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Bronx Walk in Search of Fame (hint: look up)

Bronx Walk of Fame signs on Grand Concourse

Bronx Walk of Fame signs on Grand Concourse (Photo by Ian Thomson/Bronx Ink)

While Hollywood’s Walk of Fame is known around the world, few people have heard of the Bronx counterpart, which stretches south along the Grand Concourse from 161st Street to 140th Street. Even many Bronxites, it seems, are unaware of the tourist attraction hovering from the street lights above their heads.

“I’ve never heard of it, and I pass here a lot,” said Louis Gonzalez, a resident of nearby High Bridge, as he waited for a bus outside the Bronx County Building — the very spot where the walk begins.

On May 23, the borough hosts its 14th annual induction ceremony where four Bronx-born public figures will see their names go up on signs as they join 82 existing inductees recognized for their lifetime achievements. Singer Jerry Vale, flautist Joanie Madden, former Congressman Herman Badillo and magazine founder Edward Lewis will be honored at the event, after which the quartet will serve as grand marshals for a parade along Mosholu Parkway to mark the end of Bronx Week 2010.

Doris Quinones, executive director of the Bronx Tourism Council, describes the ceremony as a “great Bronx Week tradition” that bestows the borough’s highest honor upon the inductees. Ruben Diaz Jr., the borough president, will unveil four signs to be placed on street lights at the intersection of Grand Concourse and 161st Street for one year before they are moved to a permanent place along the walk’s lengthening route.

This year’s additions will join a list including high-profile names like boxer Jake LaMotta, the subject of the Robert De Niro film “Raging Bull,” singer Luther Vandross, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

According to Quinones, of the Bronx Tourism Council, the president had pushed for changes to this year’s Bronx Week to increase the involvement of the local community. The May date, one month earlier than in previous years, allows children from more than 80 local schools to take part in the final day’s parade and help to raise awareness of an event that aims to celebrate the borough’s multicultural identity.

“The four inductees are such a beautiful reflection of the diversity of the Bronx,” Quinones said. “We place the signs high up for everyone to see and look up to.”

Still, it appears that many locals have yet to notice. Monique Clarke, a nurse at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, said she had never heard of the Bronx Walk of Fame despite living in the borough for her entire life. She laughed when the signs above her were brought to her attention.

“I didn’t even look up,” said Clarke, before offering her advice on how the walk could generate greater interest. “Al Pacino’s from the Bronx. They need to put him in there.” Pacino spent part of his childhood in the South Bronx.

The walk and other Bronx attractions are beginning to gather more attention, Quinones said.  “Writers are making reference to it,” she said. “They’re telling travelers to leave Manhattan otherwise you miss out on what the real New York is about. There are a growing number of people coming up to the Bronx.”

Out in the plaza on East 161st Street opposite Quinones’ office window, Dutch tourists Ilse Van Der Lei and Maike Kroese were reading their New York City guidebook and contemplating their next move. The two girls, visiting the city on vacation from Amsterdam in the Netherlands, said they wanted to escape from Manhattan to see New York’s other neighborhoods, but they too were unaware that the Walk of Fame started a few yards away from where they sat.

“It sounds like a good idea,” Van Der Lei said. “They should put it in Lonely Planet.”

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