The seven-story, faded-brick building at 1511 Fulton Avenue — across from Crotona Park in the Claremont section of the Bronx — has no distinct personality, which may help explain why it has been reincarnated so many times over the past century.
It began life in 1907 as an Episcopal church house. By the 1920s, the area was heavily Jewish, and the building became a Young Men’s Hebrew Association, with a synagogue on the ground floor. In the 1950s, it was a nursing home. Later it operated as a drug treatment center.
Each time, the building’s new use tracked the shifting demographics and needs of New York City.
Today it sits vacant. If local residents think of it at all, they probably remember it not as a house of worship, but for its service of a different sort of penitent: For nearly four decades, it was the Fulton Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison that housed up to 900 inmates on work release.
But last week the building at 1511 Fulton began its latest transformation, this time into a community re-entry center that will provide temporary housing and job training to New Yorkers returning from prison.
On Jan. 28, the city signed over the building’s deed to the Osborne Association, an 82-year-old prison reform group that will operate the center after extensive renovations, thanks mainly to a $6 million grant from a state fund established for communities where prisons have closed.
In addition to initial housing and job assistance for 60 to 70 former inmates, the center plans to host a range of businesses to help replace jobs lost when the prison shut its doors — including catering and furniture-refurbishing companies and, on the roof, an apiary.
That can only help in the Bronx, which has the highest unemployment rate in the state. The district that includes Fulton also has one of the highest concentrations of public housing in New York City. Many inmates have family in that housing, but they cannot move there, because New York law almost always prevents people with a criminal record from living in public housing.
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by Jesse Wegman
February 2, 2015