Bedford Park, a sleepy community in the northern section of the Bronx, is home to tight two-way streets running parallel to the super-wide Grand Concourse, and century-old Victorian- and Tudor-style homes abutting Art Deco apartment buildings.
The neighborhood began to develop in 1869 after George Caulfield bought a 25-acre tract of land from a large plot owned by financier Leonard Jerome, Winston Churchill’s grandfather. Three years later, Caulfield sold the property to the Twenty-Fourth Ward Real Estate Association. Bedford Park’s suburban design was inspired by the London town of the same name, which was the first “garden suburb.” The neighborhood’s early settlers — working-class Irish and Italian immigrants — lived in freshly built suburban villas on a street now known as Villa Avenue. Many residents lived where they worked, helping to construct the nearby Jerome Park Reservoir, the site of a former racetrack also bearing Jerome’s name.
The neighborhood was annexed to New York City in 1874. The entire borough officially became part of New York City on January 1, 1898.
Drawn to Bedford Park’s new amenities and the introduction of increased public transportation to and from the Bronx in the early twentieth century, middle-class Jewish, Italian, and Irish families eventually replaced Bedford Park’s working class. They enjoyed many of the burgeoning community’s key attractions, including the impressive spacious Grand Concourse, the New York Botanical Garden, and several houses of worship. The expansion of transportation options coincided with a building boom, as construction of large pre- and post-war buildings continued through the 1950s.
An arrow-shaped neighborhood whose boundaries include East 196th Street, Mosholu Parkway, Webster Avenue, and Goulden Avenue, Bedford Park was a model of stability throughout the 1970s, when in the midst of New York City’s fiscal crisis, fires raged and city services were withdrawn in the South Bronx. The neighborhood went mostly unscathed thanks to the cadre of activists that sought to preserve the area’s family-friendly offerings.
Today, Latinos from various countries form a large part of Bedford Park’s community, along with a mix of Albanians, Vietnamese, and some Koreans. Bedford Park’s history of preservation defies the city’s current mania for development projects. Locals have recently lobbied their local councilmember to downzone Bedford Park in an attempt to keep the neighborhood from becoming redeveloped.
There’s something peaceful about watching cars zip along this verdant, bench-lined parkway, ideal for aimless walks or people watching. That’s about the only thing you can do on this leafy 3-mile stretch — which includes a 1.2-mile pedestrian walkway — tethering the Bronx River and Saw Mill River parkways. But residents like it that way. At its center mall, where it crosses Marion Avenue, pedestrians can stop to admire the Bronx Victory Memorial, a striking statue that features a U.S. soldier guarding a fellow serviceman. (Another Bronx Victory Memorial is located in Pelham Bay Park.) The bronze piece, sitting atop a pedestal, was conceived by Jerome Connor and is dedicated to Bedford Park’s fallen World War I servicemen. Friends of Mosholu Parkland, a volunteer group, serves as the sentinel to this neighborhood treasure, hosting monthly cleanup events to preserve the parkway. Mosholu Parkway between Webster Avenue and West Gun Hill Road, nycgovparks.org/parks/mosholu-parkway/history
Bedford Park holds bragging rights as the home of the New York Botanical Garden, a 250-acre oasis that houses more than 1 million living plants and is frequented by millions of nature lovers. Its regular exhibits include the signature Holiday Train Show, in which motorized miniature trains snake past some 150 scale models of New York City landmarks. Kentucky-based artist Paul Busse conceived the project 26 years ago, utilizing twigs, bark, and other plants to expertly create this mini-metropolis. Along with being a tourist attraction, the 127-year-old institution doubles as a leading research facility for botanical studies, with more than 100 working scientists and academics on site. Before you leave, you may want to trek down Waterfall Walk, an embankment just past the picturesque Cherry Collection that leads to a waterfall crashing down into the waters of the Bronx River. Plenty of roads lead to NYBG, with transportation options that include the B/D and 4 lines, Metro-North, Mosholu Parkway, and the Bronx River Parkway. 2900 Southern Boulevard, nybg.org
Among the oldest structures in the neighborhood, the Bedford Park Congregational Church was built in 1892 as a “symbol of growth and permanence of the community.” Founded by Reverend Shearjashub Bourne, the land was purchased from the Twenty-Fourth Ward Real Estate Association for what architect Edgar K. Bourne — Shearjashub’s son — envisioned as a tiny Queen Anne–style church. Its flock of loyal churchgoers successfully lobbied for the building to secure landmark status in 2000, a designation that helped secure $150,000 in fundraising for a renovation that preserved the church’s architectural integrity. It remains active, holding yearly flea markets and other get-togethers intended to forge community spirit. 309 East 201st Street, 718-733-3199
