Building Stuyvesant Town: The housing solution that became an emblem of the Jim Crow North

EPISODE 303 The residential complexes Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, built in the late 1940s, incorporating thousands of apartments within a manicured ‘campus’ on the east side, seemed to provide the perfect solution for New York City’s 20th century housing woes.

For Robert Moses, it provided a reason to clear out an unpleasant neighborhood of dilapidated tenements and filthy gas tanks. For the insurance company Metropolitan Life, the city’s partner in constructing these complexes, it represented both a profit opportunity and a way to improve the lives of middle class New Yorkers.

It would be a home for returning World War II veterans and a new mode of living for young families.

As long as you were white.

In the spring of 1943, just a day before the project was approved by the city, Met Life’s president Frederick H. Ecker brazenly declared their housing policy: “Negros and whites don’t mix. Perhaps they will in a hundred years, but not now.”

What followed was a nine year battle, centered in the ‘walled fortress’ of Stuy Town, against deeply ingrained housing discrimination policies in New York City. African-American activists waged a legal battle against Met Life, representing veterans returning from the battlefields of World War II.

But some of the loudest cries of resistance came from the residents of Stuy Town itself, waging a war from their very homes against racial discrimination.


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Greg and Tom continue their conversation about the origins of Stuyvesant Town.

1) The critical response to Stuy Town’s uniform design was, shall we say, extreme.
2) In the wake of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the U.S. Department of Justice cracked down on the discrimination policies of two major New York City housing developers — one with the name of Trump.

A view on the old Gas House District. (Read more about it here.)

Berenice Abbott / Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The end of the Gas House District — a view of urban renewal, 1946.

he corner of 14th Street and Avenue A, March 1946. Courtesy NYC Urbanism

Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village, nearly complete, 1948.

From the collection of Robert Beacham, courtesy NYC Urbanism. Visit their website for more striking views of the Stuy Town/Peter Cooper Village development.

A view of the Lower East Side in 1952.

From the Communist Party newspaper the Daily Worker:

Raphael Hendrix with her neighbors at Stuy Towy. Courtesy Getty Images — 8/11/1949

Lee Lorch was profiled in the Times back in 2010.

Lee Lorch with family, 1949. Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

From the 1950s housing brochure for Stuyvesant Town:


You can’t tell this story without knowing a little something about one of its central characters — Robert Moses

The Bronx Is Burning: For another perspective on Moses and the city’s destructive ‘urban renewal’ urges, check out the third part of our Bronx series.

Hotel Theresa: Evidence of New York’s Jim Crow policies were even on display in Harlem as demonstrated by the early years of this treasured landmark.


Eleven Stories High: Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town by Corinne Demas

A History of Housing in New York City by Richard Plunz

Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York by Samuel Zipp

Other People’s Money: Inside the Housing Crisis and the Demise of the Greatest Real Estate Deal Ever Made  by Charles V. Bagli

Priced Out: Stuyvesant Town and the Loss of Middle-Class Neighborhoods by Rachael A. Woldoff, Lisa M. Morrison and Michael R. Glass

Stuyvesant Town U.S.A. by Arthur Simon


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