Building Stuyvesant Town in the 1940s

In early 1945, more than 3,000 families moved out of the 600 or so old tenement buildings (such as these at left) between East 14th and 23rd Streets.

Everything on those blocks—including the tenements, two schools, three churches, and two theaters—was razed.

Within a few years they were replaced by the 9,000-apartment Stuyvesant Town, opened in 1947. 

Village writer Dawn Powell chronicles the former Gas House District and the building of Stuy Town (looking like legos in the NYPL photo below) in her diary:

“October 19 [1947]: Walking over to the East River Drive with Joe at night in rainy mist, seeing new houses of Stuyvesant Village rear up against old tenements, new stylish drive cutting through old streets, then the huge power plant—dark, oppressive, like a medieval forge—on to East River Park Drive. Silent boats and tugs gliding along, a body of man in doorway.”

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14 Responses to “Building Stuyvesant Town in the 1940s”

  1. Boris Says:

    I have to say, Stuyvesant Town is urban renewal done right. Why? Because the buildings are not crazily tall, and because the open space previously broken up into individual back yards, as shown in the top photo, was unified to serve the entire population of the area. This is a much more efficient use of expensive Manhattan real estate.

    In much of the city, the last 50 years have actually brought the reverse trend, by encouraging either small private yards behind single family homes (since it is illegal to build densely on so much of the city’s area now, and shared uses are discouraged) or “towers in the park”, which plops anonymous skyscrapers into seas of concrete (parking or institutional pedestrian plazas).

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I agree with you about the open space. But I’ve always wondered how safe the open space between buildings is, particularly after dark. Some of those paths and walkways seem sketchy at night.

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    In the early 50s, newly arrived from war torn Europe, my mother took my sister and I to the playground in Stuy Town. I don’t know what words were exchanged by my mother, looking like a refugee, and those finely dressed women of 1st Avenue but I do recall my mother stalking off from Stuy Town and never wanting to go there anymore. But looking back, I don’t blame her one bit. My experience with the uppity tenants there made the low lifes seem so much better, as they were too.

  4. Mr. J Says:

    I must say, I can’t disagree with you more Boris. For starters, this is a prime example of towers in the park. This is the Corbusiean cruciform towers in it’s purest form.

    Open space is only as good as it is defined. This open space is undefined, bleeding space. It’s not big enough to play any kind of sports game…and not small enough to be cozy. It isn’t only useless, it’s damaging to the streets around it.

    The shape of the towers purposefully, and successfully, destroy the “urban room” that makes up the fabric of the rest of the city (and every good city in the world, big or small)….and it doesn’t allow for good mixed use to sustain a fully functioning neighborhood.

    Not to mention it rips up streets, reducing the number of vital intersections……the “corners” that are the heart of a neighborhood.

    Stuy Town is a black hole in the urban fabric of Manhattan.

    • adrastos Says:

      I agree.

      It ruins the street grid, which I think is better.

      then all the trees inbetween the buildings block light and air from the apartments, making it unsafe at night to walk.

  5. Nabe News: June 2 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] when Stuy Town was first built, circa 1947 [Ephemeral […]

  6. Building Stuyvesant Town in the 1940s (via Ephemeral New York) « As it happens Says:

    […] In early 1945, more than 3,000 families moved out of the 600 or so old tenement buildings (such as these at left) between East 14th and 23rd Streets. Everything on those blocks—including the tenements, two schools, three churches, and two theaters—was razed. Within a few years they were replaced by the 9,000-apartment Stuyvesant Town, opened in 1947.  Village writer Dawn Powell chronicles the former Gas House District and the building of Stuy Tow … Read More […]

  7. Joly Says:

    @Mr. J: Couldn’t agree more!

  8. Strange names for some city playgrounds « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] goes back to when this area was part of the old Gas House District and Tammany Hall ruled Manhattan […]

  9. The East Side’s long-gone Gas House District « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] in 1945, 3,000 families were moved out of the Gas House District, their homes bulldozed. By 1947, the neighborhood was paved over and lost to the […]

  10. Marilyn (Mikitovitz) Michaels Says:

    I lived on Avenue B & 17th Street in the early 40s and my father had a grocery store on 15th Street and Avenue B. That area is always referred historically as a slum,l but I remembered it as a neighborhood of people. Probably it was rough, but not to children. We were quite protected even though we had our freedom. I have always detested Stuyvesant Town and what it has done to NYC. I guess it is true that NYC changes with each genetration and each feels their NY was better, more livable. I wish we had Jane Jacobs back again with her wisdom and power.Does anyone else have pictures or memories of that street?

  11. Katie perry Says:

    I lived in Stuy Town for 35 years. Went to Beth Israel Hospital Nursing school, graduated moved across the street to S Town and worked at BI. Best years of my life. I had a great 2 bedroom apt on the corner of Ave C and E 18th St..top floor. Great memories of parties, grad school, engagements weddings and babies there.

  12. Peter Stuyvesant’s last descendant died in 1953 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] schools, apartment complexes, statues—you can’t escape the Stuyvesant name in New York […]

  13. Peter Stuyvesant’s last descendant died in 1953 ⋆ New York city blog Says:

    […] schools, apartment complexes, statues—you can’t escape the Stuyvesant name in New York […]

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