jung Jin Lee lived in the apartment across from me and all I cared about was playing with her. We used our vivid imaginations to play elaborate games and we created our own fantasy world, where the world was beautiful and safe.
I think back to those days and wonder what ever happened to Clara or Jung Jin. I think the Bronx of today is totally different than the Bronx of my childhood. It is being gentrified. Those Art Deco apartment buildings are now seen as they should be, a splendid example of Art Deco.
I think of those days, as hard as they were, as a special time in my childhood.
We may not have gotten streets of gold but we got a piece of Art Deco history.