Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Then and Now: East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx

Then and Now: East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx

East 149th Street Bronx
The Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, in 1980.

The South Bronx is an interesting place for urban explorers. So much of it remains untouched for decade after decade that it becomes a treasure trove of the past. There are several reasons why things tend to stay the same for longer periods of time than elsewhere in areas such as the South Bronx. The main reason is the lack of investment in new buildings and infrastructure. This, in turn, derives from things like location in relation to more popular areas, transportation, and crime. The above picture from the South Bronx in 1980 piqued my interest, so I decided to compare the Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue in the Bronx from 1980 to 2018. To do this, I took a current grab from Google Street View, which is below.

As the above photo from 1980 shows, the South Bronx in 1980 was a gritty place. It is a stark view, an endless expanse of concrete with some tenements and some strip mall-type buildings on the street. Citibank has a branch there, looking remarkably like a fortress with thick walls and a stark paint job. Overall, it is a forbidding landscape, which in all fairness may have something to do with when the photo was taken. However, it does not look like a very welcoming place, and, unless you have some banking to do, not the type of area that you would want to tarry in for any length of time.

East 149th Street Bronx
The Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, in 1992.

A picture of the same corner at East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, in 1992 shows that little had changed other than the tenants of the buildings. In a sign of the times, the Citibank branch had become a video store. Everyone wanted to own a video store in the late '80s and early '90s, it was the "hot thing." It looks like pretty much everything else is unchanged from 1980. The buildings down the street to the right are still there, and the billboards are still in use. The billboards are evocative of the era but do give the neighborhood a somewhat junky feel. There is a small tree down the block which breaks the starkness a bit.

In the photo below from a recent Google Street View map, Most of the buildings appear to be the same. The tenements certainly are still there, and it appears that the Citibank building has simply been converted into a Popeye's restaurant. The street lights look pretty much the same, as do the street signs on the pole. There are no billboards anymore. The buildings behind the tenements are gone, but, otherwise, the photo shows how little has really changed at this particular corner. The replacement of the Citibank with a video store and then a fast food joint pretty much mirrors the transition of the city, as many now complain that the only stores you find anymore are fast food joints and similar high-traffic businesses that provide mundane conveniences.

There is one subtle change in the most recent photo, however, that makes a big difference. The small tree in the 1992 photo now makes a big impact in the photo below. In fact, there isn't any suggestion of any living thing at all in the 1980 photo, and the tree in the 1992 photo is almost inconsequential. Comparing the 1980 photo with the more recent one shows how much some greenery softens a landscape that otherwise looks harsh and forbidding. The city has made that change in many locations, and it greatly improves the quality of life of those that live there. The streets and buildings may be the same, but the little touches make all the difference.

Anyway, thank you for visiting this installment of my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. I hope you enjoy history as much as I do!

East 149th Street Bronx
The Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, ca. 2018 (Google Street View).


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