According to the 1925 photograph on the wall of the landmarked Joe and Joe’s Restaurant on Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx, Church Triangle looked very much in 1925 as it does today: a grassy triangle enclosed by a wrought iron fence, renovated in 1996 through mayoral funds of $16,540, with a tree, a flag, and a monument to the men of Unionport who died in World War I. The members of American Legion Post #1065 stage an annual procession to the triangle two weeks before Memorial Day to lay wreaths at the foot of the ten-foot column. Acquired by the city through condemnation in 1914, it was turned over to Parks in 1919. Commissioner Stern officially named it Church Triangle in 1998, but its original name was Church Square, its shape notwithstanding, and that is how it is still known in the neighborhood.
Also in the photograph, on the other side of Watson Avenue, is the Holy Family Church that gives the park its name. It was established in 1896 to minister to the poor Irish and German immigrants flocking to Unionport at the turn of the century. In the early 1900s, Unionport, one of the Westchester towns that became part of the Bronx, resembled a frontier town. Unlike the cultivated estates of Morrisania and West Farms, Unionport was characterized by dirt roads, wooden sidewalks, frame houses with hitching posts, and taverns. The first Mass at the Church of the Holy Family was offered in a bare room over a dance hall. Problems arose among the worshipers during World War I when non-German parishioners would stalk out of the church during German language masses, but the parish thrived as the Bronx grew, adding a school in 1929 and rebuilding the entire church in 1962.
The three streets that form the boundaries of both the Holy Family Church and Church Triangle are Watson Avenue, Castle Hill Avenue, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Watson Avenue derives its name from the Watson Family, which had extensive holdings in the Bronx during the nineteenth century, and Castle Hill Avenue was originally an Indian path leading to a fortress overlooking the Bronx River.
The Cross-Bronx Expressway, a six-lane highway across the South Bronx that was completed in 1963, was one of Robert Moses’s most controversial undertakings. Moses was made parks commissioner of New York City in 1934 and built numerous bridges and motorways during his 40-year tenure as the city’s master builder. Hundreds of apartment buildings and many one and two family houses were demolished to make way for the new thoroughfare, forcing thousands of Bronx residents to seek new homes. The neighborhood took on a new character as high rise housing projects replaced the smaller buildings and local streets became exit ramps for the highway. Remarkably, the church has remained a neighborhood fixture and Church Triangle remains the tiny green island of serenity it has been for nearly 100 years.