The Grand Concourse (originally known as the Grand Boulevard and Concourse) is a major thoroughfare in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. It was designed by Louis Aloys Risse, an immigrant from Saint-Avold, Lorraine, France, who had previously worked for the New York Central Railroad and was later appointed chief topographical engineer for the New York City government.
Some of the neighborhoods that Grand Concourse runs through include Bedford Park, Concourse, Highbridge, Fordham, Mott Haven, Norwood and Tremont. The Encyclopedia of New York City also lists the Grand Concourse as passing through Claremont, Mount Hope, and Mount Eden.
The Grand Concourse’s southern terminus is at 138th Street. Shortly afterward, it merges with the entrance ramp to southbound Major Deegan Expressway , as well as the exit ramp from northbound I-87. The Grand Concourse continues as a divided eight-lane avenue, with two to three traffic lanes in each direction, until 161st Street. North of there, the service roads in each direction begin, and a unidirectional buffered bike lane runs on the left edge of either service road. The Grand Concourse is briefly a ten-lane boulevard with four roadways, two in each direction, until just south of 165th Street. There, the northbound and southbound inner roadways merge into a five-lane undivided roadway with two lanes in each direction and a left-turn lane and painted median in the center. The buffered bike lanes on each service road end at 171st Street, and conventional bike lanes start on the right lane of the respective service roads. This configuration with three roadways (two service roads and one main road) continues north until Mosholu Parkway, where the Grand Concourse ends. At Fordham Road, the main road passes underneath in a grade-separated junction, while the service roads intersect with Fordham Road.
Between approximately 161st and 204th Streets, the New York City Subway’s IND Concourse Line (B and D trains) runs under the Grand Concourse. The IRT Jerome Avenue Line (4 and 5 trains) also runs underneath the boulevard for a short section south of 149th Street. The Bx1 local bus and the BxM4 express bus run the entire length of the Grand Concourse, while the Bx2 local bus runs on the Concourse north of 149th Street.
Risse first conceived of the road in 1890, as a means of connecting the borough of Manhattan to the northern Bronx. Construction began on the Grand Concourse in 1894 and it was opened to traffic in November 1909. Built during the height of the City Beautiful movement, it was modeled on the Champs-Élysées in Paris but is considerably larger, stretching four miles (6 km) in length, measuring 180 feet (55 m) across, and separated into three roadways by tree-lined dividers, so some minor streets did not cross the Concourse. The cost of the project was $14 million (worth $411,824,000 today). The road originally stretched from Bronx Borough Hall at 161st Street north to Van Cortlandt Park, although it was expanded southward to 138th street in 1927 after Mott Avenue was widened to accommodate the boulevard.
The Interborough Rapid Transit Company’s Jerome Avenue Line opened a few blocks west of the Grand Concourse in 1917, initiating a housing boom amongst upwardly mobile, predominantly Jewish and Italian, families who were fleeing the crowded tenements of Manhattan. In 1923, Yankee Stadium opened near the Grand Concourse at 161st Street, down the hill from the Concourse Plaza Hotel. South of Fordham Road, the palatial Loew’s Paradise theater, one of the Loew’s Wonder Theatres and at one time the largest movie theater in New York City, was constructed in 1929.
Development of the Concourse was further encouraged by the opening of the Independent Subway System’s Concourse Line in 1933. By the mid-1930s, almost three hundred apartment buildings had been built along the Concourse. Customarily five or six stories high with wide entrance courtyards bordered with grass and shrubs, among these apartments are many of the finest examples of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture in the United States. Even though the Great Depression, which was happening at the time, ended the period of tremendous growth, privately financed apartment buildings continued to be constructed. Furthermore, work was done on the Grand Concourse as part of WPA programs. During this period, the Bronx had more amenities than other boroughs: in 1934, almost 99% of residences had private bathrooms, and 95% had central heating. In the 1939 WPA guide to New York, the Grand Concourse was described as “the Park Avenueof middle-class Bronx residents, and the lease to an apartment in one of its many large buildings is considered evidence of at least moderate business success.
