The history of the Andrew Freedman Home is a story like no other. From its early beginnings as a former retirement home for wealthy individuals who had lost their fortunes, to the visionary founder Andrew Freedman - self made millionaire and the owner of the New York Giants in 1922, to today's global arts HUB, The Andrew Freedman Home has constantly evolved in its primary mission to serve the community.

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Andrew Freedman was born on the 1st of September 1860, in New York. Freedman, a self-made millionaire, was the director of different companies in real estate, construction and transportation. He lived and died in New York and had a prolific political career as a close counselor of the president of Tammany Hall, a political machine of the Democratic Party. 

Andrew Freedman attended as a young boy a public school in lower Manhattan and later the City College of New York. He started his working life in a local dry goods store and sharpened his instinct for money and business. Freedman is mainly remembered today as one of the owners of New York’s baseball team, The Giants, a National League whose principal owner he became in 1895. However, many chronicles of the time state that Freedman had a difficult temper and that baseball was merely a diversion to him. His greater interests lay in weighty business and political affairs, especially real estate ventures that brought him wealth and success. Some of the New Yorkers may associate Freedman’s name with the first subway line of the city. In fact, Andrew Freedman was a very influential person and a key player in the construction of New York’s subways network. Later, he closely monitored most of the construction work of IRT, becoming one of the directors of the companies involved in building the line. 

Gifted with intelligence and inspiration, Freedman worked his way to success, gaining considerable wealth from his business. Towards the end of his life, Freedman conceived a plan for a charitable mansion that will incorporate most of his fortune. A home devoted to the cultured, refined people that due to objective reasons lost their means to live according to their education and past lifestyle. The Andrew Freedman Home soon became an original idea to accommodate for free the old and poor “(...)without regard to race or religious creed(...)” at the highest standards. Freedman left behind a cultural legacy, an impressive edifice that stands today in the heart of the Bronx community.


New York City annexed the West Bronx

On the western side of Central Park, at the end of the 19th century, the amenities were mainly undeveloped. When New York City annexed the area west of Bronx River, the residents of Manhattan and the new wards claimed the inaccessibility of the land as no roads or mass transit connections were linking the West Bronx to the city. In 1890, the New York State Legislature established a special department in charge of lay-outing streets throughout the new district. It is at that moment in time that the Grand Concourse boulevard was designed to finally make the Bronx parks accessible from other parts of the city.  

Louis Risse as a chief engineer was directly responsible to plan the Concourse. The Rider and Driver Club in New York City waged the necessity of a speedway. Risse gave this opportunity serious consideration. After declining the initial proposal to build it at the west side of Central Park, Risse proposed to erect a “Speedway and Concourse” in the Bronx, on the ridge to the east. As a consequence, Risse laid out the Concourse, the secondary roadways and the sidewalks for local traffic.

In 1897 the construction of the Grand Concourse began and it took 12 years to complete. In 1909 the Concourse was officially opened and it consisted of a 58-foot-wide central speedway, service roads, pedestrian walks and promenades, bicycle paths and vehicular driveways. The Concourse began at Cedar Park on East 161st Street and ended north to Mosholu Parkway, with an ulterior extension to the south up to East 138th Street. 

Commonly known as the “Annexed District”, the Bronx became soon enough the host of a luxurious residential boulevard that conveniently linked the Bronx parks with New York. Apartment houses became the common type of residential constructions that were erected along the Concourse, with 5 and six story walk-ups and elevator buildings. Few public institutions were constructed in the same district, among which The Andrew Freedman Home is the most notable example of architecture mastery. 

Andrew Freedman passed away 

On the morning of 4th of December 1915, the businessman and political operative Andrew Fredman passed away, at the early age of 55. He was never married, even though Elsie Rothschild was for a short period of time his fiancée. One year before, Freedman served as best man at his friend’s second marriage, Richard Croker. Freedman’s health began to deteriorate slowly and several bouts of exhaustion led to a final nervous breakdown in November 1915. 24-hour medical care was provided to him in his apartment in Manhattan. Nevertheless, Freedman suffered a stroke and died at the beginning of December. Following his death, the periodicals at the time praised his business and civic achievements, stating that Freedman was the person “who did more than perhaps any other man to make possible the subway system in this city.”

The wealthy capitalist drew up a will in early 1907 that contained clear instructions about what is to happen to his fortune after his death. In December 1915, Andrew Freedman’s will was made public and revealed the sizable bequest for a charitable institution, the Andrew Freedman Home. The unusual charity intended to offer help for the once wealthy but “by reason of adverse fortune, have become poor and dependent”. Although he planned to erect an institution, Freedman left clear instructions not to refer to the residents of the Home as “inmates”, but call them “members”, as if they were part of a private clubhouse. Aged couples or single persons of all occupations were kindly welcomed at the Home: doctors, businessmen, politicians, actors, opera singers or German and Jewish refugees. At its peak, in 1928, Andrew Freedman Home could accommodate up to 130 members. 

