A tree museum in the Bronx is offering a rather unique if perhaps gimmicky exhibition: trees that not only look interesting but also “talk” about themselves…interestingly, I’d presume. One hundred trees, stretching 4 1/2 miles along Grand Concourse Boulevard, are currently marked with signs that include phone numbers and codes. These numbers/ codes will provide the viewer with links to short recordings of people talking about the Bronx, their lives and their work.
Tree No. 39, a honey locust at Marcy Place, will feature Jose Ortiz of the percussion group BombaYo. At another honey locust, No. 52, at 175th Street, Lurry Boyd, who grows peaches and strawberries in a community garden, will narrate. In Poe Park, a London plane tree (No. 75) will connect listeners to the story of the park, a former apple orchard that is now home to a cottage where Edgar Allan Poe lived. People often danced around the park’s bandstand at night, as Lloyd Ultan, the Bronx borough historian, tells it, including two sisters named Clooney. One of them was the singer Rosemary Clooney, aunt of the actor George Clooney.
The museum’s founder, Katie Holten, stumbled upon the idea while she was strolling down the boulevard one day near the Cross Bronx Expressway. She was endeavoring to win an art commission honoring the centennial of Grand Course Boulevard and was pondering how to best describe the place and its people. “The light bulb came on: If this is about the whole street, well, then the trees have to be part of it… …the Concourse has always been tree-lined, even before it was paved.”
The Concourse was designed in the late nineteenth century as an express route for people traveling from Manhattan to the parks of the north Bronx. In 1909, a road with designated paths for horse-drawn carriages, cyclists and pedestrians opened. The arrival of the IRT elevated line spurred development of the Concourse with construction of Art Deco apartment buildings, the Loewe’s Paradise Theatre and the Concourse Plaza Hotel, to name just a few. Indeed, the trees up there saw a whole lot of history strut and fret its hours upon the stage.
Note: This tree exhibit began about 3 years ago; oftentimes in NYC, insofar as novelty is concerned, 3 years could just as well be 30 years. I’m not sure if the trees are still talking up in the Bronx or if they’ve been rendered “speechless” through disinterest and neglect.