An all-girls college preparatory school founded by the Missouri-based Ursuline Sisters, the Academy of Mount St. Ursula claims the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating Catholic school for girls in New York State. Stepping onto the property is almost like stepping back in time. With its stately campus looming on a hilltop overlooking an entire block — including Marion Avenue, Bedford Park Boulevard, Bainbridge Avenue, and East 198th Street — the 163-year-old school moved to the neighborhood in 1892 after spending 37 years in the South Bronx’s East Morrisania section. Tours are available. The Ursuline Sisters leased part of the property to Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, who built Serviam Gardens, a senior citizen building that opened in 2009. 330 Bedford Park Boulevard, amsu.org
The Bronx High School of Science — a specialized high school whose distinguished alumni include astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, sports announcer Michael Kay, famous scribe E.L. Doctorow, and eight other alums who went on to win Nobel Prizes — sits at the foot of the Jerome Park Reservoir. Ambitious students from as far away as Brooklyn can be spotted rushing from the B/D and 4 lines to the prestigious school. Additionally, a fascinating Holocaust Museum and Studies Center is open to the public by appointment. 75 West 205th Street, bxscience.edu
Overlooking the Grand Concourse, the Roman Catholic–affiliated Church of St. Philip Neri was founded in 1898. An accompanying elementary Catholic school, which still operates today, opened in 1913. The church’s name serves as a nod to the Italian saint, and honors the large working-class Italian families — many of them laborers of the Jerome Park Reservoir — that carved out a home in Bedford Park. An enormous stone excavated from the reservoir site serves as a cornerstone. Though two fires, in 1912 and 1997, nearly destroyed the church, it still stands following extensive renovation work. 3025 Grand Concourse, church.stphilipneribronx.org
Irish pubs aren’t as ubiquitous in Bedford Park these days, but the Jolly Tinker, which opened in 1969, keeps on ticking. The Tinker serves as an off-the-beaten-path saloon for Fordham University students or a final stop for regulars after a long day’s work, making it a true neighborhood mainstay. A bright-green and yellow color scheme still holds at the exterior, but the interior hallmarks that made the Jolly Tinker a beloved watering hole for nearly half a century — including a wall where scrawls of signatures from yesteryear reigned — were erased after the original owner’s son, Michael Prendergast Jr., sold it in 2017. JT is still worth a trip, especially for its home-brewed Jolly Tea and Hennessy Punch. A fully loaded neon jukebox plays during the week, and live indie bands jam on weekends. Fun fact: The bar at one point had remained open for 16,433 consecutive days — the streak was broken after renovations in 2017. 2875 Webster Avenue, 718-364-8789
Situated across from the Bedford Park Boulevard 4 subway stop, the Greek-owned Bedford Café serves a litany of offerings 24-7. A half-mile up from the Jolly Tinker, the Bedford Café at night can appear to glow in the dark, since it’s illuminated when all other businesses around it are closed. It serves as a beacon for early risers and nighttime revelers. Breakfast is served all day, including a scrumptious Irish Mix that includes Irish bacon, sausage, fried tomato, and black and white pudding. 1 Bedford Park Boulevard, 718-365-3446
This Victorian-style home earned its moniker for once having belonged to Dr. John F. Condon, the man entangled in the famous Lindbergh baby kidnapping case of 1932. Condon served as the conduit between Charles Lindbergh — the well-known aviator and father of infant son Charles — and the kidnapper, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was later sentenced to death for the twenty-month-old’s abduction and death. Built in 1901, the three-story home is still a private residence, but the Bronx County Historical Society occasionally stops at the house during neighborhood tours. 2974 Decatur Avenue
The John J. Fox & Sons Funeral Home has operated in this one-story building since 1959, when the eponymous undertaker’s sons moved from their original home in Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. The business has existed since 1897, making it one of the oldest funeral homes still operating in the borough. Thomas Roemmelt, a previous employee of the funeral home, purchased the business in 2003. 203 East 201st Street, johnjfoxandsons.com
The Village Voice is exploring one borough per day for the week of April 2, 2018. For full coverage to date, visit our Neighborhoods Week 2018 page.