Getting off the B train at 167th Street and The Grand Concourse, you are greeted by the same wall of advertising and graffiti as in any other station in this City. These days it’s all things vintage, with a view toward the era of the 1920s – the gilded age of glamour and excess when the homes being built could be as big as a city block – The Schwab Mansion at 50,000 square feet, Senator William Andrews Clark’s home with its 121 rooms and 31 bathrooms, the Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion which is now Bergdorfs. We could go on & on. So it seemed quite fitting, in our current economic climate when so many have lost so much in our most recent recession of 2007, that we would take a look at those who lost so much – and how they survived – in the Panic of 1907 and the reason the Andrew Freedman House came into existence.
All photos by Lynn Lieberman
Andrew Freedman (1860-1915) was a wealthy Tammany Hall fixture who, unmarried at the end of his life and moved by what the Panic of 1907 did to the wealthy, decided to build a sort of home for the wealthy who lost everything – a place where they could live out the remainder of their lives in the manner to which they were accustomed. And so the mansion was built on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx in 1924 and when completed, it was over 117,000 square feet, employing 50 servants to care for the 130 guests. They lived in splendor, surrounded by huge rooms filled with sumptuous furnishings. Each night the guests would descend to the dining room in formal attire to be served their meals. Every detail of their existence was attended to, from the making of their beds to their laundry. A truly elegant respite. Andrew Freedman died in his apartment at the famous Sherry’s Restaurant on 5th Avenue and 44th Street.
By the 1960s, costs had exceeded the endowment and in 1984 the mansion was purchased by the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council who was committed to “creating a fresh vision” – and that they did by creating The Andrew Freedman Complex Initiatives, which is a suite of programs filling the needs of their community. These Programs are comprised of five distinct tracks, including AFC Small Business Incubator; AFC Green Technology Institute; The Arts & Media Center; Culinary & Hospitality Initiative, which includes an onsite Bed & Breakfast; and on the agenda for the future will be the AFC Apartments, which will eventually have 200 units.
Three beautiful ballrooms make up the three event spaces. Two of them are used as galleries, with revolving art events by local artists. Students receive on-sight training through the elegantly restored ten room Bed & Breakfast and 3 event/banquet spaces in culinary arts and hospitality services during their integrated twelve week program, and move on to jobs acquired through the program’s partnership with local hotels and restaurants. Princess, who is the Facility Manager for their lodging and banquet halls, saw to the restoration of the furnishings that adorn every room, keeping the integrity of the 1920s in her choice of fabrics and colors. What was left of the original furniture now graces each of the ten guest rooms. Chairs were upholstered in plush fabrics, and antique snow globes dusted off for display. She also teaches one of the courses within the hospitality track.
The library, which retains its original collection of books, has a first edition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and is sometimes used to show films. The library and three exhibition rooms are often rented out for weddings, corporate events and parties. All of the rooms, including the library, are open for guests of the Bed & Breakfast. The Director of Marketing, Marcia Fingal, often chats with guests and genuinely enjoys hearing about their visits, with a keen eye toward seeing how the AFH could make the B&B even better.
The Andrew Freedman House is just the tip of the iceberg of activities spearheaded by the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council, who control twenty-eight buildings. Twenty-five of them are low and moderate housing and three are senior housing. The entire basement of the AFH is used for community and social services ranging from educational workshops and classes to community outreach including GED prep and Head Start. They even provide Kosher meals to those who aren’t ambulatory.
Under the direction of Walter Puryear, they have clearly flipped the script on Andrew Freeman’s vision. With the extreme poverty level in the Bronx, their vision truly addresses the needs of the other 99% in an elegant setting open to the public seven days a week from 10am to 6pm. Located diagonally across the street from the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Andrew Freedman House is easy to get to and a treasure in our City.
For more information, call Marcia Fingal (PR & Marketing Director) at 917-297-2418. To book a room at their fabulous B&B or rent event space, call Princess at 718-588-8200 x 1336.