The Hub, The Bronx's oldest major commercial center, is located at the intersection of four major roads: Third Avenue, Melrose Avenue, Willis Avenue, and 149th Street. This complex intersection gives The Hub its unique bow-tie shape. This center of commerce sits between two South Bronx neighborhoods, Melrose and Mott Haven. Like most neighborhoods, The Hub has no definitive borders, but is universally known and appreciated throughout The Bronx. It is home to national chains as well as typical outer-borough businesses and a slew of independent shops. Both vehicle and foot traffic are constantly heavy, causing many to compare The Hub to Times Square. The Hub has often been called "The Broadway of The Bronx" for its bustle, dynamism, and unique character.
Backstory and Context
Toward the end of 19th century, the population of The Bronx began to grow due to a massive influx of Europeans. The earliest of these immigrants came from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Serbia, Croatia, and Armenia, but the largest group to move there during that time was Jews from all over central and Eastern Europe. After the end World War I in 1914, a large number of Polish immigrants arrived in The Bronx as well. All together, the population increased from 200,507 in 1900 to 1,394,711 in 1930. This population expansion caused the economy of The Bronx to boom, and led to a significant increase in investment in the The Bronx and The Hub alike. It was during this time that The Hub truly came into its own as the commercial center of The Bronx. A building that had been bought for $12,000 in 1904 was purchased for $50,000 in 1912, setting a record for property value in The Bronx. In today's terms, this is a $323,532 asset growing to be worth $1,246,311 in only eight years. The reason for this building’s immense value was its location. Being in The Hub, the property was in close proximity to retailers, theaters, restaurants and most importantly, a vast and growing transportation network. By 1911, The Hub could be accessed through two subway lines, two trolley lines, and one elevated railway.
The Great Depression ended the growth The Bronx enjoyed for more than 40 years. At this time, most Bronx residents were fairly wealthy Jewish families who commuted to Manhattan for work. After the New Deal, The Bronx secured public funds to develop into a thriving, idealized New York borough. These funds and development plans were primarily directed at the North Bronx. Because of this unfortunate distribution of resources, the South Bronx was left comparatively underdeveloped. Wealthier Bronxites opted to move from neighborhoods like Melrose and Mott Haven to the northern parts of the borough. Some chose to leave New York altogether for the quickly developing American suburbs. Because of this, the South Bronx and The Hub were effectively divested during the 1930s and 40s. In the 1950s, areas of the South Bronx that had once been occupied by middle-class white Americans began experiencing a demographic shift. Wealthy white families were fleeing The Bronx in search of larger homes, cleaner spaces, and better futures. In turn, between 1950 and 1960, The Bronx became comprised of mostly working-class African Americans and Puerto Ricans. They congregated especially densely in the South Bronx, where the cost of living was lowest. As the model American city began to connote new suburban towns, South Bronx neighborhoods and areas like the The Hub became known as slums for their crowded tenements and aging infrastructure.
As African Americans and Puerto Ricans settled into the South Bronx, government practices damaged the borough. In 1955, the Manhattan portion of the El was officially closed down. By this point, the trolley lines that had once carried men and women between the two boroughs had been shut down as well. The restriction of public transportation options to The Hub only limited its economic potential, and these effects spread to the rest of The Bronx. During this same time, New York's head urban planner, Robert Moses, began urban renewal projects that were particularly threatening to the people of The Bronx. In his construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Moses displaced entire neighborhoods by destroying heavily populated areas. At the same time, Moses constructed public housing projects throughout borough, with many being built in the low-income South Bronx. The next decade was even more detrimental to the neighborhood. "As private apartment buildings suffered from wartime controls on rent and collection, the buildings aged, and the landlords were unable to pay for taxes, repairs, and regular maintenance. In the end, it was more profitable to destroy these buildings than to salvage them. Unscrupulous landlords began systematically employing local youths and arsonists to cash in on insurance policies." These fires resulted in a large exodus from the South Bronx. Moreover, in 1973, the total shutdown and deconstruction of the Bronx portion of Third Avenue El ended 88 years of the railway's service to the burrow. The Third Avenue El, which had come to symbolize The Hub, was lost.
Between the 1980s and 1990s, things began to look up in The Bronx. Grassroots organizations began working to revive the borough’s economy with a lot of success. In the 2000s, the population of The Bronx was on the rise again for the first time in decades. In fact, between 2005 and 2015, The Bronx surpassed the rest of New York City in terms of both job and population growth. During these years, The Hub in particular made a great resurgence, securing great investment deals from the city government and attracting several nonprofit agencies to help it secure a strong future. Today, The Hub is home to national chains like Duane Reade, Staples, TD Bank, and Bank of America. These are accompanied by outer-borough businesses like Cookie’s The Kids Department Stores, Pretty Girl and Dr. Jay’s, as well as discount furniture stores, cellphone outlets, jewelry boutiques, electronics shops, Latin pizzerias, discount clothing boutiques, dental and medical storefronts, delis, 99-cent shops and flower shops. Though Melrose and Mott Haven are still comparatively low-income neighborhoods, they are growing stronger every year. Today, many in The Hub fear gentrification and displacement will afflict their neighborhood as its value continues to appreciate. However, community organizations and nonprofits are looking to these issues and working to combat them everyday.