How Much Do you Know About Parkchester?

How Much Do you Know About Parkchester?
Parkchester, The Bronx, NY

By Moses Kuwema 

 

I personally will not want to stress you on this broad question, so I have decided to give you, free of charge, a download of the in-to-to of Parkchester. After reading this, you can easily determine how much you knew before reading this text.

Built in the early 1940s Parkchester in the Bronx, remains one of the largest condominium projects in the country.

Construction of Parkchester began back in 1938 by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and by 1940 the south quadrant was completed allowing for the first 500 families to move in as the rest of the development was constructed and completed by 1941 and by 1943 all 12,271 apartments were rented.

Met Life purchased the 129 acre site from the Roman Catholic Church (for the sum of $5 million) which from 1861 until 1938 served as the New York Catholic Protectory—an orphanage for boys and girls. In 1904 there were well over 2,500 children under the care of the Protectory.

Parkchester was and still remains a place where one can shop, work and live without ever having to step foot outside of the development.

In 1941, Macy’s opened its first store in the complex making it the second Macy’s in the world. The complex has its own post office.

It was constructed with over 100 stores and commercial spaces and all 12,271 apartments are spread across 171 buildings the tallest of which are 12 stories and the shortest seven stories.

Divided into four quadrants, Parkchester’s center of life revolves around the Metropolitan Oval or simply ‘The Oval’ which residents know it as. The beautiful landscaped area sits in the middle of the 4 quadrants of development and features a gorgeous water fountain that was designed in 1939 for the World’s Fair by Raymond Granville Barker. During the Holidays, the Oval is also decorated with Christmas trees and lights, making it the perfect destination for people from around the neighborhood.

But not all of Parkchester’s history is pleasant.

When the development opened in 1940, it was a “whites only” development and for 28 years people of color could not rent until Metropolitan Life finally agreed to allow non-whites to rent in 1968. The real shame behind this is the fact that Metropolitan Life Insurance had no problem taking money from African American families and people of color but then went ahead and used those same funds to build a development that would exclude blacks and people of color.

Interestingly enough, shortly after allowing folks of color to rent at Parkchester, Metropolitan Life dumped the development that same year and sold it off to the infamous Helmsley Corporation which then began to convert the rental apartments into condominiums. This led to the creation of Parkchester North and Parkchester South Condominiums.

Converting to condominiums actually wasn’t a bad idea for it created 12,271 units of quite affordable housing for purchase for families at market rates thus allowing people to invest their money into real estate rather than waste away on renting.

75 year old African-American Raymond Smith was among those that managed to purchase an apartment in the neighborhood where he has lived for more than 30 years. 

Smith said Parkchester was now a mixed race community.

"There is alot of mixture now. We have Indians, blacks, Spanish, whites. The rent is lower for one thing, not as high like in other places. It is far reasonable than what you find in other places. As far as the apartment spaces is concerned, it is not ideal because the buildings are very old but its still livable. You can make yourself comfortable," Smith said.

Smith noted that a lot of white folks moved out of the neighborhood during the earlier days.

"As far as I can see, there are blacks folks living here and it hasnt been much of a difference since I came in over 20 years. When I came in, I had a Jewish guy living across the hall from me and there was some white people living here. The living conditions are better now. Back then they did alot of upgrading. Now it well kept and better than it was then. Back in the days we didnt have as much electricity. When I first moved in, we couldnt use air conditioning because it was not there. Gas and light was paid in rent but now we pay it separetely," said Smith who is widowed and lives alone on 2125 and St Raymonds Avenue. 

Another long time African American Parkchester resident who only opted to give his first name as Alfred, said when he moved into the neighborhood over 20 years ago, a lot of white folks were moving out.

"It was a time when Parkchester wanted to do lots of renovations but then, they were selling alot of apartments, so people wanted to buy and have their own condominium. There was a lot of demonstrations by black folks because Parkchester didnt do what they were supposed to do. The people lived here for years and years and never had to pay light and gas. It was never too easy to get apartment. Now people get fed up and decide to sell their apartment. We had so many changes. A lot of people from Europe that were in the neighborhood moved to Florida, Upstate. Security back then was strict. You could not ride bicycles around the oval as you could get a ticket or fine. Someone was selling and i got to pay the price for the apartment. I didnt have to go hunting," narrated Alfred on how he got his apartmernt around the Metropolitan Oval where he lives with his wife of  50 years.