Mother Walls AME Zion Church

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What connections does this Bronx church on Home Avenue have to strong African-American women and Central European nationalism? In the late 19th century, immigrants poured into the United States including many from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary was a large, diverse empire in which a variety of languages were spoken.  Many Hungarian-language speakers wanted to separate from Austria and form their own country including revolutionary Lajos Kossuth, namesake of Kossuth Avenue near Montefiore Hospital.  Many Hungarians immigrated to the United States, finding employment working in blue-collar jobs.  In 1923, a New York Times reporter wrote “The Magyars add 80,000 to the city’s host. Their settlements are strong from the east side from Harlem down and there is a large number of them below Bronx Park.” One of the places where Hungarians worshiped was the Free Magyar Reform Church, built in 1909. (I have a feeling that its architecture was influenced by Hungarian vernacular design.) Members of the church would celebrate Hungary gaining independence after World War I.

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Eventually, the unique building was sold to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination, which had begun with a church in Lower Manhattan in 1800. I am unsure of the church’s original name, but it was renamed for Dorothy L. Jordan Walls.  Born in 1936, Ms. Walls was secretary for AMEZ Bishop William J. Walls before she married the 74-year old church leader at the age of 25 in 1956.  Unfortunately, Mother Walls had no children.  Her husband passed away in 1975 and she had an untimely death two years later.  Presumably, the church was renamed for her at this time, although an AMEZ summer camp in North Carolina was named for her in 1958. One of Bishop Walls achievements was saving and later restoring the house and farm of Harriet Tubman in Auburn, New York.  The heroine of the Underground Railroad lived in this upstate town and had built a nursing home for African-Americans on site.

Transfiguration Lutheran Church

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“If you come upon Transfiguration Lutheran Church on the corner of East 156th street and Prospect Avenue, the first thing you’ll notice are the doors, spray-painted with a bright mural. (By Tats Cru) It shows an open fire hydrant with water splashing into a baptismal font. Water brims and spills from the bow onto the grass below as new buildings rise up from the sidewalk. An arm reaches across the altar, with bread to place on a plateful of food-turkey, greens and rice for the hungry.” Reverend Heidi Neumark, leader of the church from 1984 to 2000 and author of ‘Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in The South Bronx.’ Transfiguration Church was founded in Harlem by Puerto Rican immigrants in 1923. The congregation moved to the South Bronx in 1941 and expanded in the fifties and sixties.

Elton Avenue/La Resurreccion Church

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In 1852, German-speaking residents of Melrose organized a Methodist church.  By 1879 the congregation erected a brick building on Elton Avenue, a street named for a developer of the area.  In the 1990’s the church was ‘wrecked’ according to a contemporary newspaper article about it.  Eddie Perez Jr. moved his church, La Resurreccion United Methodist Church to the building in 1994 and arranged for funding to have the building properly restored.

Beth Hamidrash Hagadol

 

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An exterior view of the former Beth Hamidrash Hagadol synagogue. Located in Morrisania, it is a remnant of an area that was redeveloped when the Forest Houses were constructed in the mid-fifties.
Beth Hamidrash is Hebrew for the house of study, specifically Talmudic study. Gadol simply means large. Jewish immigrants, especially from Lithuania often established synagogues with this name, a reminder of how they organized themselves in the ‘old country.’ The congregation was founded in 1904, and the building dates from 1912. An inscription in the cornice lists the equivalent Hebrew year. Sharon Baptist Church, which if I remember correctly was a branch of a church founded in Harlem, bought the building in 1957.