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WEEKDAY MAGAZINE – Starlight Park: A Century of Bronx History – Part 1

On of the innovative installations at the entrance to the BRAC River Rising/Sube El Rio  (photo: Gary Axelbank)

This piece is by the Travelin’ Cousins, a little blog about the travel adventures of a couple of cousins.”

 

Starlight Park: A Century of Bronx History – Part 1

by Elisa Valentino

Editor’s Note: The River Rising/Sube el Rio project opens at Starlight Park this weeked.  Find out information here…

A few weeks back I wrote an article entitled “25 Historic and Fun Facts About The Bronx.” Until doing my research for this article, I was unaware that the borough of the Bronx persevered in attempting to host a World’s Fair in 1918. Although, it never came to be an official World’s Fair for a plethora of reasons, The Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries holds its place in Bronx history, along with other sites throughout the last hundred years, that would occupy the space currently known as Starlight Park.

Over the course of the past year, Bronx River Alliance and NYC Parks, began construction on a restoration project on Starlight Park as part of the Bronx River Greenway’s $40 million multi-phase restoration endeavor with the goal of improving the river’s ecology and providing residents additional green space and recreational facilities.

Well folks, that day is finally here! Phase 1 of the project is complete and this weekend’s opening ceremonies will celebrate Starlight Park’s all-new expansion with exhibits and events throughout this weekend, including historic tours, a parade, an art exhibit, a concert and more.

As you may have concluded from my previous articles, featured in ThisIsTheBronx.info, I love delving into the history of people, places and events, and as such, I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Bronx expert and historian, Stephen Paul DeVillo, who garnered me with a full account of the more than 100-year history of the area that now occupies Starlight Park.

In fact, the park’s footprint is what’s left of the larger area of land that once occupied, what was to be the “1918 Bronx World’s Fair” and the subsequent Starlight Park Amusement Park.

Prior to speaking with Mr. DeVillo, I had hoped to have a full article detailing the history of Starlight Park for your reading pleasure today.

However, finding out that he would be giving a tour of the park at the opening celebration tomorrow, I opted to break this article into two parts so that I could experience in-person, his tour and historic overview of Starlight Park, as well as experiencing the festivities this weekend.

For now, let me give you a concise overview of the history of the Starlight Park Grounds, and one of the special occupants on the grounds today – The Bronx River Arts Center.

Starlight Park Grounds Brief History

Following the inability to get the Bronx World’s Fair off the ground, for lack of support from the World’s Fair committee, other countries and various other industry organizations, The Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries was abandoned a year after opening in 1918, and in 1919, the grounds were transformed into Starlight Park, a family friendly destination for fireworks displays, carnival games, bicycle races, open air opera, soccer games, containing a roller coaster, a swimming pool, and more!

The park included a stadium as well, which was the home field of the New York Giants soccer team, that also featured circuses, boxing and professional wrestling matches, and “midget auto racing”. The 15,000-seat stadium came to be called the New York Coliseum.

Thriving as a tempered amusement park until 1937, it shut down when the corporation that ran it went bankrupt, and at this time, the park closed and went into non-existence for seventy years! That is, until 2009-2010 when, thanks to the work of the Bronx River Alliance, the areas on both the east and west bank of the Bronx River were transformed into Starlight Park, as we know it today.

What happened during those seventy years, the old New York Coliseum and the area of the west bank of The Bronx River, that was NOT part of the original Starlight Park grounds – well, I will give you a great deal of those details in Part 2 next week!

The Bronx River Arts Center

Of specific note at Starlight Park is the outdoor Sculpture Park for The Bronx River Arts Center (BRAC), which, I am personally excited to visit tomorrow! BRAC Executive Director Gail Nathan, is the driving force behind the exciting exhibitions and performances in the newly restored gallery and performance space.

Founded in 1987 to bring professional arts programming to a culturally underserved population, BRAC has, for more than 30 years (including several years of arts programming under the umbrella of the first Bronx River Restoration project), filled the West Farms community of the Bronx with art and environmental experiences. With programs designed to encourage Bronx residents to engage in creative activism towards the revitalization and future of their neighborhood, BRAC offers a full menu of classes and workshops in the fine and digital arts.

With such a rich history committed to arts in the community, Gail was a leading force behind River Rising/Sube El Rio Exposition of Science Art, and Technology in Starlight Park this weekend. Conveniently, this exhibit coincides with the 100 year anniversary celebration of the “World’s Fair of 1918,” known as The Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries.

Thanks to the tireless efforts and vision of Gail Nathan, an open, empty grassy area is now a lovely sculpture park, featuring eight brilliant art sculptures that incorporate and/or are made with technology.

Among the creative sculptures, one of these was inspired by Moonlight Dancing that took place to Big Band Jazz at the original Fair in 1918. It incorporates an outdoor “dance floor” surrounded by art deco styled “Gatspy-era” urns and planters that have include “devices” that play Big Band music such as Glen Miller and Duke Ellington.

Another piece of work featured is a newly created “Reception Area” that extends throughout the park, to welcome visitors.

More to come next week about Starlight Park, its intriguing history and that which it has evolved into today!

 

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Elisa is co-founder of Travelin’ Cousins travel blog, A native New Yorker, Fordham graduate, and world traveler, she is passionate about The Bronx as a travel destination for locals and tourists.

To submit writing for publication on WEEKDAY MAGAZINE, click here.  Fiction, non-fiction, commentary, news, news analysis, and poetry are welcome.  Bronx slant always preferred.

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