A review of Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx by Constance Rosenblum appeared in the 9/20/09 issue of the New York Times Book Review.
Rosenblum didn’t grow up in the West Bronx, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling nostalgic for this onetime haven for upwardly mobile Jewish families — a high-end Art Deco neighborhood that has since become part of the poorest urban county in the United States. A writer and editor at The New York Times, Rosenblum is an infectiously enthusiastic tour guide. You can almost feel her pulling you up and down the Grand Concourse — which was completed 100 years ago — giddily pointing out the sights: the absurdly opulent Loew’s Paradise movie theater, say, or the daring, mermaid-bedecked Lorelei fountain. Of course, one man’s paradise is another’s nightmare: “The boulevard was off limits to blacks in virtually every respect,” Rosenblum writes. At what came to be called “the Bronx Slave Market,” in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, white matrons hired black women for household labor and often exploited them. Institutional racism, Rosenblum says, set the neighborhood up for the urban apocalypse of the ’70s and ’80s, when the once-glamorous area turned hellish: “Fear bled into a barely concealed racism that in turn morphed into panic.” Without acquitting the more famous villains of Bronx history — Co-op City and Robert Moses’ Cross Bronx Expressway — she suggests that the aging residents’ terror of outsiders helped destroy the neighborhood they loved.