Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Public Housing Projects

The La Guardia and Wagner Archives at CUNY have a wonderful database of information about the city, especially during the 1930s and 1940s. If you haven't checked it out before, it's highly recommended.

They recently put some photos from their collection on Flickr, and they're fascinating. I was particularly interested in the NY Public House set, which includes images relating to the public housing projects constructed in NYC in the mid-20th century. Many of those projects displaced tenants from their homes, which the government considered sub-standard.

The archive includes a number of pre-development site photos, which are pretty interesting if you never saw the former buildings in person. There are also images of the new construction which provide a good counterpoint to the empty-lot photos and, I think, complicate our notions of what public housing and "slum clearance" projects meant to the city and to the people who lived here then.

Here are some of my favorites from the set:

Here's an arial shot showing the new Lillian Wald and Jacob Riis projects on the East River, along with Sty-Town to the north, from 1949:

An aerial shot of Manhattan that spotlights the newly constructed wall of public housing on the East River -- Lillian Wald and Jacob Riis -- and the middle-class private city at the right, Stuyvesant Town, circa 1949.

Here's a woman in her tenement apartment building in Chelsea, summer 1941. This apartment looks so much like our restored Baldizzi apartment. We probably have the same model washtub (cheapest available):

Tenement kitchen in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, August 26, 1941.

Here's another tenement kitchen, this one on the Lower East Side, in 1945:

Kitchen of a Lower East Side (East Village) tenement that was torn down to clear a 16 acre site for Wald Houses, November 28, 1945.

Here's a look at Orchard and Rivington in 1936. Thankfully this street was never razed:

Rivington is the cross street, but the street with all the pushcarts is unidentified (it is probably Orchard Street), October 28, 1936.

But, these tenements on 4th and D were - they were on the site of the present-day Wald Houses:

East 4th Street and Avenue D on the Lower East Side (East Village), future site of Wald Houses, July 1945.

These also met the wrecking ball (Baruch Houses, 1950):

A tenement being demolished on the Lower East Side for 'phase 2' of Baruch Houses, November 1950.

Stores like this one, on the site of the future Lincoln Center, lost their spaces and the neighborhood clientele who shopped there:

Bee Hive store at 86 Amsterdam Avenue, "5c-10c-19c and up Dep't Store," March 14, 1941. The San Juan Hill neighborhood had a large concentration of African-Americans.

On the other hand, couples like this one found promise in new, clean homes with modern technology, which were in short supply after the war. So much of the city's housing stock was old and deteriorating that new buildings were much appreciated (1947):

NYCHA board member Frank Crosswaith presents Mr. and Mrs. Eddie L. Riley with the key to their new apartment at Lincoln Houses, East Harlem, 1947.

Housing projects like the Red Hook Houses also provided classrooms for immigrants to learn English, like this one below (1940):


A classroom for immigrants learning to speak English probably at Red Hook Houses community center in Brooklyn, September 24, 1940. Is that Hyman Kaplan at the back of the room?

Have a look through the La Guardia and Wagner Archives' Flickr set and let us know which photos strike you the most.

 - posted by kate

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