According to the time’s journals, the original bequest was approximately $2.500.000 and more than $2.000.000 were added to the trust upon the death of his mother and sister. A total of $5.000.000 were invested in a “New Idea in Philanthropy”, the Andrew Freedman Home. 


The Trustees of AFH purchased the site for the Andrew Freedman Home

The will of Andrew Freedman stated that the bulk of his estate was to be used for the Home. The responsible to carry out this task was Friedman’s business partner and executor Samuel Untermyer. Untermyer was a notorious lawyer of his time and got close to Freedman through the political circles of Tammany Hall. He became the first president of the Home’s Board of Trustees and together with the directors established the admission requirements. The Board was assembled by Vice-presidents dr. Bernard Sachs and Daniel B. Freedman, treasurer Henry D. Campbell and secretary Harry Hoffman. In 1916 the Trustees achieved an Act in the Laws of New York that incorporated the Andrew Freedman Home, allowing them to make land purchases. In 1917 a large property situated in the Bronx was purchased by the Andrew Freedman Home. The block was bounded by the Grand Concourse, Walton Avenue, East 166th Street and McClellan. Due to the outbreak of the First World War, the construction of the Home was delayed and only started in the second decade of the 20th century. 

The finance committee headed by Alvin Untermyer surveyed all the necessary finances required for the project. The funds swelled by the Andrew Freedman Home indeed to make a profit. For example, from the Bronx property, the Trustees have sold a rear parcel and the obtained profit was used in the construction and the maintenance of the Home. Many other saving strategies were implemented during the Great War that added to the existing funds. The plans for the future building were that the Home will be perceived “as beautiful an ornament to the city as was the design of the testator in planning the benefaction.” 

1922 - 1924

Interior at Andrew Freedman Home

Many say that the Home resembled a fine European hotel and not an institution for eldery people. In fact, Freedman wished to provide all the comfort a wealthy person was used to in his youth and live accordingly in his twilight years. The residents, “cultured and refined”, walk over marble floors, sit on brocaded couches and admire the park by sliding away heavy draperies. The spaces are divided into two categories, private and public spaces. 

On the ground floor there was the dining room with large windows and Chinese red chairs, library with tall bookshelves, lounge with periodical-room, game room, billiard room, all spacious and well furnished with imported Belgian handmade furniture. On the mustard-yellow  walls there are photographs of Freedman and framed letters from August Belmont, Freedman’s associate in the I.R.T. business. The rooms have high ceilings and carpets deep. The interior decorations were made by L. Alavoine & Company in grand style including old bronzes on the tables. Upstairs were the bedrooms, 62 double rooms, with private bath, and 38 singles rooms with shared baths. These were decorated with walnut stands, bedside lamps and other personal belongings that the residents were allowed to use in their private spaces. 

1928 - 1931

The construction of AFH wings is completed

At the opening ceremony in 1924, Untermyer announced that two wings would be added to the main edifice. As a consequence, the construction of the north and south parts of the Home began in 1928 and it required three years to complete. To keep the original architectural style of the building, the wings had similar design. The architect used grey limestone for exterior appearance and articulated the facade by semicircular openings, windows with multipane wood casement sash and transoms. The openings of the first story in the north wing are similar to the main building, while in the south wing, the first story has 6 rectangular windows within blind arches and three smaller rectangular openings that repeat also at the upper floors. The rear facades of the wings are asymmetrical, displaying a mix of large and small windows and one single door. On the superior floors, variations of sizes set within blind arches represent the main design. 

Unlike Freedlander and Jacobs, well-known and appreciated architects, the young architect David Levy was commissioned to design and construct the two wings of the Home. Little is known about him, he was an architect in practice for a brief period of time and later became an associate of the firm of Gehron, Ross & Alley. The most important architectural accomplishment of Levy was the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1930.

The entire construction has nothing of an institutional character, the Home was made of superior quality materials and technology, with iron-grille doors and enough space for leisure. The building included English gardens and a well-manicured lawn. The building was a beautiful example of monumental architecture, with large symmetrical fenestration that recalls the Italian architectural tradition. The guests of this “Georgian Palace”, as the Home is being named in the journals of the time, succeed to maintain the lavish lifestyle, in accordance with the grandeur imposed by the Andrew Freedman Home’s refined architecture. It cost approximately $1.250.000 and operated as a Home for the indigent gentlefolk until 1983.

