Park could be next stop for depot

Rendering by SLO Architecture depicting a perspective from within Concrete Plant Park looking toward the proposed bridge and the waiting room's new location.Photorealistic aerial view of the Bronx River Right-of-Way proposal which re-purposes Cass Gilbert's Westchester Avenue stationSLO Architectures rendering of a view from the adjacent Bronx River which shows rowers approaching the proposed boat dock underneath the suspended waiting roomPhoto by Shanice Carr

Architects display plans to tie train station to Concrete Plant

Since the last train stopped at the Westchester Avenue train station in 1931, the handsomely-decorated building has been slowly crumbling away.

Amtrak, which now operates on what were once the tracks of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, announced two years ago that it wants to tear the building down.

But a pair of young architects backed by community organizations and preservationists has other plans.

In presentations in Manhattan in September and at the station in October,  they unveiled a scheme to split the building in two, leaving its entrance hall where it is to serve as the gateway to Concrete Plant Park, while lifting its waiting room onto stilts over the Bronx River, where it would be reached by a shimmering, transparent bridge over the train tracks.

The station would become a beckoning entrance to the park, an education center, a place for small boats to dock and, more mundanely, would provide bathrooms for park users. And it would preserve the work of one of the nation’s notable architects, Cass Gilbert, who designed the Woolworth Building in New York and the United States Supreme Court.

Alexander Levi and Amanda Schachter, principals of the firm SLO Architecture and the minds behind the proposed renovations, plan to retain as much of the station’s exterior as possible and create replicas to replace what cannot be salvaged. During the first presentation, at a showroom in Chelsea, Schachter praised Cass Gilbert’s trademark glazed terracotta tiles, which still adorn the dilapidated building and offer a glimpse into its past.

This is the third project Schachter and Levi have undertaken on the Bronx River. The first two were exercises in environmental art, and they led to this practical undertaking, they said.

Three summers ago, working with local students they built a floating sculpture in the shape of the Bronx River watershed from discarded junk and floated it down to Hunts Point Riverside Park. Observing Concrete Plant Park from the river gave them their first inkling of the possibilities for the station, they said when they presented their new plan.

By then, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, a driving force behind the creation of Concrete Plant Park, and other community organizations and preservationists had already begun to call for the station’s rehabilitation as a gateway to the park. What’s new in the architects’ vision is separating the long waiting room from the entrance hall and moving it to the riverside.

To reach the repositioned waiting room, park users would traverse a bridge clad in a lacy dome-like sheath. Its design, said Levi, was inspired by the second of the architects’ Bronx River projects, Harvest Dome, a floating sphere 24 feet in diameter made of discarded umbrellas that they launched in the Bronx River a year ago. The bridge will allow park goers to “view the river from a very privileged spot,” Levi said.

“I love the idea of someone applying imagination and innovation about what the community articulated,” said Majora Carter, the founder of Sustainable South Bronx who now operates a consulting business on Hunts Point Avenue, in an interview after the presentation. Carter hopes to acquire another former train station designed by Gilbert on Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard.

Amanda Schachter explains plans for saving the Westchester Avenue train station, seen in the background.
Photo by Maggie Greenfield.

During the question period at the Manhattan presentation Linda Cox, the director at the Bronx River Alliance, the organization that manages the Bronx River Greenway, stressed that the Westchester Avenue Station’s entrance hall has “a street entrance that is very valuable” to Concrete Plant park. A rehabilitated station would serve as a beacon to attract visitors to the park, she said, because “even though it does come out all the way to Westchester Avenue, the park is barely visible from the street.”

At the on-site presentation of the proposal held on Oct. 7, as a part of Open House New York Weekend–a citywide event which showcases and celebrates the city’s architectural gems–SLO Architecture, expounded on the vision and led a tour of the surrounding neighborhood, visiting Concrete Plant Park and ending in front of the station’s entrance hall where renderings of the revamped station were displayed and discussed.

Whether the project can be realized will depend on Amtrak and on fund-raising, the architects said. Amtrak did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

As to the price tag, they completed their design before costing the project, Levi said, because they hope their renderings and their vision will inspire funders to open their wallets. But he guesstimated the cost as in the low millions, and noted that it wouldn’t be “nearly as expensive as the Highline,” the new linear park on abandoned elevated train tracks on Manhattan’s far West Side. “This is just our first step to get people excited,” Schachter said in an interview.

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