Blog shouts: Welcome to Melrose

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The grandmas and the grandpas, the gangsters and the cops, the grocers and the gardeners know Eduardo Garcia as the “Mayor of Melrose.” So do thousands on the Internet, thanks to “Welcome to Melrose,” an upbeat blog about the neighborhood.

Launched in September, the blog riffs on Melrose news, culture, business and real estate. Garcia, 34, has posted reports on construction at Boricua Village: the mixed-use sister to Boricua College, PeaceLove Café: a new jazz and Internet bar, and Restoration Community Garden: a green oasis where Melrose residents play dominos. The Mayor of Melrose is an activist, too. He has written about an illegal dump and police brutality. The blog gets more than 400 hits daily.

Melrose sits north of Mott Haven in the south Bronx, bounded by E. 161st Street to the north, Prospect Avenue to the east, E. 149th Street to the south and Park Avenue to the west. The neighborhood is home to some 30,000 people, 61 percent Hispanic, 42 percent impoverished as per the 2000 United States Census.

Melrose is also ground zero for a three-decade effort to build affordable housing in the south Bronx and rehab lots destroyed by neglect and arson.

“The blog is a response to the naysayers,” Garcia explained, “The people who tell me that our new buildings are “perfume on a pig.” Melrose is ready to tell its story…about the people who stayed, the fresh people and the people who have returned.”

Garcia is one of the latter. Born in Mott Haven, he and his parents found an apartment at Christopher Court, one of Melrose’s original “new-era” affordable developments. Garcia attended St. Anselm Elementary School and Cardinal Spellman High School, then Iona College. Although he had close friends in Melrose, Garcia followed chased the bright lights to Manhattan, where he worked for an ad agency and rented an East Village apartment.

It took 9/11 and unemployment to bring Garcia home. Back with his parents, the young professional began to appreciate Melrose again: the friendly hellos, the casitas, the pride. Garcia felt embarrassed in high school when friends’ parents declared Melrose “off-limits.” He’s embarrassed no longer.

“Melrose has that small town feel,” Garcia said. “The poverty has a lot to do with it. People are humble. The Puerto Rican background has a lot to do with it.”

Eight years later, Garcia is a real estate appraiser. He has an eye for demographics and property values. On strolls in Melrose, he takes mental notes: the owner of 386 E. 154th Street redid his or her porch…taxis ply the neighborhood, even at night.

Garcia plans to write about a new resident of E. 162nd Street, a Midwest transplant whose German great grandfather owned a butcher shop in Melrose way back when. The tale appealed to the Mayor of Melrose. No surprise there.

“Melrose is my home,” Garcia said. “My heart is in the Bronx.”

Updated 5:26 pm, October 21, 2011
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