Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
In 1926, when the tenements of the Lower East Side were overflowing and there was wide recognition of the unhealthy conditions created by such dense living, New York state enacted a new housing law that offered various tax and financing benefits to anyone who would build affordable housing. Developers were bringing in tidy profits with market rate housing and were not over eager to take advantage of the new law’s perks. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), however, saw an opportunity to create housing for their members. The ACWA, founded in 1914 by Sidney Hillman, was already a major progressive force in the nation’s labor unions when it undertook construction of the Amalgamated Houses in the Bronx, located in between Van Cortlandt Park and the Jerome Park Reservoir.
Construction began in 1927 on what would eventually become a complex of eleven apartment buildings, today housing around 1,500 families. The first 303 limited equity tenants moved in in late 1927. Run by the Amalgamated Housing Corporation, founded by Abraham E. Kazan, the new buildings consciously corrected the health and quality of life issues perpetuated in the older tenement buildings.”Pioneering cooperators” found themselves in apartments with ample light and air flow, provided by construction that guaranteed all apartments had views of both the street and a large interior courtyard, eliminating the dark interior rooms of tenement life.
The original buildings were designed by the firm of Springsteen and Goldhammer, architects already known for their garden apartments in the Bronx. Construction covered only 51% of the available lot and the interior gardens were landscaped and criss-crossed with pathways. The photograph to the right shows lush plantings, paths, and a fountain.
Beyond simple lodging, Amalgamated Housing provided (and continues to provide) a community, with newsletters, educational activities, a library, and a supermarket, as shown in the photographs below. The cooperative is still democratically governed by its residents.
Below are photographs of the interior of an apartment.
The buildings along Sedgwick Avenue were destroyed in the 1960s to make way for two high rise towers, completed in 1970. Some of the original Tudor buildings remain on nearby blocks.
This blog post is presented in conjunction with the City Museum’s exhibition, Affordable New York: A Housing Legacy, on view until February 16, 2016. If you or a family member live or lived in the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, please share your memories in the comments section. We look forward to hearing from you!