Dead-end street is fisherman’s haven

A rendering of Hunts Point Landing

Dilapidated spot near fish market could become a park

By Christina Davis

Nearly every day, a group of old friends meet on the East River waterfront to fish and crack some jokes. Their gathering spot is next to a derelict building once used by the Department of Sanitation to transfer garbage to barges, but it offers stunning views beyond.

For this seasoned group of regulars, the hidden spot they call “the old sanitation site” serves as a second home and a therapeutic escape from the busy, industrial swarm just minutes away. Strictly speaking, their fishing spot is simply the dead end of Farragut Street, but in the not-too-distant future it will be converted into a lively public park, thanks to the efforts of Sustainable South Bronx and The Point Community Development Corporation.

Farragut Street is at the far end of Food Center Drive, and journeying there, especially without a car, involves considerable time and determination to arrive at a destination of crumbling, weedy concrete walkways, half-erect fences, and splintering wood railings.

However, a visitor who treks through the labyrinth of warehouses and down the desolate Food Center Drive is rewarded with a breathtaking view of the river, the Whitestone Bridge, and Manhattan.

At the edge of the waterfront sit the people who come to enjoy the views, the marine life, and the companionship. Some live in the Hunts Point or Longwood area and some do not; some have been coming for a long time and some are new; but for the few hours they gather on the river, there seems to be no difference between them. Although most of them want to be identified only by first name, they welcome newcomers to their secret once they’re assured that they’re not officials who have come to stop them from fishing, or, worse yet, close off the site altogether.

Many come to fish here every day. The State Department of Health has issued a warning against eating fish caught in the Hudson or East Rivers, but the general sensibility on Farragut Street is much more relaxed. As one fisherman named Victor insists, “Nobody ever got sick from the fish.”

But it’s not just the fishing that draws the group. Many of the regulars refer to the location as a place they love to go to escape. Sitting under a cleverly constructed hut made of salvaged chain-link fence and a green plastic tarp, a man named Jorge, who is dressed in a blue and yellow jacket and hat describes the spot as “a little getaway, a little home.”

Nearly all of the fishermen (and observers of fishermen) use their time on the waterfront to relax, they say. For some it has a therapeutic effect. Wilfredo Dejesus, who has lived in Hunts Point since 1960, said that when his wife died 10 years ago, he began coming to the site every day after work. “I have a job, but at five, as soon as I get off my job, I be here. What am I going to do? Watch my TV? Stare at my four walls?” he said. “It’s a therapy. If you got problems, you come here. You can have fun, be yourself, and meet people. Even with the agony, it will help you.”

Back at the tarp hut, joining Jorge, sits Victor, who is wearing a bright red sweatshirt and NYC hat. He has chosen, for the day, to simply enjoy the comradery, rather than the fishing, saying there are “too many people to catch a fish.” To Victor’s right sit two more regulars, Angel and Elizabeth. They enjoy coming down to the river, they say, because “it’s like family”: everyone looks out for one another.

As Jorge and a group of newer fishermen sit by the water, Victor, Angel, and Elizabeth continue to talk fondly of the changes they’ve seen in the area and the friendships they’ve made. “Thirty years ago it was different,” Victor recalls. “Nothing was here,” he says. “Now there’s lots of business around here and lots of progress.”

Development, he adds, is a mixed blessing. It makes him concerned that the city may have something in mind for the site that would end its use as a gathering spot. “Are they gonna fix this place or just close it down?” he asks.

DeJesus points out several new fluorescent orange markings along the wood railings of the waterfront. Several times he says, “I hope they don’t close it down. I don’t know what is going on. If they don’t keep it open, where can we go fishing?”

In fact, though, if neighborhood activists have their way, the dead-end street will welcome fishermen in a space as attractive as the views it offers. The end of Farragut Street will become “Hunts Point Landing,” a new park and part of the South Bronx Greenway.

Though the site will undergo a substantial transformation, it will stay true to its roots and current users, according to Menaka Mohan, the Greenway coordinator for Sustainable South Bronx, which originated the Greenway proposal. The site, she said, will not only continue to be open to fishing, it will even include a new fishing pier, as well as a floating platform, which would allow access for kayaks and other small boats.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Mayor Micharel Bloomberg announced that Hunts Point Landing would be one of the first projects undertaken in the multi-year Greenway project. Construction, he said, would begin this summer.

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