Letter to the editor: Massey Hall, the largest gymnasium and auditorium in the Bronx, reopened Thursday after two years of renovation and restoration. It represents a new chapter in the Bronx story, taking its place as part of the New Bronx, a place where neighborhoods, colleges and residents can work collaboratively to strengthen community.
When the first Bronx Zoo — which included the old Bronx Zoo and the now-closed Riverdale Performing Arts Center — opened in 1907, it was at the old Yankee Stadium site. One of the first people to appear on the observation deck was George Washington Carver, a black African man born to slave parents. As a teenager and young man, he was an organizer of union-member work days that filled up the Bronx’s 10,000-seat Grand Army Plaza Stadium. Through his leadership, the laborers’ union turned the stadium into a preeminent gathering place for African-American culture. In the 1950s, it was developed into a popular theater for plays with black themes, musicals, children’s shows and dances.
Located across from the Bronx Zoo, in a residential neighborhood, Massey Hall has historic significance. The building is part of a campus of colleges and universities in the Bronx that includes Lehman College, Baruch College, St. Barnabas College, the Urban Assembly System, the New York Teachers’ Retirement System, the Carl A. Fischer School of Leadership & Public Service and Paul Robeson Higher Education Campus, which completed its first year in 2019. In the early 1970s, the Westchester Chamber of Commerce became a catalyst for revitalizing the general neighborhood by providing resources that ranged from partnerships between community institutions and businesses, to initiatives such as the Living Architecture Committee’s Community Center, Inc.