In 1941, the New York City Planning Department proposed converting the boulevard into an expressway, in order to connect the Major Deegan Expressway and the proposed Park Avenue Expressway to the south with the Mosholu Parkway to the north. However, these plans were abandoned following the southern extension of the Bronx River Parkway in the 1940s and the extension of the Major Deegan Expressway to the north in the 1950s.
The south and central Bronx began to rapidly deteriorate in the 1960s. White flight drained many residents of the South Bronx, pulled by the dream of suburban life and pushed by fear of mounting crime. At the same time, over 170,000 people displaced by slum clearance in Manhattan, mostly African American and Puerto Rican, moved to the Bronx. The city also adopted policies of relocating welfare recipients to the area, paying fees to landlords. Migration to the suburbs, retirement to Florida, and the construction of Co-op City in the fringes of the northeastern Bronx between 1968 and 1970 drained the areas along the Grand Concourse of most of its remaining middle-class residents. Many if not most buildings in the area were damaged by arson, vandalism, and a lack of maintenance. Even along the Grand Concourse, some buildings and apartments were left abandoned and boarded or bricked shut. Starting in the 1990s, when the Bronx’s population began to grow for the first time in twenty years, a wave of affordable housing construction came to the area.
In 1992, the New York City Department of Transportation conducted a study of the Grand Concourse, which resulted in improvements such as left-turn signals; pedestrian barriers; roadway markings; repainted crosswalks; and new and improved signage. These improvements continued along the entire corridor through 2006. As an experiment, the NYCDOT also completely rebuilt the section between 161st Street and 167th Streets starting in 1999, as a “demonstration” project. The Grand Concourse underwent an $18 million restoration and landscaping to widen and landscape the medians; improve lighting; add new signage; and build pedestrian planters in the medians. This resulted in a 69% drop in accidents along this section between 1998 and 2005. The final part of the demonstration project was completed in 2008. Later, this was expanded to a four-phase capital project between 161st Street and Fordham Road as part of a Capital Project, which would receive funding directly from the city. A reconstruction of the Grand Concourse between 166th and 171st Street began in 2013 and is expected to be finished in June 2017. Funding is being allocated for a reconstruction of the Grand Concourse from 171st Street to 175th Street, which is already in planning. In January 2017, the New York City Department of Transportation started planning for a fourth phase, which will renovate the section between 175th Street and Fordham Road.
In 2011, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declared a historic district on the Grand Concourse from 153rd to 167th Street. The State of New York had previously nominated for listing the buildings at 730–1000, 1100–1520, 1560, and 851–1675 Grand Concourse for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district and several New York City Landmarks are on the Concourse.
Because of its attractive art deco buildings and close proximity to Manhattan, the southern portion has been experiencing gentrification and is drawing many young professionals to the area. In fact, in recent years the area around the Grand Concourse has been the center of what real state agents are calling a “renewal.” New people are moving in and severe crime rates have significantly gone down. However, opinions are still divided, as some think that, while the area will experience demographic changes, it will be working-class, “community-oriented” people, as opposed to richer individuals, like in other neighborhoods of the city.
Several buildings of importance to New York City and the Bronx, both because of their history and their current use, are located along the Grand Concourse. Among these stand out:
- The Bronx County Courthouse
- The Bronx General Post Office
- The Bronx Museum of the Arts
- Dollar Savings Bank Building, the 10-story headquarters of the Dollar Dry Dock Savings Banks (now liquidated)
- Hostos Community College, at 475 Grand Concourse
- Loew’s Paradise Theater, in Fordham
- Alexander’s Department Store (defunct) at the corner of the Concourse and Fordham Road
- The Poe Cottage, the last home of Edgar Allan Poe
- The Fish Building, at 1150 Grand Concourse