“The gas-house district is not a pleasant place in the daytime, much less at night,” explained a 1907 article in Outlook magazine.
That’s partly because the neighborhood, centered in the teens and 20s on the far east side of Manhattan, looked pretty grim: dominated by giant gas storage tanks lining the East River.
The streets didn’t smell so great either, considering that the tanks sprang leaks occasionally.
The grittiness of the Gas House District kept tenement rents low and made it a magnet for poor immigrant Irish in the mid-19th century, then Germans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Armenians by the 1920s.
But it also attracted a bad element. Crime was high, and it was home base of the Gas House Gang, which committed a reported 30 holdups every night on East 18th Street alone around the turn of the century.
Change was coming though. By the 1930s, most of the storage tanks were gone, and the development of the then-East River Drive opened up the ugly streets to development.
Soon, it was deemed the perfect place to put Met Life’s new middle-class housing developments, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.
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 ages.
[Right photo: East 20th Street looking toward First Avenue by Berenice Abbott, 1938]
Tags: Berenice Abbott, building Peter Cooper Village, building Stuyvesant Town, East 20s gas house, gangs of New York 19th century, Gas House District, Gas House Gang, gashouse district New York City, long-gone New York neighborhoods, New York street, poor neighborhoods New York, Stuyvesant Town history