COVID-19 has created a swift economic downturn for large and small businesses alike. We have seen tremendous unemployment and a volatile stock market – not unlike the Great Depression in 1929 ~ with so many New Yorkers loosing their businesses and their savings. A remnant of the Great Depression still exists in the Bronx. We thought it a good time to take a look back at the history of The Andrew Freedman Home.
When the Panic of 1907 hit, many of the very wealthy lost everything, and it occurred to self-made millionaire Andrew Freedman that there, but for the grace of God, he easily could have found himself. With this thought in mind, he created a charitable trust to build a home for older people who did indeed loose their fortunes ~ a place where the formerly wealthy could live rent free but broke in the same way they had lived during their prosperous years, servants and all.
The mansion was built in 1924, and when completed it was over 117,000 square feet, employing 50 servants caring for 130 residents. Each night, they would descend the staircase to the dining room in formal attire to be served their meals. Their beds were made, their laundry was done. They lived a life of luxury.
Today, the library retains its original collection of books, including a first-edition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Within the room, the original furniture, including the ladder from the 1920s. As you can see in the image above, a screen is often used these days to show films.
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. The Andrew Freedman Complex Initiative was created. Its programs were aligned with the needs of its surrounding community, with five distinct tracks including AFC Small Business Incubator; AFC Green Technology Institute; The Arts & Media Center, an opportunity for community residents interested in the film production industry including video, television, animation and graphic design; Culinary & Hospitality Initiative, including an onsite Bed & Breakfast.
The MBSCC controls 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. Family Preservation Center is housed in the lower lobby, providing key services including affordable child care.
The mansion houses three large ballrooms ~ two of them (above and below) 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 three event and banquet spaces for culinary arts and hospitality services during an integrated twelve-week program. The students then move on to jobs which are acquired through the program’s partnership with local hotels and restaurants.
Keeping the integrity of the 1920s, original furnishings were taken from the attic and restored, with chair reupholstered in plush fabrics, all gracing the ten guest rooms used as a Bed & Breakfast. All rooms come with a continental breakfast and guests have access to the mansion’s parlor and library.
The Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council (now Mid-Bronx Council) have long-range plans for redeveloping the rest of the facility. They has been an integral part of the revitalization process, and cultural resurgence in the historic Bronx, serving the community in a variety of ways.
The gate to the grounds is open during daylight hours, and revolving art installations are often on view. Sometimes, chalk-art appears on the narrow walkways, and when we were there, a small and colorful skateboard park was created off to one side.
Andrew Freedman died in his apartment on Fifth Avenue at 44th Street in 1915, unmarried and without children, leaving his fortune to this project.