A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 05, 2008
“He couldn’t find a Jew in the Bronx”

In the first half of the 20th century, many Jewish people escaped crowded Manhattan and took the newly built subway line to homes in the borough of the Bronx (often along its popular street, the Grand Concourse). A joke was said of any poor detective that he was so incompetent that “He couldn’t find a Jew in the Bronx” (or, “He couldn’t find a Jew on the Grand Concourse").

The Jewish population in the Bronx has decreased significantly and the expression has rarely been used since the early 1970s.


Wikipedia: The Bronx
The Bronx is the northernmost of New York City’s five boroughs and the newest of New York State’s 62 counties. It is located northeast of Manhattan and south of Westchester County. The Bronx is the only borough situated primarily on the North American mainland (while the other four are on islands). In 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the borough’s population on July 1, 2007 was 1,373,659, ranking 4th of the five boroughs in population size, 4th in area, and 3rd in density.

The Bronx is divided by the Bronx River into a hillier section in the west, closer to Manhattan, and the flatter East Bronx, closer to Queens and Long Island. The West Bronx was annexed to New York City (then largely confined to Manhattan) in 1874, and the areas east of the Bronx River in 1895. The Bronx first assumed a distinct legal identity when it became a borough of Greater New York in 1898.

Although the Bronx is the third-most-densely-populated county in the U.S., about a quarter of its land is open space, including Woodlawn Cemetery, Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, the New York Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo in the borough’s north and center, on land deliberately preserved in the late 19th century as urban development progressed northwards and eastwards from Manhattan with roads, bridges and railroads.

The indigenous Lenape (Delaware) American Indians were slowly displaced after 1643 by settlers from the Netherlands and Great Britain. The Bronx received many Irish, German, Jewish and Italian immigrants as its once-rural population exploded between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries. They were succeeded after 1945 by African-Americans and Hispanic Americans, together with immigrants from the Caribbean, especially Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. In recent years, this cultural mix has made the Bronx a wellspring of both Latin music and Hip hop (rap music).

Wikipedia: Grand Concourse (Bronx)
The Grand Boulevard and Concourse (almost universally referred to as the Grand Concourse) is likely the most famous street in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. It was designed by Louis Aloys Risse, an Alsatian immigrant who had previously worked for the New York Central Railroad and was later appointed chief topographical engineer for the City of New York.

History
Risse first conceived of the road in 1870, as a means of connecting the borough of Manhattan to the parkway in the northern Bronx. Construction began on the Grand Concourse in 1889 and it was opened to traffic in November 1909. Built during the height of the City Beautiful movement, it was modeled on the Champs-Élysées in Paris but was considerably larger, stretching four miles in length, measuring 180 feet across, and separated into three roadways by tree-lined dividers.

The cost of the project was $14 million, the equivalent to $310 million by today’s standards. The road originally stretched from the Bronx Borough Hall at 161st Street north to Van Cortlandt Park, although it was later expanded southward to 138th street after Mott Avenue was widened to accommodate the boulevard.

The IRT Jerome Avenue Line of the New York City Subway opened a few blocks west of the Grand Concourse in 1917, initiating a housing boom amongst upwardly mobile, predominantly Jewish and Italian, families who were fleeing the crowded tenements of Manhattan. Development of the Concourse was further encouraged by the opening of the IND Concourse Line in 1933. By the mid-1930s, almost three hundred apartment buildings had been built along the Concourse. Customarily five or six stories high with wide entrance courtyards bordered with grass and shrubs, among these apartments are many of the finest examples of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture in the United States.

Google Books
Forsaking All Others
By Jimmy Breslin
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
1982
Pg. 161:
“Used to be, you said that the guy was so dumb he couldn’t find a Jew in the Bronx. Now we got guys who can’t find a Puerto Rican in the Bronx.” He reached in for his favorite, cold spaghetti. “That’s worse than when you couldn’t find a Jew in the Bronx. How could you miss finding a Puerto Rican?”

Q & A Script (1990) - Dialogue Transcript
Detective? Come on.
You couldn’t find a Jew in Rockaway. 

Google Books
Likely to Die
By Linda A Fairstein
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
2003
Pp. 99-100:
“Used to be an expression, forty years ago, back when he and I were in the Academy together and things were different in New York. Used to say about a boss who’d never worked his cases like a real detective that he couldn’t find a Jew on the Grand Concourse. No offense, Alex.”

“Forget it, Loo,” Chapman said, “Sherlock Holmes couldn’t find a Jew on the Grand Concourse anymore.” An area of the Bronx that once had been home to thousands of upwardly mobile Eastern European immgirants was entirely Hispanic today. 

The Retread Ranger Station
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Eyes Wide Shut
When I was a mere lad, the un-PC insult leveled at a detective of dubious competence was, “That guy couldn’t find a Jew in the Bronx.”

Free Republic
There used to be a New York saying about an incompetent detective, “He couldn’t find a Jew in the Bronx”. Madeline Albright couldn’t find a Jew at the kitchen table. She was in her sixties when she discovered her Jewish heritage. I’m scared of her being Secretary of State but it’s too late for that.
49 posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 1:28:02 PM by Inwoodian

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityNames/Phrases • (0) Comments • Wednesday, November 05, 2008 • Permalink