First South Bronx Culture Trail tour highlights music
Long before Dr. Jay’s, RadioShack and a 99-cent discount store took over a swath of Southern Boulevard near East 163rd Street, there stood one of the city’s most iconic music venues, the Hunts Point Palace.
A 2,500-seat grand ballroom that rivaled Manhattan’s legendary Palladium in the 1950’s and 60’s, the Palace regularly featured performances by mambo and Latin jazz pioneers such as Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, and Orlando Marin, sometimes all in one night. Even jazz great Dizzy Gillespie graced the stage.
Many residents are unaware of the area’s rich cultural history, even as they walk past neighborhood venues like the Palace every day. But Casita Maria’s Center for Arts & Education and performance group Dancing In The Streets are trying to change that by launching a musical journey down memory lane called the South Bronx Culture Trail.
Casita Maria was the go-to program for many who later became established musicians, like Latin jazz percussionist, Benny Bonilla.
“We had nothing, we were underprivileged but Casita Maria gave us activities, sports and camp upstate,” said Bonilla.
The project aims to honor the many musicians, artists and other local talents who have emerged from the area, as well as the neighborhood cultural institutions that once flourished, by establishing a history trail the public can follow, in person and online. The initiative, which has been two years in the making, will also feature events, performances and art exhibitions, to emphasize that the area’s talent is not just buried in the past—but that remembering the past is key.
“This will help us remember and take pride in the history that came before us,” said Assemblyman Marcus Crespo at the unveiling of a mural by Hunts Point artist collective TatsCru on June 23, marking the new venture at Casita Maria.
Bronx folklore expert Elena Martinez led a group of about two-dozen Bronxites and other visitors on a preview of the trail, pointing out key spots as the tour wound through Longwood’s streets. She noted the dilapidated building on 167th Avenue and Fox Street once housed the Fort Apache Center, a boxing arena founded by two officers from the nearby 41st Precinct. The venue was also home to weekly jams by two young DJs who later gained international fame as founding fathers of hip hop, Grandmaster Flash and GrandWizard Theodore.
But while musicians are the stars of the new trail, they are not the only historic icons being featured. The group also stopped in front of a TatsCru mural on Prospect Ave. honoring neighborhood icon, Dr. Evelina Antonetty, known affectionately as Hell Lady of The Bronx for her tenacity battling city officials and landlords to protect the rights of South Bronxites.
There were also stops to admire some of the area’s public art and architecture, including sculptor Rafael Ferrer’s piece on 156th and Fox Street, and St. Athanasius Parish at the corner of Tiffany St. and Southern Blvd., which long served as home base for housing titan Father Louis Gigante.
The walkers then wound across the intersection of Westchester and Longwood Aves, one of the city’s richest musical crossroads a half-century ago, with its mix of clubs, theaters and record shops.
Only one store selling Latin music still stands as a testament to that era, Casa Amadeo on Prospect Ave. The store’s long-time owner, songwriter, singer and former Latin record company executive, Mike Adameo, serenaded the visitors with an impromptu guitar and vocal performance.
Grammy-nominated drummer Bobby Sanabria summed up the significance of music in the neighborhood’s history when one tour-goer asked how the Bronx earned its nickname “the Boogie Down.”
“The Bronx is where hip hop, doo-wop, and Mambo were all created,” he answered. “It all started here.”