Mosholu Parkway History
The impact of Mosholu Parkway Park has always played a significant role in the daily lives of anyone who has grown up in the Northern section of the Bronx near Mosholu Parkway. For millions, Mosholu Parkway was basically a backyard to their apartments. Mosholu Parkway stretches for three miles all the way from the Botanical Gardens on Webster Ave though Van Cortlandt Park and the intersection of the Henry Hudson Parkway.
The history of Mosholu Parkway goes back all the way to 1883 when Mayor Franklin Edson appointed a commission that stated its purpose was to “Select and Locate Lands for Public Parks in the 23rd and 24th Wards of The City of New York.”(1) In their report, the commission appointed by Mayor Franklin Edison recommended the following…. ‘That the Several Tracts of Land Embraced Under the Following Titles be Appropriated for the Recreation and Enjoyment of the Inhabitants of New York.'” (1)
Those parks and roads that the commission was directed to plan were (Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, Bronx Park, Crotona Park, Claremont Park, St. Mary’s Park, Mosholu Parkway, Bronx and Pelham Parkway and Crotona Parkway.)
Mosholu Parkway Design
In 1935 under the direction of New York’s legendary planner Robert Moses, Mosholu Parkway was reconstructed and widened. What was originally planned as a simple parkway connection between Van Cortlandt Park and The Bronx Park, became more of a boulevard with its many intersections, avenues and stop lights.
While Mosholu Parkway serves as a major thoroughfare connecting Bronx Parks, highways, parkways and expressways (Bronx River Parkway, Major Deegan, Henry Hudson) for all motorists, it has served and continues to serve as a backyard park for millions of Bronx residents.
Mosholu Parkway is not a park in the sense of an enclosed park like other Bronx parks such as the Williamsbridge Oval Park or Van Cortlandt Park. Mosholu Parkway Park is a long strip of land that runs parallel to the paved parkway.The park is lined with park benches, trees, rocks, hills, open fields and a single playground. From just south of Hull Avenue to Van Cortlandt Avenue E, Mosholu Parkway Park is split into three sections divided by the parkway. There is a center park meridian section about the width of half a football field that separates the north and south bound lanes of the parkway. On the outer sections of the roadway are the sections of park that are lined with park benches, trees and sidewalks. These are the sections that also serve as the backyard to all the apartments buildings the park runs parallel too.
Mosholu Parkway Impact on Bronx Life
Mosholu Parkway Park played a significant role in the everyday life of Bronx residents who grew up on the streets and avenues that connected to Mosholu Parkway. First off, no one called it Mosholu Parkway Park, we all just said “meet me down at Mosholu,” How one used the park depended on your age and what neighborhood you were from.
One of my earliest memories of Mosholu Park was sleigh riding down a section that bordered Van Cortlandt Street by P.S. 80. This section of park had a steep incline. Kids from the neighborhood always used to slide down on their sleighs or garbage can lids. It was fun, but at the same time a bit risky. It you flew down the hill too fast and was unable to stop, you could find yourself sliding into the metal bar fence at the bottom of the hill. Many kids used to try and slide under them and stop on the sidewalk. If the sidewalk did not stop you, one would find themselves smack in the middle of the parkway. In between the metal bars were park benches and a little opening between the benches and bars. One time, my friend Kevin O’Donnell tried sliding head first under a park bench with his sled. Kevin did not make it under. The poor kid wound up cutting his face wide open. It was a horrible sight,his gloves filled with ice and blood. I will never forget that look on his face and I don’t think he ever forgot the look on mine. Talk about childhood trauma. I was done with sleigh riding in the Bronx after that.
A teenagers, we spent many nights hanging out on the park benches that lined the park. In the 1970’s, everyone hung out at night in Mosholu Park. We listened to the music of Boston, Heart, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Queen etc. The sound of WPLJ and WNEW blaring from the radios. We drank six packs of Miller that we paid $1.25 for and then ended up at Napolis Pizzeria for a 50 cents slice of pizza. Most people hung out on the side of the park they were from. But once in awhile, people would cross over. Even on your own side, people from individual streets would hang out in their sections. Perry Ave, Hull Ave, Decatur Avenue, all hung out at the end of their own avenues that ended at Mosholu Park.
At the end of Mosholu Park was the NYPD 52nd Precinct Station. It’s amazing the type of activity by teens that used to go on right in front of that police station. But then again, most of the stuff that was going on by teens was pretty harmless when compared to the real criminal activity the police faced elsewhere in the Bronx on a daily basis. Any one who was living in the Bronx in 1976 and 1977 remembers the fear that resonated throughout the city boroughs during the Son of Sam murders. We were constantly looking over our backs when we hung out in Mosholu Park at night before they eventually caught that murderer.
Football and Mosholu Park
Mosholu Park was not designed for athletic activity; there were no football fields, no baseball fields, no hockey rinks and no basketball courts. Nonetheless, that did not stop city kids from using the park for sports. The Oval Park had a great football field. However, it was always being used by semi pro teams, especially in the fall. Mosholu Park served as an alternative to tackle football games.
Individual avenues and streets yielded their own haphazard football teams. Streets would play each other in football games in the center section of Mosholu Parkway Park. These were not organized teams. There were no uniforms. Some people wore equipment, some did not. However, the games always attracted many people from the neighborhoods to watch. Goal lines were usually marked by a park bench. The parkways on both sides of the field served as the out of bounds line. The desire not to be hit by a car usually kept most players in bounds throughout the game. It was street football played on the grass in between two parkways. It was amazing! The football games were fun, but we always had more fun celebrating the games after they were over, no matter if we won or lost. That is what city living was all about.
Mosholu Parkway Park did not host any playgrounds with the exception of a small playground that was located just north of P.S. 80 and south of Kossuth Ave. The feel of the park would change as you walked along the sidewalk from the southern sections of Decatur, Hull and Perry Avenues to the northern sections near Jerome Avenue. It went from flat terrain to rocky steep terrain in the park.
Mosholu Parkway Park was also the great divide in the northern section of the Bronx. On the east side of Mosholu Parkway was the Bainbridge Ave section, commonly referred to as the Norwood section of the Bronx. On the eastern side of Mosholu Parkway Park was the Grand Concourse that ran all the way from the southern tip of the Bronx, until it ended at the northern section of Mosholu Parkway.
Mosholu Parkway Park was not just for the youth of the neighborhood. It was a place where people of all ages walked their dogs. The elderly would sit on the benches during the day. It was a place to walk under the shade of the trees. We never really thought of it as a park, it was just part of the neighborhood.
The development of Mosholu Parkway Park has a long history defined by multiple attempts of redesign by various New York agencies. Men like Robert Moses were always trying to develop roadways while ignoring habitat. In the end, the design of Mosholu Parkway benefited Bronx residents as offering an alternative to just the simple city street. It gave us a place to sit on a bench under the shade, throw a football or a Frisbee, listen to some music, hang out with friends and never realize how one day we would all miss it dearly.