Running from west to east, Fordham Road runs through busy shopping districts, the university that shares its name, and at Bronx Park the road continues east as Pelham Parkway. At its western tip Fordham Road continues into Manhattan with University Heights Bridge. Before the bridge was built, there was Fordham Landing, a dock on the Harlem River whose name will reappear on the map as the shoreline undergoes a transformation.
The site of Fordham Landing has remnants of the dock where ferries landed before the bridge opened in 1908. The cove here is polluted with runoff and trash. As the opposite shore in Manhattan experiences restoration, eventually the Bronx side of the Harlem River will also have a cleaner future.
Where It Is
Looking at a map from 1873, we see that this cove was the mouth of an unnamed brook that originated in Devoe Park, a couple of blocks inland. In that year, the western half of southern Westchester County was annexed to the City of New York. At the time, this area was known as Fordham Heights, a ridge topped with countryside mansions overlooking the Harlem River.
On this map from 1892, a grid of paper streets await urbanization. The cove has been filled, but its topography is evident on this map. On a hill overlooking Devoe Park is the mansion of shipbuilder William H. Webb. In 1894, Webb transformed his 14-acre property into a school for naval architects and marine engineers.
The Romanesque Revival mansion would not look out of place further north in the Hudson Valley. Its design is eclectic with its towers that give the look of a miniature medieval city. It served as the campus of Webb Institute until 1947, when the school relocated to the Glen Cove mansion of oil executive Herbert L. Pratt.
By 1921, urbanization reached Fordham Heights with Webb’s mansion appearing as a holdout among the tract houses and apartments. On the site of the cove, a massive gas holder tank stood to provide heating to this neighborhood. Next to the Fordham Landing dock was the Fordham Heights station on the Hudson River Line. Not on the map, a bit to the south New York University built its uptown campus in 1892. Its fame gradually resulted in the neighborhood becoming known as University Heights.
An aerial view of the present conditions shows the site of Webb’s mansion as Fordham Hill Oval, a set of nine apartment towers built in 1950. The site of the gas holder tank is Fordham Landing Playground. It was built by the city in 1950 along with Major Deegan Expressway that parallels the Harlem River. highlighted is Exterior Street, a generic name given by city mapmakers to streets along the water’s edge, often laid out atop reclaimed land. In Manhattan, the default name for the outermost shoreline road is Marginal Street.
University Heights Bridge
The cove from the top of this essay appears in this 1908 photo of University Heights Bridge in the year of its completion. The ramp on its side connects with the site of Fordham Landing. The bridge has a long history as it was originally located at Broadway in 1895, nearly a mile north. The construction of an elevated subway line on Broadway required the removal of the bridge and it was then moved to Fordham Landing. In 1984 it was declared a city landmark, preserving its appearance for generations to come.
In this 1926 photo from the bridge, we see the Fordham Landing cove, Webb’s mansion, and the gas holder tank in what used to be part of the cove that was filled in. At the time, the train station platform was on the north side of the bridge. It was later shifted to the south of the bridge.
The same scene today has the Fordham Hill Oval towers on the site of Webb’s hilltop mansion and a small park on the site of the gas tank. Alongside the railroad under Fordham Road is Major Deegan Expressway, which parallels it between Yankee Stadium and Kingsbridge.
Looking south from the bridge, the floral pattern of the historic railing is still there. The hill across Harlem River is the site of Fort George, a redoubt from the American Revolution.
On Exterior Street
Exterior Street runs on the sliver of land sandwiched between the train tracks and the water. It provides access to a self-storage facility, scrap yard, concrete plant, and a DOT garage. Across the tracks, the towers of Fordham Hill Oval overlook the cove. The foreground in this photo is reclaimed land where the cove used to cut further inland.
Bronx Scrap Metal is located on contaminated soil that faces the Harlem River. It is possible to crush unused vehicles without polluting the soil. Here, the yard is unpaved, resulting in direct contact with soil and groundwater.