Members of AFH start to pay rent 

The Andrew Freedman Home was intended to provide a safe shelter to the once-wealthy that have fallen in disgrace due to objective reasons. The members had to take care of their personal expenses and clothes but benefited from housing, food, entertainment activities and care on the expense of the Trust. While wealthier members would pay a modest rent to the Trust, poor members were living in the Home for free. Nevertheless, towards the ‘70s the finances were running out and the Trust was forced to ask for rent from all their members. This decision was not welcomed by a part of the members as their income would not allow them to continue the lifestyle in the Home. As a consequence, members started to move out of the Andrew Freedman Home. In less than two decades the situation worsened so much that many of the rooms would remain closed and empty. 

First attempt to designate the AFH as Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) was formed in 1965 and has administered since its founding the city's Landmarks Preservation Law. The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing in September 1973. The purpose was to designate as Landmark the Andrew Freedman Home. At the time, two people declared in favor of the designation. Following the hearing on November 27th, 1973, one witness declared in favour of the designation, but three representatives of the Home spoke against it. In 1974, the Board of Estimate denied the designation. When considering a building for a designation, the Landmarks Preservation Commission takes into consideration several criteria such as the history of the monument, the architecture, and other relevant features of it. 


AFH is purchased by the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council

Officially, the Home served its original function until 1983, but in reality at the beginning of the ‘80s much of the space was closed. The high costs of maintaining the facility conditioned the Trustees to close the Home for good. The last residents of the Home moved out in the summer of 1983 and the building was put up for sale. The Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council is the most important social services officer in the Bronx. With an impressive sum of $1.6 M, the Council purchased the building from the Andrew Freedman Trust and reopened the Home for the elderly or poor, regardless of their past. 

The Mix-Bronx Senior Citizens Council is a private non-for-profit organization that provides financial support to housing projects in the Bronx community. Even if purchased and managed by a different board of directors, the Council’s executive director at the time of purchase declared that the team will “continue to serve as a symbol of human dignity” and provide all the necessary support to residents that will come from many more social classes. As the costs of using such an imposing building made impossibile to use the entire space, the first and second floors were mainly used in the interest of the Bronx community as day care center, community programs and events space. The elegant rooms of the Home opened its doors, once again, to accommodate the elderly and to secure the legacy of Andrew Freedman. 

AFH is being designated as Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission 

On the basis of architectural and historical background relevance, the Commission declared the Andrew Freedman Home “one of the most impressive edifices built in the Bronx”, at the beginning of the 20th century. Because it was considered the most prestigious structure on the Grand Concourse that served as a refuge for more than 50 years, the Commission designated as a Landmark the Andrew Freedman Home and its site. 

Black Wall Street

Black Wall Street produced by Walter Puryear, Michael Allen, and The Shades of Truth Theatre is a dramatic presentation of the black boom town Tulsa Oklahoma and it's destruction during The Tulsa Riots. This edu-drama explains the relationship between economics, land, and how racism is used as a scapegoat for other motives. Besides the theatrical production discussion were also incorporated into the structure to allow audience members to share their views.


The Bronx Latin-American Art Biennial

From August to December 2016, as part of the Bronx Latin-American Art Biennial, a residency will be held at the Andrew Freedman Home, Harlem Hidden History: The Cult of the Phoenix. 

The initiative was set up to fight against racism and to explore historical association that empowered black people. The purpose of the project at AFH is to connect the culture of Harlem and the social dynamics in the Bronx. The artistic program includes performances, lectures, and photo shoots. The Home will also play a major part in the background of the continuing novel “Harlem Hidden History”. 

Part of the programing are Harlem Hidden History Lecture Series: Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

Harlem Hidden History Lecture Series conceived and led by local Bronx artist Paco Cao presents of monthly lectures, micro-performances, informal encounters and photoshoots leading up to the 5th Bronx Latin American Art Biennial in December. The lecture series establishes a link between the cultural and political life in Harlem during the past century and the current social dynamics in the Bronx.


Andrew Freedman Home receive $1.7M grant for historic restoration 

The Freedman mansion became a generous host of some of the most active artists on contemporary art, transforming the grandiose spaces of the building into spaces for sweeping painting, colleges or sound experiments. The AFH shifted from a luxurious private home of the beginning of the 20th century to a cultural centre in 2012 for the Bronx community. 

This year the Home received an important $1.7M grant to restore the historic mansion and ‘revitalize’ the Bronx neighborhood, while the directors are looking to secure more funding. This grant will help to bring infrastructure improvements that will allow the Council to open the remaining closed and uninhabitable space. More than 16.000 people visit the mansion each year and are astonished by the idea of creating an institutional home for the once rich people. The grant is to be invested in renovating the deteriorated space, the metal fence, the garden, rehabilitation of the grand ballroom, new lighting, transforming old bedrooms, thus returning this space to the people, as the director, W. Puryear said.