Rocks, Architecture, and a History Lesson

I was in the Bronx recently and was walking north on Third Avenue when I noticed this unusual building at 172nd Street. At first glance it’s like there’s massive boulders each with their own parking bay under this building … obviously, the building was built over and around these boulders, but why? I had to move in for a closer look.

Roscoe C. Brown Apartment Buildings on Third Avenue in the Bronx
An ususual building at 172nd Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx, NYC.

The first mystery is why these big boulders are right here … there’s no other stones or rocks in the immediate area, and the stretch of Third Avenue from which I had walked was relatively flat. While 172nd Street to the east is a slight hill, there’s no other boulders in that direction either. But a look at a map tells me that this location is set between two parks, so perhaps it was a rocky area at some point in history? Sure enough, looking up info on Crotona Park to the east shows other boulders in the area.

Okay, with that mystery solved, let’s get back to this building and take another look:

Roscoe C. Brown Apartment Building on Third Avenue in the Bronx
The building is structured around and above these massive boulders in the Bronx.

The next question on my mind was: what was this building and what architects took this unusual approach to working around these boulders? I learned that the building is called the “Roscoe C. Brown Jr. Apartments,” and the building was designed by Meltzer/Mandl Architects, a two-generation firm who is widely-recognized for its numerous New York City affordable and market-rate housing projects. Considering this building was completed only 10 years ago in 2011, I was curious to see if there were pictures of this location prior to the building going up, and I found this somewhat blurry picture which does give us a look at what Meltzer/Mandl was looking at when presented with this project:

Third Avenue and 172nd Street in the Bronx
A view of this location prior to the Roscoe C. Brown Jr. Apartments being built.

Since I’m fascinated by the architecture, let’s take one more look at how they built around these boulders.

architecture building over rocks
A closer look at how this apartment building is built around and above these rocks.

Okay, now let’s get on to the history lesson that comes from this accidental discovery while walking around the Bronx. Who was Roscoe C. Brown Jr.? And why is this building named after him?

Roscoe C. Brown Jr. was a decorated member of the pioneering African American Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, later became an educator, first as a professor at NYU, and later as president of Bronx Community College from 1977 to 1993, which helps explain a building in the Bronx being named after him. I also found it interesting that he hosted a radio program for 15 years (1971-1986) called “The Soul of Reason,” a radio talk show where he interviewed politicians, professional athletes, medical professionals, and contemporary artists. I’d be curious as to which contemporary artists caught his attention? At any rate, learn more about this distinguished gentleman, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 95.

For a look at Roscoe C. Brown Jr. in his Tuskegee Airman days, check out this picture here.

Who would have thought that a few boulders in the Bronx would lead to an interesting history lesson about someone who served his country and his community?

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