Gosh, it’s been ages. I’m still doing Artist Dates though and I’ve decided to share my weekly creative adventures here. I’ll be sharing other stuff too. So, for last week’s Artist Date, I was really getting two things done at once. A friend decided to read at another friend’s event and it was the first friend’s very first time reading in public. She did a phenomenal job and I’m so looking forward to her debut novel hitting the shelves. So, one part of that was supporting two friends. The other part was (duh) getting in my Artist Date.
The venue, the Andrew Freedman Home was a place I had never been to and in fact I had never heard of this particular Bronx destination. Intrigued by this, I Googled it beforehand to get a sense of the space and be able to spot it once I emerged from the subway.
Turns out, the Andrew Freedman Home is pretty fascinating. It’s a humungous, ornate, limestone building that takes up an entire city block. Andrew Freedman was this really rich guy who was one of the first investors in the New York City subway. He also owned New York Giants at one time.
When he was a child, his parents lost nearly everything through a series of bad financial decisions and the story goes that young Andrew vowed to never allow rich people suffer the indignity of being poor. As such, when he died in 1915, his will left his considerable fortune for the establishment of the Andrew Freedman Home. The ornate, stately palace was built specifically as a retirement home for former millionaires who had fallen on hard times and had no more money.
Residents of the home did not pay a dime for food or housing, but they lived like the kings and queens they once were. A delightful 1924 article published in the Evening Tribune soon after the home opened, describes the immaculate space in great detail.
Inside, the building is equipped with every comfort which a modern millionaire would put in his own house. Telephones, radio, phonograph, soft-voiced servants, tiled private baths, billiard rooms, card rooms, a library, and a living room so luxurious that even a modern millionaire could find no lack in it.
When it opened in the 1920s, it was pretty much right on time for the soon-to-be poor millionaires who lost their fortunes during the Great Depression. But just like its residents, the home ran out of money in the 1960s and could no longer operate as it had. It re-opened in the 80s as a “regular” retirement home for any person who could pay the fee to stay there. The space was reinvented again in the 21st century, operating as an event space and daycare, which it remains today. It also offers 10 guest bedrooms that are attended to by locals who are being trained in hospitality and culinary arts.
I find it most interesting that this wealthy man’s dying wish was to use his fortune to help other (formerly) wealthy people. I think most everyone is deserving of help, but to use one’s immense resources to help other people with long money? Hmmmmm. Seems a tad insensitive and by “a tad” I mean very. Especially considering that in Freedman’s lifetime, New York was an extreme example of the haves and have-nots. The New York City Zoning Resolution did not come to pass until 1916 (a year after Freedman’s death), which means that there were deplorable living conditions for poor people that included a lack of basic amenities like light, air and disease-free water. With all of that going on, he chose to leave his money to people who he felt would feel poverty more harshly than those who had lived a lifetime of it. How noble. Not.
But all is well. The Andrew Freedman Home today does indeed tend to a multitude of demographics and specifically the poor and disenfranchised of the South Bronx. So there, Mr. Freedman. I shall visit there again soon.