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Colin Powell returns to Kelly Street

Photo by Joe Hirsch

General Colin L. Powell mixed with Longwood residents and city officials at the opening of a co-op building on Fox Street that bears his name.

New apartment building will bear the name of a native son

General Colin L. Powell returned home to Longwood on September 9, if only for one eventful afternoon.

The 73-year-old former secretary of state, who was raised on Kelly St., was the guest speaker at the grand opening of the 50-unit co-op building named for him at 715 Fox St. on the corner of Leggett Avenue, two blocks from where he grew up.

Before cutting the ceremonial ribbon allowing visitors and future tenants to tour the building, Powell recalled the Longwood of his boyhood in the 1940s. He remembered his aunts sitting at the windows of their apartments watching him leave his home at 952 Kelly Street for school in the mornings, then watching him return in the afternoons.

“I left the Bronx some 50 years ago, but it never left me,” he said.

The seven-story building is the first co-op apartment building built for homeowners in Hunts Point and Longwood, city officials said. It comprises studios and one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments meant to be affordable to low-income families, and boasts many environmental innovations, including a rooftop garden and non-toxic building materials.

The city collaborated with the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity, whose volunteers helped build the apartments, eight of which will be occupied by families chosen by Habitat. The building will be move-in ready within a few months.

Powell said the watchful eyes of his parents and aunts along and around Kelly Street instilled a sense of ambition and responsibility that has served him ever since.

“We have expectations for you and, above all, never shame this community,” Powell said was the message that never left him.

He explained that the first chapter of his autobiography, “My American Journey,” which describes his upbringing, gets more attention than any other part of the book. He recounted how the publishers of the French edition were so taken with his descriptions of growing up on Kelly Street that they wanted to recast the book’s title as “Un enfant du Bronx” (A child from the Bronx) for French readers, downplaying his rise to chief of the armed forces and major political figure.

The neighborhood was notable for its diversity in the 1940s and 1950s, with “the Jewish bakery, the Italian shoemaker, the Puerto Rican bodega,” Powell said. He remembered the beginning of the slow decline in later years, and “watched as the apartment building I grew up in slowly fell apart.” Still, Powell said he was honored the new building bears his name, saying, “This is going to be here forever.” He echoed the sentiments of other speakers from city organizations and non-profits connected with the project in sensing a resurgence across the borough, symbolized by the new venture.

Damian Griffin was one of the building’s several prospective tenants attending the opening. Griffin, the education director at the Bronx River Alliance who with his wife and two children rent a second-floor apartment in a Kelly Street row house, seized the opportunity to become a first-time homeowner when he saw the co-op apartments advertised in a newspaper.

“I want to be somewhere I can be for a long time,” Griffin said, while his three-year-old daughter rolled on the wood floor and inspected closets in the two-bedroom apartment he hopes will become the family’s new home once banking protocol and number crunching have been done.

“Hey, this is to stay,” he said.

Griffin and other tenants unfamiliar with the rules and restrictions of co-ops will have a learning curve to overcome. Those who live in co-op apartments own shares in the building and vote on decisions about finances and management.

“We’re all going to be learning what it means to be a co-op,” said Griffin, who says he plans on running for the board if he and his family become tenants.

Jemaine Buchanan, 30, is only vaguely familiar with the neighborhood, having occasionally visited his brother who once lived on Garrison Avenue in years past.

“The area’s changing over,” said Buchanan, who lives in the north Bronx, and like Griffin is waiting to get final approval from the bank for the purchase of a third-floor apartment.

Buchanan pushed aside any worry about the financial process, and instead smiled at the notion of the rooftop garden he expects he will soon have access to.

“I can see nights of wine already,” he mused.

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