How the Bronx’s Old Hunts Point Station Became an Event Space

reprints


A hundred years ago, the burgeoning Hunts Point neighborhood in the southeast Bronx had its own train stop, designed by Woolworth Building architect Cass Gilbert, on a new electric commuter railroad, the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway. After the railroad went bankrupt in the 1930s, the Hunts Point station was abandoned, and the area became increasingly industrial. 

After the elevated Cross-Bronx and Bruckner expressways were built in the 1960s, cutting off Hunts Point from the rest of the Bronx, residents began to leave. Like much of the Bronx, Hunts Point struggled with arson and abandonment. Amtrak took over the railroad tracks beneath the Hunts Point station, along with the station itself, which came to house a topless bar, restaurants, a salon and a deli. A decade ago, the bar owner died, soon after signing a new 20-year lease with Amtrak for the entire building. 

SEE ALSO: Disneyland’s $2B Expansion Gets Anaheim City Approval

Majora Carter, a Hunts Point native who’s worked on real estate and economic development projects in the neighborhood for decades, convinced Amtrak to sell her the run-down, defunct train station for a dollar in 2015. She said that she found the email of someone in the Amtrak real estate division, and after a few years she and her husband were able to finalize the sale. 

“We paid for everything on our own, from the surveys to the appraisals and some other due diligence we had to do,” she said. “We couldn’t convince anybody this place had any bones because you couldn’t see them. Then me and my husband went in with sledgehammers and filled a 20-yard dumpster in a day.” 

Carter said they filled an additional 14 dumpsters in 2019, and started talking to Jay Valgora, a principal at Studio V Architecture, about renovating what was left of the building. 

Suddenly, the original walls were visible, revealing a long, curved space with no windows. Terra-cotta tiles emerged on parts of the exterior walls that had been covered for 40 years. Carter, who runs a hip-hop-themed cafe called the Boogie Down Grind a block away, said that she and her husband considered a few different uses for the abandoned train station. Initially they considered a food incubator, but ultimately decided an event space would be easier. Carter also felt that Hunts Point residents needed more communal spaces. 

“We did a lot of studies and realized people were leaving the South Bronx because there weren’t places for people to gather, whether they’re cafes or bars,” said Carter. “The largest community spaces by square footage are community centers and waiting rooms for clinics.”

In 2019, they hosted a “a fun, ill-advised rave,” according to Carter. And, in late 2021, the venue — now called Bronxlandia — saw its first official event, a film screening and concert. Since then, the old train station has hosted TEDx talks, school events, pro wrestling matches, pop-up markets and art exhibits.

However, the main part of the renovation is just beginning. STUDIO V helped Carter secure the initial permits to stabilize the building, and now it is working on restoring and re-creating the historic aspects of the exterior. 

“The building is basically a bridge over the railway tracks,” said Valgora. “It had a terra-cotta facade. They basically clawed out the facade and built garage doors, and then they built another building next door blocking one side.” 

The slate roof is being replaced, and the building will get a new perforated metal facade with large windows that allow light inside for the first time in decades. Valgora hopes to strip the paint off the building’s dormer windows, which are currently painted red but were originally a green-tinged copper. The structure will also get a chimney, made of glittering metal panels. A little hut constructed on a platform over the tracks, behind the building, will become restrooms. Carter will also upgrade the heating and cooling system, plumbing and electrical, and expects the renovation to cost about $2.3 million.

Her friend Donnel Baird, who runs a green energy company called BlocPower, agreed to finance the renovation. She knew she wasn’t going to get financing from a traditional lender.

“I was worried about being able to finance this thing, because it’s a very odd building that’s a bridge and it’s not built on land,” she said. “I love the terra-cotta [tiles] but I need a building envelope — air conditioning, heating, a roof.”

“This project is being led by a local Black female developer,” Carter added. “Even though there’s been no real support, the fact that we were able to attract someone of Studio V’s caliber to work on this shows that it’s very different than what you’ve seen in the South Bronx.”

Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at rbairdremba@commercialobserver.com