The Bronx and East Rivers surround the peninsula of Hunts Point. Our amiable guide Maria, from the Point Community Development Corporation, showed us why Hunt’s Point is coming into its own.
Our first stop was a multi-paneled mural by Sharon de la Cruz, based on the famous Norman Rockwell painting. It portrays six-year-old Ruby Bridges’ historic walk in 1960 as the first black student in an all-white New Orleans school.
In the 1970s, the Bronx burned down, as did most of Hunt’s Point. But by 1988, the South East Bronx Community Organization helped rebuild the area. One unscathed building is a 150-year-old fire station; another is the Valencia Bakery from the 1940s!
The community residents are young (many in their twenties) and made up of 76% Hispanics: Central Americans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexicans. The other 24% are Afro-Americans. Streets are named after original wealthy landowners and artists, such as poets Longfellow and Whittier.
Everywhere we walked, we saw residential blocks surrounded by industrial streets. Apartment houses are minutes away from gargantuan trucks and huge auto supply warehouses.
But Hunts Point is being revitalized. A building called Rocking the Boat helps young people learn to build boats. (Their slogan: kids build boats and boats build kids.) Just past the building is Hunts Point Riverside Park, an oasis where people can boat on the Bronx River. The park includes an amphitheater and grills for picnicking. A graphic mural painted by Tatscru is striking.
As we headed toward elementary school, P.S.48, Shirley, one of our Greeters, suddenly realized she’d attended the school! All sorts of memories flooded back to her.
Joseph Rodman Drake Park was our final stop. Named for Drake, an early 19th century physician and poet, it has 249 acres of towering trees, pastoral beauty and a fenced-off cemetery with diverse occupants. The original wealthy landowners now share the same cemetery with the enslaved Africans: the nanny, coachman, blacksmith, cook, and seamstress whose unpaid labor kept the estates running smoothly.
It is Maria’s fervent wish that Hunts Point residents see the beauty that surrounds them and the history that enriches them. “Because of these things, I hope they will stay and take care of our community.” We think she’ll get her wish.