Many of the city’s concrete manufacturers are located next to waterways, where they can access barges. This concrete plant is on the waterfront but does not have a dock. Perhaps it did many years ago. The transformation of Fordham Landing will not preserve the mixers as a sculpture, and why should it? On the Bronx River, this was already done at Concrete Plant Park. On the other hand, the city has more than one preserved train-barge gantry, and multiple landmarked brownstone districts. Perhaps the concrete mixers at Fordham Landing can be retained inside a future waterfront park.
Looking south at the cove we see pipes emptying runoff and excess sewage into the waterway. When sewage treatment plants are unable to handle the volume, the excess amount flows directly into waterways.
A rendering of the proposed $2 Billion redevelopment shows a clean cove with kayakers blissfully paddling in the shadow of high-rises. This scene could be mistaken for Hunters Point, Brooklyn Bridge Park, or Jersey City. That’s the point as those areas were also heavily polluted only a quarter century ago. On the Harlem River, Fordham Landing has its precedent in Bankside, a luxury development in the south Bronx that is speeding up the gentrification of Mott Haven.
Another rendering of the cove shows a naturalistic shoreline, cafe with a green roof, and a movie screen on a barge for entertainment.
University Heights Station
In 1904, ahead of the bridge’s construction, a train stationhouse was designed at Fordham Landing. The station was initially named Fordham Heights, allowing for a one-seat ride to Grand Central Terminal, or points north along the Hudson River. The construction of the Major Deegan Expressway (Interstate 87) and the popularity of cars in the 1950s took away most of the railroad’s clientele. The station house was demolished in 1975, in a decade when much of the Bronx was burning.
The station today has an elevator and ticket machine, but no stationhouse. Located in a low-income neighborhood, it sees very few passengers. The nearest subway station is a seven-minute walk across the bridge. Perhaps with the transformation of Fordham Landing into a transit-oriented development, this station will receive more passengers.
To the south of Fordham Landing are Roberto Clemente State Park and the city-operated Bridge Park, which I documented earlier. As the city seeks to balance the preservation of nature and to accommodate demand for housing, it recognizes that the pre-urban view of the Harlem River as a gorge separating Washington Heights and University Heights is unrealistic. First came the aqueduct, then the railroad, and then the highways. In this century, it is the high-rises but they come with public access to the water’s edge.
This is how the Harlem River appeared when Francis Jasper Cropsey depicted it in the style of the Hudson River School in 1879. Now imagine a highway on the left bank of this scene, a railroad on the right bank and another highway paralleling the tracks. Also, the section of High Bridge spanning the river having a steel arch for extra width to accommodate ships. Fordham Landing is not in this scene, as it is located more than a mile to the north of High Bridge.
At the same time, the Harlem River will not never be lined entirely with glass box towers thanks to Highbridge Park on the Manhattan side, which forever preserves the steep cliffs overlooking this tidal strait. In this painting, the park is next to the water tower.
In the News:
Gotham Gazette reports on the creation of jobs relating to tackling climate change in NYC.
Scientific American reports on the restoration work on Thornton Creek in Seattle.
WGNS Radio reports on the daylighting project for Town Creek in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
I, for one, mourn the loss of Tee Taw Avenue. On weekends I see a number of people with shorty tickets get on at University Heights heading to the mall at 153/Yankee Stadium
Thanks for the images of the glorious Webb Mansion. I used to live fairly near this in my youth, but in those days never explored the area.
I love in University Heights at it’s highest point down the block from the campus which was once NYU and is now Bronx Community College. I have often wished that the rivers edge was more available for people. I hope it won’t be an issue of moving all low income people out before that can happen. A ferry park would be great to have near the University Heights bridge.
Where was Fordham hospital. I was born there in 1975 but they tore it down in 1976 or 78. It was by Fordam University College by the football field. I heard it was by my mother.
I was born in 1959 at Fordham hospital shame I don’t remember it . Ha ha.
Also the University Heights Little League field used to be just north of the bridge between the old station and the river.