500 East Fordham Road
William H. Gompert
This stately block-long building, with its distyle-in-antis portico, raises its distinctive cupola over Fordham Road. The architect, William H. Gompert (1875-1946), succeeded the long-serving C.B.J. Snyder as the New York City Board of Education architect in 1923, and served until 1927, though several of his designs, including Theodore Roosevelt High School, were not completed until after he had resigned. (A school designed by Snyder may be seen nearby: P.S. 32, at Belmont Avenue and 182nd Street, was built in 1900.)
Gompert, a New York City native, attended Pratt Institute and worked for McKim, Mead & White and for Maynicke & Franke before forming his own firm in 1906. He designed some 170 schools in the five boroughs, including the High School of Music and Art (1924) on West 135th Street, DeWitt Clinton High School (1929) in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx, James Madison High School (1926) at 3787 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, Jamaica High School (1927) in Jamaica, Queens, Seward Park High School (1929) on Grand Street in the Lower East Side, and, possibly his masterpiece, P.S. 101 (1929) in Forest Hills Gardens.
Notable alumni of Theodore Roosevelt High School include June Allyson, once one of the most popular movie stars in the world; Rocky Colavito, the slugging right-fielder who in his major league baseball career appeared in nine All-Star Games; Ace Frehley, lead guitarist of the rock band Kiss, and Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, comedian and star of the 1970s TV show Good Times. Perhaps most notable among the school’s alumni is Chazz Palminteri (b. 1952). Palminteri’s one-man play, A Bronx Tale, premiered off-Broadway in 1989 and is set in Belmont. In 1993, Robert De Niro adapted the play into a movie and a musical version, directed by De Niro, ran on Broadway from 2016 to 2018.
Photo courtesy of NYCago.
685 East 182nd St.
Eggers & Higgins
This Roman Catholic girls’ high school was established in 1939. The inventive, complexly massed U-shaped building, Romanesque in style, greets the street with strong apsidal forms attached to wings that project from a recessed central section designed to resemble a Medieval cloister. The architects Otto Eggers and Daniel Higgins had just succeeded to the practice of their late employer, John Russell Pope, and were contemporaneously at work putting the finishing touches on the National Gallery of Art and the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy of Aquinas High School.
441 East Fordham Road
Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott
The main library of Fordham University houses the fine Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art, comprising the collection of William D. Walsh, who majored in Greek and Latin at Fordham before embarking upon a career in law, finance, and collecting. The museum is an excellent starting point for an afternoon’s stroll through Belmont.
3051 East Tremont Avenue
This prominently sited brick church, designed in the High Victorian Gothic style, boasts a distinct steeple that can be seen from blocks away. Notably, Crow Hill, on which the church sits, was the site to which General William Howe and his troops retreated after being repulsed by American forces as they attempted to cross Westchester Creek. The use of polychromatic materials, such as the contrasting white stone trim and red brick, as well as the incorporation of banded arches into the facade, is emblematic of High Victorian Gothic architecture. The First Presbyterian Church of Throggs Neck was organized in the 1850s, and during the Civil War, church parishioners offered bowls of soup to soldiers passing through Throggs Neck via train so that they would not be tempted to visit nearby taverns. The congregation’s first structure burned down in 1870, and the date of current church is unknown, although some estimates date it to around 1880.
In use: 1700s – 1914
John Ferris, one of the five original recipients of the 1667 patent for the Township of Westchester, included provisions for a family burial ground in his 1717 will. The Ferris family used and maintained the cemetery for almost another two centuries until Charles Ferris passed away in 1908, leaving two vaults and around thirty gravestones to decay in an increasingly industrial setting. In 1928, the Benjamin Ferris family vault was vandalized and desecrated, prompting reinterment of almost half the bodies to Kenisco Cemetery in Westchester County. Through the ensuing decades, the cemetery has seen both periodic neglect and restoration, including the installation of a new fence in the early 2000s. Notable members of the Ferris family include James Ferris, who survived a stay on a British prison ship during the Revolutionary War and his wife, Charity Ferris, who purportedly housed British Admiral Richard Howe and transmitted strategically significant conversations to General George Washington. Whereas much of the Westchester Square was once farmlands of the Ferris family, nearby Ferris Place is the only surviving reminder in The Bronx of one of the borough’s earliest settlers.
9 Westchester Square
1882-83, Frederick Clarke Withers; Addition, 1890-92, William Anderson
The Huntington Free Library and Reading Room is one of the earliest instituions on Westchester Square and was the first library building in this part of The Bronx. The original building was designed by Frederick Clarke Withers and completed in 1883. Born and educated in England, Withers became known for his Victorian Gothic designs, epitomized by his 1874 Jefferson Market Courthouse in Greenwich Village. Commissioned by the executors of the estate of tobacco merchant Peter C. Van Shaick, who left $15,000 for the construction of a free reading room for Westchester and in honor of his wife, Anna Mitchell Van Shaick, who died in 1876. The building sat vacant after the town government refused to accept the gift due to its limited endowment. In 1890, Collis Potter Huntington, a railroad magnate with a summer home in nearby Throggs Neck purchased the building, expanded it, and endowed it with funds to cover its operating expenses. The building is entered through an arched doorway set within a one-bay tower, which features a terra cotta plaque and rondels that commemorate Huntington’s donation. The Huntington Free Library was designated as a NYC Individual Landmark in 1994 as the “Van Shaick Free Reading Room / Huntington Free Library and Reading Room”.
12 Westchester Square
Cross & Cross
Originally a Federal Revival style building, in 1940 architects Cross & Cross updated the structure to relfect the latest architectural fashion of the time. The architects employed stylized classical elements such as a sawtoothed balustrade and fluted pilasters which flank the entrance in a Streamline Moderne expression. A integral clock adorns the facade, with gemoetric shapes in place of numbers set within carved ribbing. This edifice still features its original name — The Bronx Savings Bank — carved into stone beneath the contemporary Apple Bank for Savings signage that currently exists. A local banking institution, The Bronx Savings Bank operated from 1905 until 1974, which branches throughout The Bronx and Westchester County.Cross & Cross were a prolific firm who designed many distinguished Art Deco skyscrapers such as the General Electric Building, Twenty Exchange Place and 90 Church Street, all in Manhattan.
2555 Tratman Avenue
1966; 1910 Annex
Although its current home was constructed in 1966, Public School 12’s history stretches back to include at least three buildings in the vicinity of Westchester Square. The first PS 12, replete with a spire-topped tower, was completed in 1886 and stood at the current site of the playground on Frisby Avenue. A later addition to the original structure, built around 1910, was designed in the Renaissance Revival style and still stands as an office annex connected to the four-story, yellow-brick Modern style classroom building, built in 1966. This building was the city’s first school building purpose-built for the specialized education of students with behavioral issues. This building is divided into two architectural components: the corner portion, which features minimal fenestration, blank brick walls, and the school entrance; and the classroom wing, with the upper three stories characterized by contrasting bands of windows and panels. Interestingly, one of PS 12’s most beloved and longest-serving principals, Dr. John Condon, made headlines in 1932 as the designated intermediary between Charles Lindbergh and the kidnappers of his child.