Over the past couple years, if you wanted to escape Fordham’s campus and see entertainment ranging from live music to abstract performance art, you really didn’t have a lot of options if you wanted to stick around the off-campus area. At best, you could get to a house party to watch a DJ, maybe two if you were lucky. The “Rabbit Hole” (hidden away on Beaumont and 188th street) was the closest thing the off-campus Fordham community had to a real, visceral live-music experience with actual instrumentation. With the Rabbit Hole’s inactivity over the past few months, there were little to no outputs for undiscovered college/post-grad artists to perform in an outwardly fun off-campus space. But now, a beacon of hope shines through the darkness for the bohemian music goer and performer of the Belmont/Fordham community. Now… there’s the Rex Hall.
The Rex Hall is located above the popular Full Moon Pizzeria on the corner of Arthur Avenue and 187th. Up the stairs now, you walk into the large hall, feel the open space sending the sounds of your footsteps off the walls, up into the ornate gold ceiling and back down to your ears. Hearing a band play in the hall is an experience in and of itself with a truly fantastic sound to offer. Thanks to designer Mitchell Parsons, the space is newly refurbished and active, ready to become what I think will be a majorly popular attraction in the Bronx. After performing a set there myself in October, I was truly blown away by what the venue has to offer. In the midst of dwindling options for music that comes from the commercially unburdened DIY variety, the Rex Hall is something that the artists at Fordham are growing more and more excited about.
The up-and-coming venue’s location in the heart of Little Italy is an important thing notice when one considers the implications and future possibilities for such a promising, beautifully designed concert hall. In fact, there was a small rock show planned during last year (much like the one that I was a part of) that ended up getting shut down very last minute by different entities. The University even demonstrated a link to the off-campus space when, on different social media platforms, officials warned people not to attend. The problem essentially boiled down to the hall’s weight capacity, but Fordham seemed hesitant to let the rock show happen when officials noticed the student buzz surrounding the show.
As it grows with regard to popularity, what will we see happen? Will the caliber and tier of the featured arts climb with the popularity of the venue? Additionally, how might one come to expect the venue’s role in Fordham Universities’ portrayal of the Arthur Avenue “scene” to prospective students and tuition-payers?
As a Fordham student, musician, and really just someone genuinely blown away by the potential of the Rex Hall, I discussed the venue’s mysterious past (as well as its present and future) with the guy behind its recent transformation: Mitchell Parsons. What follows are some of the questions I asked Mitchell, and his replies.
What is the history of the Rex Hall? What purposes has it served to your knowledge?
“From what I’ve learned, the hall has been many things from a wedding/banquet hall, concert venue dance hall, etc., but it has sat vacant for many years to the point where many people in the neighborhood didn’t know it was there. It’s been this large, old, empty, forgotten space hidden away on the 2nd floor of 602 E 187th Street. As was my first experience when I first saw it, people are very surprised at the size of it when they first walk in and that it’s sat there hidden away for so many years, decades.”
When did you first come into contact with the Rex Hall and what steps have you made to re-design the space?
“I first saw the space in May of this year via my good friends Celeste Calabro and Frank Franz whom have been involved with the space for a while now. At that point, it was in shambles with a lot of dust and much needed attention, but a diamond in the rough. It was no stretch of the imagination to see the potential of the place. I have a photography/design/interior design background and education and the hall was a blank canvas ready for some ideas to be applied. The main thing to me was the old tin ceiling. It was impressive even then, but needed new paint. Because it’s such a focal point of the space the color had to be carefully chosen because that would set the precedent for any other color we used there. I wanted the rich copper look not just because I thought it would look incredible, but because it can work with so many other tones. With the walls I didn’t want to use another color after how I saw the way the ceiling came out. The ceiling was clearly the highlight of the place and so I went with white walls. White won’t take away from the ceiling and it lends itself perfectly for many different kind of events from parties to gallery shows.
The floor is the original wood, but newly sanded. It came out better than we expected because it was in such rough shape. The stage had old, dirty carpet on it and I tore that off to reveal a beautiful wood stage. All it needed was a bit of sanding and a coat of paint on the front.”
How do you see the Rex Hall functioning now? What are your plans?
“Rex Hall will be a great concert space for one and we’re excited about a few things that are in the plans for January. We will have gallery shows, film screenings, plays… We want to have some educational, in-house programs for people of all ages. We’ve been held back with getting our Public Assembly Permit, but that’s finally coming through and we’re getting ready to launch things in the new year. We currently have a great Yoga class each Wednesday with instructor, Adrienne McCallister
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqB-FU3J2go) and I have a couple of other people who are interested in bringing some interesting programs to the hall on a weekly basis. Announcements will be coming soon.”
What are your hopes for the Rex Hall in terms of the Bronx community as well as the Fordham Community? How do you see it serving to benefit both communities and what are problems you expect to come across?
“There are lots of pluses with a few negatives to overcome, but all they need is time. One is that the hall is a new space. It’s unknown to most of the community, but that’s changing with each new thing we do there. The feedback has been very positive. People love the place when they get to see it. We still have things we want to fix or change with it, but that will come in time. It takes money and being a non-profit we rely on income from events and donations. We wanted to get it to the point of being a working space, but to make any further, major changes we need the money. What’s really great is the community that surrounds us. In the Belmont community/Bronx Little Italy we have excellent, world-renowned restaurants and businesses. The Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens are only blocks away.
With Fordham University being here it’s been great to meet and work with some of the Fordham students on events. I’ve been in regular contact with Lee Hayden and Luke McCanna and have already organized a small rock show with them. They’ve consistently been great to deal with. I’m hoping Rex Hall will be a space where the students will feel at home with their creative ideas and events. They’ve been very supportive and we definitely want to support them back.
This hall can be a launching pad for the creative voices in the community while at the same time it can be a place where events that wouldn’t have come to this community in the past become a regular thing. We’d love to build a community around Rex Hall that consists of people from all the boroughs.”
Have there been any problems in the Rex Hall’s linkage to the University? What kinds of things do you think were at play in last year’s shutting down of a show last minute?
“I wasn’t involved with the hall at the time of last year’s event shut down. My best guess is that it was the product of a little miscommunication. Rex Hall can and will be a fantastic selling point for this community for anyone concerned with that. It’s nothing but a plus and I hope everyone sees it that way. Our long term mission is to bring quality, cultural events to the community. To be a destination point for artists of all kinds from all over, not just the Bronx. We’re proud of our community and we hope that feeling will be mutual. I hope and think that this community or even people outside the community will see Rex Hall as something new and something great. I think they will. I hope we make them proud.”