What’s Wrong With These Bronx Townhouses?

One of the worst kept secrets in New York is the phony townhouse at 58 Joralemon Street.

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Once an actual residence, it now hides a subway ventilator and emergency exit for the subway tunnel running directly below (the blacked-out windows should be your first clue that something odd is going on here).

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Anyway, last weekend, I was walking back to my car along Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx when I happened to notice something odd…

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A row of townhouses running along one side of the street behind a high fence.

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Was this some kind of weird new Bronx gated community?

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The more I stared, the more the whole thing kept throwing me off. It almost looked like a Hollywood backlot version of New York.

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Each brick townhouse was equipped with globe lights, nice bushes and pathways out front.

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Then I noticed the blacked out windows.

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As you keep going around the structure, industrial portions start appearing, and my first guess was that it was another in the MTA’s long line of townhouse-related deceptions.

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Nope – this is actually Coned’s Mott Haven Electric Substation, built in 2008 to help meet the city’s growing power needs.

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The substation was given a “classic New York rowhouse” look to appease locals, who were not happy with its construction.

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I’m not sure what was torn down to make way for this, so correct me if some beautiful bit of New York history was lost forever due to its construction, but if it had to be built, and considering how ugly electrical substations can look, I actually really like it!

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Having just gone on the Warner Bros. backlot tour for the first time last year, the similarities were extremely eerie.

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I should mention the design won an award from the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute of Northeast, who commended the architects for creating a “believable residential presence” (er, we might disagree on the believable part).

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But the weirdest part? I swear, I’ve driven down this portion of Bruckner Blvd. a million times since it was built in 2008, and while I knew there was a large structure here, I never noticed the townhouses (I think I’ve always thought it was a self-storage center).

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Just another reminder that you can never trust a New York City townhouse.

-SCOUT

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15 comments

  1. A “believable residential presence” made a brief appearance in the last episode of BBC’s Sherlock. I promise this is not a spoiler. The building stuck out like a sore thumb and I was delighted to point it out to those watching with me before the fact that the building was not a residence is even alluded to. Any idea of how many of these buildings there are? I did a quick Google search and found basic info on this building, 58 Joralemon and buildings in London and Paris.

    • Toronto and a few other cities have “transformer houses”, which at first glance look not much different than other houses in the neighborhood, but are in fact electric substations.

  2. There was a very cool old factory there before – now I can’t recall the name on it but we used to drive by it a lot – it was old and in disrepair, but it had great lettering. Then one day it was gone and this substation went up really fast.

  3. Love the Bronx, so these stories always draw my interest!

  4. I’ve passed it several times in vans or cars to or from locations in BX. The Teamsters clued me into what it really was a few years ago. They know everything.

  5. I hate these false facades. You see them also on “big box” stores also. There was a time when industrial plants and commercial projects were made attractive in their own right. These always look fake and out of place.

  6. This is where FARBERWARE stood, until they knocked it down for ConEd.

  7. What’s so wrong with it? Before that it was a factory where 700 hundred worked (5% of the manufacturing jobs in the Bronx), lost due to the company selling off the name and sending the jobs overseas. Many companies talked about taking over the city owned property but in the end, no one did and America lost more manufacturing to China and Con Ed got a plant.

    It’s certainly prettier than the building that stood before it and it makes what is a pretty crappy looking neighborhood look quite nice.

  8. Finally! I’ve ben wondering about them for years! lol

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  10. I always love finding these ‘secret hide-a-structures’. Growing up on Long Island, there was always a random fenced house in every neighborhood. In HS i went trespassing and discovered that 4 of them were sub-station, or water-pumps etc. Yet the were hidden inside this magnificent houses, my mother told me that when she was a child they were turning the potato fields into developments and they had to build a new infrastructure. Yet they didn’t want it to ruin the feel of the new towns and neighborhoods. I love SCOUTING NEW YORK!

  11. This page definitely has all of the information and facts I needed about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  12. Shaun el profe

    Wow! Im on a greyhound bus passing (4 min ago) and looked it up. Thanks for this

    I noticed it was odd from the windows!!! Thought it was a transit house. Oops! Awesome idea

  13. What I am looking for is any old photos of the six pane window decals stuck over 100s of thousands of windows in broken down Bronx buildings during he 80s, for what passed as affordable beautification. Google isn’t helping! Anybody?

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