After over 35 years laying dormant amongst neglect and urban decay, the majestic Old Bronx Courthouse is slowly coming back to life from its deep slumber.
For decades, the building laid there, shuttered and weathering away from neglect. Now, the courthouse is being gut renovated for new tenants. The landmark building’s exterior will be restored to its former grandeur, as per New York City Department of Landmarks and Preservation,guidelines and will become a shining beacon in a neighborhood that has turned about face.
You see, this is a tale of a neighborhood and a building’s history being intertwined. The building was shut down in the mid 70s right at the peak of the collapse of Melrose and the rest of the South Bronx. Now, both neighborhood and building are shedding the last of its dust and rubble. Just last week it was announced that Melrose was the fastest growing neighborhood in the Bronx and 3rd fastest citywide. Last year Melrose Commons, part of one of the most ambitious urban renewal programs in the city, was certified a Gold LEED Neighborhood District by the United States Green Building Council making it the first and ONLY such neighborhood in all of New York State.
Henry Weinstein, owner of the grand building was often criticized that he let the building sit there for over a decade since purchasing it. This was, however, a wise decision as he felt that ten years ago the neighborhood was not stable enough to support the kind of use he envisioned for his prized property. “There were plenty of offers to lease the space as a storage facility,” says Mr. Weinstein, “but the building and the neighborhood deserved much better.”
A glance in any direction shows the tremendous growth the neighborhood is going through. Directly surrounding the courthouse is Boricua Village, a massive mixed-use development of 700 mixed-income apartments complete with private gym, screening room, and rooftop gardens to name a few. The development is also home to the new flagship campus of Boricua College with a gleaming 14 story glass tower.
To the south you have the Aurora and the Orion Condominiums and hundreds of new 3 family townhouses.
A few more blocks southeast, St Ann’s Terrace, another massive mixed-income 700+ units development, is nearing completion. You cannot walk more than a couple of blocks in Melrose without seeing the signs of construction.
Since November 2009, Welcome2Melrose has had the privilege and honor to tour the historic courthouse dozens of time whether with prospective tenants or for the most exclusive dinner party the Bronx had seen in decades. To watch the work going on at the courthouse is rather an emotional and psychological journey.
The building, which has been vacant all during my three and a half decades and such a visible reminder of how our neighborhood was abandoned, is getting a new lease in life as are the residents of Melrose. It was the most visible sign of our government’s near-apocalyptic disdain for Melrose and the South Bronx.
Before the year is over, the building will be lit up and hundreds of people will be going in and out of the mammoth restored structure under the watchful eye of Lady Justice, coming full circle with a neighborhood that started out as a village and ended up as the civic heart of the great borough of the north.
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