Goodbye, Spuyten Duyvil's queen


EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter was originally addressed to members of Bronx Community Board 8.

I couldn’t bear to take a picture of the demolition crew scooping up the remains of Villa Rosa Bonheur this morning.

A giant dumpster just arrived to cart her away like garbage to wherever historic and beautiful buildings go to their final rest. Or maybe she’ll be turned into landfill.

Today is a truly tragic day for Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale. It is fitting that it’s rainy and overcast, as it matches the somberness of the occasion.

Soon, perhaps in days, Villa Rosa Bonheur will be completely and irretrievably gone. The developer ignored the community’s request to incorporate some of her architectural elements and details in the design for their seven-story cement and glass rental building that will replace her. They stared glassy-eyed back at us, but insisted they would take it under advisement.

We never heard back from them on this, or any other, issue raised.

The truth of the matter is that the developer wants her utterly eradicated. They believe that they are about to complete what they started: The violent and abusive destruction of something that was in the way of their financial enrichment. They believe that the memory of Villa Rosa Bonheur will eventually fade from memory, and they will no longer be bothered by our complaints.

Unfortunately for those of us still around, the traumatic stress of the last two years will not ease so rapidly. The building going up will be a monument to that stress. Indeed, it may trigger it every time we walk past the site.

Unless we memorialize Villa Rosa Bonheur, all the lessons learned from the last two years will be forgotten, and a major piece of Riverdale’s past buried — like Villa Rosa Bonheur in a landfill. All the things that we value — like green space, historic preservation, and a quiet and balanced community — will likewise be irrevocably damaged.

I’d like to think that the demise of Villa Rosa Bonheur was not for naught. Indeed she inspired the activism that saved the Special Natural Area District.

But on days like this, it is hard to feel optimistic. But in terms of SNAD, Villa Rosa Bonheur is truly a hero of Riverdale, in no way inferior to anyone of flesh and blood.

In the future, all of us will be gone, too. And perhaps we and our values won’t matter to the people who develop Riverdale to their “as of right.” But for more than a hundred years, Riverdale has stood for something, and I hope we won’t go down without a fight — if only for the sake of our children, our values, and the community we call home.

I have written this account on the Metro-North train going to work. I am in the middle of a trial and didn’t have time to edit my thoughts, or correct my grammar and typos. I apologize for any confusion. But perhaps this is for the best, as my raw emotion truly expresses what’s in my heart.

Stephanie Coggins

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Stephanie Coggins,