“Enthusiastic, energetic amateur historians.” That’s how Vita Wallace described herself and her fellow members of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group. The group’s planning committee is made up of 12 history buffs, and their mission is to collect and share the history of the Bloomingdale neighborhood (which runs roughly from 96th to 110th Street between Central Park and Riverside).
“We are the inheritors, interpreters, and creators of our history,” the group’s slogan reads.
On August 14, the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group will host an event at 109th and Amsterdam titled “The Homemade History Exchange,” where attendees can explore historical photos, articles and maps relating to the Bloomingdale neighborhood.
Resources that are usually kept in the Bloomingdale branch of the New York Public Library will be brought out for people to explore, and the event will also feature a physical copy of their buildings database where people can learn the history of their own building, like which architect it was built by, and the year it was built. Cookies and coloring sheets with drawings of scenes from the neighborhood’s past will add to the fun.
The group was first created in 2000 when a few neighbors in the West Park Village (Central Park West between 95th and 100th Street) were curious about the history of their own building complex. Since then, the group has hosted public presentations (both in person and over zoom) and walking tours of the neighborhood.
Wallace first joined the group in 2008 because she was interested in learning more about the history of music in the Bloomingdale neighborhood.
“It is amazing how many composers and musicians have lived in the neighborhood over the years,” Wallace said, citing John Coltrane, the great jazz saxophonist and composer, as one of the neighborhood’s former residents that she was most surprised by.
Wallace had already been conducting research and making maps of where different composers lived in the neighborhood prior to joining the group. “I jumped at the chance to join the group to learn more and then my interest in that history just grew and grew,” Wallace said.
An Old Brewery
Wallace said that during the event, the group will focus mainly on big institutions and infrastructure that used to be in the Bloomingdale area that most people are unaware of, including the Lion Brewery, an 1870’s Brewery built by German Americans.
“The building was almost like a town, it had so many employees and buildings and there was a Lion Park, a biergarten, where people came to relax as well,” Wallace said. In the 1890s, the brewery had grown so large that it occupied six square blocks.
Wallace will also highlight the Ninth Avenue El (the first elevated railway in New York City), which used to be a big presence on Columbus Avenue, and the Croton Aqueduct, which ran right through the Bloomingdale neighborhood.
One way that the group collects their resources is by calling for contributions by neighbors.
“I’m hoping to find some new material to put in the library collection,” Wallace said. “We’ve invited people to bring photographs and other historical things that maybe we can take a picture of and put in the collection.”
“For this event, I hope to meet a bunch of neighbors ad exchange memories and resources relating to the Bloomingdale neighborhood,” Wallace added.
“The Homemade History Exchange” on August 14 is in person, on the corner of 109th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Anyone can walk up to it from 1 - 4 p.m.