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 2
by Elisa Valentino
Last week, I featured a brief history of Starlight Park, whose origin dates back to the early 1900’s with an unsuccessful attempt to create a World’s Fair in the Bronx.
With lack of support from other countries, the World’s Fair committee, the U.S. government and businesses – not to mention, the eruption of World War I – those Bronx enthusiasts hoping to put the Bronx in the international spotlight decided to pull back on their larger dreams, and instead, launched The Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries in 1918.
Lasting only a year, the exhibition closed in 1919, and the grounds – 27 acres – were reimagined into Starlight Park, a tempered amusement park and family-friendly destination for dancing, bicycle races and other activities. Also opened within the park was a stadium venue, named the New York Coliseum, with seating capacity for 15,000 and the home of New York Giants Soccer team, circuses and more.
Starlight Park Amusement Park and Coliseum was a successful Bronx venue for nearly twenty years, but, sadly, the owners went bankrupt in 1937, forcing the closure of everything within the venue, except the pool. But, alas, a few years later, with the eruption of World War II, the U.S. army took over the area from 1942 to 1946 and at the end of the war, the government relinquished use of the space.
Then, around this same time, Robert Moses, Long Island State Parks Commission President (1924-1963) and an appointed public works official in New York State for nearly fifty years, decided to implement his highway plans for the Bronx.
This plan included the creation of additional roadways that would impact the land comprising the original 27 acres purchased for the intended 1918 World’s Fair, which would become Starlight Park in 1919. The result was to straighten the Bronx River and cut into the grounds of Starlight Park to build the Sheridan Expressway. Additional portions of the grounds were used for the footings of the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Remaining buildings in Starlight Park burned down during this period and the grounds of park that survived were left abandoned and inaccessible for the next seventy years.
But, let’s take a step back…During the time when Starlight Park was a thriving community destination on the east bank of the Bronx River, one of Robert Moses’ projects included the installation of ball fields on the west bank of the Bronx River on the former land of the abandoned Con Edison gas site. After remediation of the area, the ball fields, though having no connection to Starlight Park or its grounds on the east bank, was named Starlight Park as well. This naming was more than likely, to piggy back on the existing park’s popularity.
Now, let’s jump forward – to the year 1997. Remember the New York Coliseum in Starlight Park? Well, the West Farms Bus Depot located on East 177th Street and Devoe Avenue was built on what was once the footprint of the Coliseum. Originally called the Coliseum Depot, West Farms Bus Depot underwent extensive renovations and reopened in 2003.
The rest of the remaining original grounds of Starlight Park (on the east bank of the Bronx River) were left abandoned and closed off. That is, until the 1970’s when a handful of concerned citizens led by Ruth Anderberg, founded the Bronx River Restoration Project. By the next decade, the group created the Bronx River Restoration Master Plan, which advocated for a revival of the whole river with a continuous waterfront park—a concept that became known as the Bronx River Greenway.
Fast forward another decade to the 1990’s and early 2000s, when the project really picked up momentum, when sixty community organizations, public agencies, and businesses, including the National Guard of New York State and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, teamed up to help restore the Bronx River and improve access to it, as part of the Bronx River Working Group, which today is known as the Bronx River Alliance.
All of this led to full restoration of Starlight Park beginning in 2008-2009. According to Stephen Paul DeVillo, Bronx and New York City historian, and author of “The Bronx River in History & Folklore,” the new Starlight Park was officially opened in 2011-2012, even though the plaque on the park says 2010.
The revamped 13-acre park featured paved watrefront pathways, floating docks to launch kayaks and canoes, playgrounds, picnic areas, a synthetic-turf ball field and basketball courts.
But, there was more to do to make Starlight Park all that it could be.
As I mentioned in last week’s article, over the course of the past year, Bronx River Alliance and NYC Parks, began construction on Starlight Park as part of the Bronx River Greenway’s $40 million multi-phase restoration endeavor. Providing residents additional green space is a major part of this plan and with Phase 1 complete, celebrations were underway last weekend.
This first phase included naturalizing shorelines, which were previously fortified with artificial barriers, in order to increase the borough’s resilience to storms and flooding. Restoring wetlands was another aspect of this initial phase.
The goal of Phase 2 is to connect existing but unconnected park parcels together. Starlight and Concrete Plant Park, will be connected with walking paths and bridges. One bridge will cross Amtrak lines at East 172nd Street, and the other will be situated over the Bronx River, a southern extension of Starlight Park to Westchester Avenue.
Great things on the horizon for Starlight Park!
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.
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