Bronx Statues, by Carole Howard

My blog posts to date have been about traveling.  This one’s different.  Time travel, maybe, but not the going-far-away kind. Still, it opened my eyes to something new-ish.

I went back to visit my old neighborhood and, in particular, the apartment building where I lived from age 2 to 15. It’s one of 58 red-brick buildings, 7- and 12-stories high, that form the beautifully-landscaped one-square-mile community called Parkchester.  In the Bronx.  Yes, it’s true: beautifully landscaped in the Bronx.

The building itself was not noteworthy:  functional, yes; graceful or in any way beautiful, no.  A hulking rectangular box, sensible as oxford shoes.  But what I’d forgotten were the 500+ statues, friezes, and bas-reliefs that graced the walls and walkways throughout Parkchester.  They fairly knocked me out.

boy statue-1 2 My eyes grew widest when I saw the pink-clad accordion-playing boy above the entry to my own building.  I grew up under his watchful eyes.  How is it that I never really noticed him until my decades-later trip?

About 4 feet tall, maybe 5 years old.  His pink shirt and shorts scream “childhood,” as does the contrast with the powder-blue backdrop, the white shoes and socks, neat 1940’s hair.  His chest is too muscular for his age, too well formed considering the rest of his chubby body.  Above his thick neck, his face is curiously bland and inexpressive, his mouth open as if singing along to his simple accordion tune.  His terra cotta eyes are vacant and unseeing.

But in the “unseeing eyes” department, I beat him by a long-shot.  After all, I saw him with human eyes for 13 years as I went out to ride my bike, to play pingpong or string macaroni into necklaces in the playground.  He saw me go to school, violin lessons, and summer camp.

As the corn-flake  commercial said, “I saw him again for the first time.”  And I loved him.  Not just him.  There were fishes, swans, birds, bears, and all manner of humans: ice-skating girls, bird-loving girls, bird-protecting men, musicians, and many more, built by the quaintly-named Federal Seaboard Terra Cotta Corporation.

woman statue_0001-4 2swan statue 2

All charming.  All whimsical and delightful.  All unexpected grace notes to stolid buildings. All saying “Look at me, look at me.”  And I yet I didn’t.

So I’m wondering: what’s right in front of me now that I’m not noticing?

[If you’d like to know more about the statues of Parkchester, including some great pictures, you can read this article.]

* * *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, recently published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under Art, musings, Travel, writing

17 responses to “Bronx Statues, by Carole Howard

  1. When we visited Parkchester years ago to visit friends, we were struck by the art, so unique in NYC architecture. It’s not surprising that as a kid you took it for granted. A few years ago, we were in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up, and walked around the lobby of the building my family lived in. I would have loved to knock on the door of our old apartment, but of course didn’t.

  2. Gini Hamilton

    I’ll never forget sharing your discovery of those sculptures and my discovery of a whole neighborhood of New York I’d been oblivious to. Everyone should “go home” with new eyes.

  3. I know what you mean, Anita. I wanted to go to my old apartment, too: Apartment 2B, to be precise. But I didn’t dare.

  4. Wasn’t that fun, Gini? And of course I remember visiting your old stomping grounds, too, including Murphy High School in Mobile, Alabama, site of tumultuous desegration — so hard to imagine now. We not only saw new places, but we saw new parts of each other.

  5. Gretchen Gibbs

    I know I missed a lot. When I go back to an old house, for one thing everything is so much smaller, like the hill we used to sled on. I find this with books, also. When I re-read something I enjoyed in childhood or adolescence, it’s a totally different experience.

  6. I know what you mean, Gretchen. It’s actually kind of disorienting, for me anyway. Things that you thought were one way are, looked at again, another. So what’s the “real” way? And is there actually a real way?

  7. How fascinating! Usually such building art is more on the line of gargoyles, but these statues really are charming.

    Good question. I’m sure we all miss a lot of what is in front of our eyes, either because we take it for granted or because we are too busy to see.

  8. Pat, I lean more towards the “take it for granted” explanation, though surely it’s some of both. Either way, what a shame. Malcolm, I’m glad you like these statues as much as I do.

  9. Judy Pedersen

    Very mysterious! Someone wasn’t happy with the buildings and decided to improve them with the vignettes. Charming decorations on a very plain cake.

  10. “Charming decorations on a very plain cake” — yes indeed, and a great way to put it, Judy.

  11. My husband says he preached at a Lutheran Church in Parkchester one Sunday long ago. I have yet to visit NYC. Mark wants to take me there – one day.

  12. NYC is great, Sherrie. I hope you get to go.

  13. It’s amazing how the things around us fade into the background because we are focused on other things–like people, or traffic, or other buikdings. Thanks!

  14. Absolutely. And sometimes (for me, anyway), focused on relatively unimportant things in my head like what I have to do tomorrow, what I need to get at the supermarket, etc. What a waste!

  15. Lou Tschopp

    I was always fascinated by all those gargoyles on the older buildings.

  16. Pingback: Welcome! | carolejhoward

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