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LOCAL-SEPTEMBER 2000

Not Just Jerry

There's a Quirky Story to the Way Jerome Avenue Got its Name

Roy Ramnanan
Bronx Journal Staff Reporter

 

You might say Jerome Avenue was named in a fit of rage.

It all happened about a century ago.  Kate Hall Jerome, the wife of Leonard W. Jerome, an important figure in the cityís high society during the 19th century, had just learned that a street in the Bronx had been named to honor a New York City alderman Ė and not her husband.  She became infuriated.  And not to be outdone, Ms. Jerome  personally ordered, paid for and supervised the placing of bronze street signs on poles  reading "Jerome Ave." in honor of her husband along the path of the thoroughfare that still bears his name.   

Now, about 100 years later, the important roadway is traveled by thousands of people each year who don't know much about its past.  "I think it was nice of Mrs. Jerome to name the street after her husband - but, if she could see how terrible the road is now, with all the pot holes in  it, I'm sure she would pay to have the signs removed and would quickly disassociate her husband from any connection in order preserve his name," says Maggie Velez, 47, a public school teacher and 15-year resident of the Bronx.  Velez appears quite agitated as she points to a dent on the rim of her 1998 white Toyota Camry which she blames on none other than "Jerome Ave".

"It is very interesting to see what a difference one woman made in ensuring that the legacy of the Jeromes lived on," says Ana Valentine, 24, a Fordham University Law student and life-long resident of the Fordham section of the Bronx. "What she did was unheard of at that time since there was no women's movement or equal-rights-for-women group to support her actions," adds Ms. Valentine who feels that it was Mrs. Jerome's socio-economic status and the political status of her husband that prevented her from going to jail for her actions. 

Jerome Avenue was initially laid out as a plank road at a cost of $375,000 in 1874, just before the Bronx was annexed by New York City that same year.  The road followed, in part, the bed of Cromwell's Creek. Taking this into consideration, its present condition is certainly an improvement despite the fact that the broad trees that once lined the avenue were chopped down and replaced by concrete pavement.

"Isn't Jerome Avenue named after a famous play-write who also has a theater in Manhattan named after him?" asks Matthew Cassidy, 32, a lab  assistant at North Central Bronx Hospital and resident of Manhattan.  Mr. Matthew went on to say that his hectic schedule does not allow him the luxuries of researching the rich history of the Bronx even though the 1758 Valentine-Varian House, now the Museum of Bronx History, located at 3266 Bainbridge Avenue is only two blocks from his place of employment.

Leonard W. Jerome was of Huguenot extraction, an important financier, stockholder in the New York Times, and founder of the Academy of Music. He also helped organize the American Jockey Club at the Jerome Racetrack, which operated from 1867 to 1890, and was the birthplace of the Belmont Stakes race. Jerome's daughter, Jennie Jerome, was the mother of Britain's Prime Minister during World War Two, Winston Churchill.

Mr. Cassidy now has a newfound appreciation and respect for Leonard W. Jerome as he sits on the Number 4 train which runs on an elevated platform, through most of the Bronx, directly above Jerome Avenue and extends from Woodlawn Station past the Kingsbridge Armory and Yankee Stadium to the under ground tunnel that separates the Bronx from Manhattan.

One landmark associated with Jerome Avenue is the Kingsbridge Armory, located on the corner of Kingsbridge Road and Jerome Avenue.  It is the largest armory in the world with a drill floor that measures  over 180,000 square feet.

The building was begun in 1911 and its cornerstone was laid in 1913.  It was first opened to National Guard troops in 1917. In addition to serving the National Guard, and it has also been used over the years for special shows and expositions.

The Kingsbridge Armory is currently being considered for redevelopment. Under current proposals the structure would be converted into retail space, recreational/entertainment space, community facilities, or a 600 parking garage. A second proposal would convert the site into three public schools, recreational/cultural/community program space, and retail  stores.  

Donít forget Yankee Stadium, either, which is located along Jerome Avenue and 161st Street.  Its structure was  completed in 1929 and over time has become the home of the world's winningest baseball team, the New York Yankees. Every year thousands of fans flock to the Bronx to witness some of the most breath taking baseball action by their favorite players like Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter. "Yankee Stadium is what placed the Bronx on the map," says Bill Woolis, 45, a livery cab driver and 20-year resident of the Bronx, "Without it, the Bronx would disappear into oblivion," he added under his breath, shaking his head and looking up at the majestic structure.  

Another landmark on Jerome Avenue is the Lehman College Campus located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd. West. Lehman College's old gymnasium building which was completed in 1932, was the site of the 1946 United Nations Security Council meeting. The Concert Hall, which was completed in 1980 as part of the Center for Performing Arts seats 2,318 people for performances by symphony orchestras, opera companies, jazz greats and many others.

Once construction of elevated train platforms over Jerome Avenue started late in 1911 the street lost its rural look and became a commercial artery. Jerome Avenue also serves as the dividing line between East Bronx and West Bronx, although the Bronx River seems more logical.

 "I've seen so much change take place in the Bronx; buildings and roads destroyed and replaced, the influx of immigrants from around the world who add to the diversity of the population, and it feels sad to think that all this history is being lost to a generation of people who just don't care," says Dan Brown, 75, with a glassy look in his eyes. "I was born in the Bronx,  fought in World War II and returned to the Bronx, and will spend the rest of my life in the Bronx- the place I love," he adds as he reflects on his past.

It is indeed a tragedy that the Bronx, which is alive with so much history, has so few people with time to appreciate its rich heritage. For more information regarding the beautiful Borough of the Bronx you can visit the Bronx Historical Society at 3309 Bainbridge Ave. Bronx NY 10467 or visit them on line at: www.bronxhistoricalsociety.org.  

 

 

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