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Inside the Casitas of the South Bronx's Community Gardens

Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. This week, in the latest in a sequence of essays about New York City's vernacular architecture, Kensinger visits the casitas of the Bronx.

The last crops of a bountiful summer are now being collected in the South Bronx, as peach trees, vineyards, and cornfields yield up their final harvests. After a busy season of barbecues, functions, festivals, and lechon, the chill of autumn is approaching, and soon it will be time to go indoors, into the communal warmth of the casitas. Dozens of these one-room structures are scattered across the Bronx, anchoring community gardens in Melrose, Morrisania, Longwood, and Mott Haven, and each has its own complicated history and identity. When considered collectively, however, the Bronx casitas represent one of the most impressive ongoing community rebuilding efforts in New York City. Yet despite their historic importance, they face an uncertain future.

This year's harvest festivals and garden parties have been bittersweet. At the peak of the growing season, the Bronx casitas lost their founding father, Jose "Chema" Soto, who passed away at the end of July at the age of 70. In 1978, Soto built the first Bronx casita in an empty Melrose lot, and the history of each casita in this community can be traced back to "La Casita de Chema" and the communal space he and his friends created around it, the Rincón Criollo. "I was eleven. I went in and watched them build it," recalled Ivette Rivera, one of Soto's daughters. "I was like, 'Daddy's making a clubhouse.' And that's how it started. He made a small casita, but the first one burned down, and after that he built a much bigger one. That was the first one in the Bronx."

Curbed NY has the full story. >>