Sunday, June 01, 2014
With South Bronx Trail, a History and a Culture Will Be Clearly Marked
Casa Amadeo on Prospect Avenue, a Latin record store on the National Register of Historic Places, is perhaps the only place in the city where one can worship at a shrine dedicated to the Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández.
On a recent Saturday, Miguel Angel Amadeo told the tale of his shop’s beginnings in East Harlem, its move to the Bronx and Mr. Amadeo’s reign as owner, cultural arbiter and link to politicians, salsa legends and historians since 1969.
Dayra Rivas, 15, was among his listeners. She lives down the block, but it was only the second time she had stepped inside the store.
“I pass this store every day and always see people inside but didn’t know about its history,” she said. “I get why people make a big deal about it now.”
Her discovery came by way of a walking tour sponsored by the 80-year-old cultural institution Casita Maria, in conjunction with South Bronx community organizations and leaders out to unearth the deep musical and cultural history of the area.
“There is this incredible cultural history in the Bronx that the larger world knows very little about,” said Elena Martinez, who led the meandering two-hour tour armed with notes and a tote bag of historical photographs.
“People sort of know hip-hop, but there really is so much more,” she said.
Ms. Martinez’s tour was a taste of what will soon be known as the South Bronx Culture Trail. Funded by an $80,000 grant from the New York Community Trust, a series of 10 permanent markers will be installed next year, creating a self-guided tour of the South Bronx not unlike the one Ms. Martinez has given for almost a decade now. The choices about the markers’ locations will be made by the South Bronx Culture Trail Advisory Council, whose membership is made up of about 30 artists and community leaders.
Contenders for the first markers include, among other places, the major spots in a once-thriving club scene.
In the ’50s and ’60s, jazz streamed from the trumpet of Dizzy Gillespie at Club 845 on Prospect Avenue, and the rhythms of mambo and salsa served up by Tito Rodríguez, Celia Cruz and others could be heard at the Tropicana and the Embassy Ballroom in Morrisania.
A map curated by the Bronx Music Heritage Society, where Ms. Martinez, 45, is the artistic director, illustrates the concentration of these long-gone clubs.
“Nowadays you come across young Latino and African-American kids around here who don’t know who Tito Puente or Duke Ellington was,” Ms. Martinez said. “That’s a shame.”
The trail also will highlight the former residences of notable natives like Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court justice, and Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, who made their mark far beyond the borough, as well as those who stuck around, like Dr. Hetty Fox, whose play street on Lyman Place has quietly been a bastion for youth in the South Bronx for decades.
“She gave me my first job,” said Mohammed Jalloh, 20, perched on a car, observing a crowd converged upon Ms. Fox, who spoke in front of her three-story house on 1370 Lyman Place.
Unlike the “Ghetto Tour,” which was stopped after public outrage last year, Ms. Martinez’s tour the other day drew only curiosity in the neighborhoods it traversed as participants stopped to point their cameras, much like tourists in Times Square.
Ms. Martinez did not use a megaphone, and often found her voice drowned out by street-corner conversations and the bachata and salsa music booming from car stereos.
The tour halted at Charlotte Street, where a row of white-fenced houses with Puerto Rican flags has replaced a street scene once portrayed as a kind of battlefield in the films “Fort Apache, the Bronx” and “Wolfen,” both shot there and released in 1981. Seth Evans, 50, a high school English teacher from Westchester, liked what he was seeing. “It’s still scrappy here, there is still vitality,” he said.