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Part Of A Good Idea

I’ve posted quite a few photos from Berenice Abbott’s “Changing New York” project of the mid-1930s, artistcialy showing what was going on in the city’s built environment at that time. Here’s a more prosaic shot, taken by someone working for the city’s Tenement House Department. Some buildings have already been demolished and more would follow. Given New York’s housing shortage for most of the twentieth century, tearing down tenements seems like a bad idea, but unrenovated Old Law tenements were terrible places to live. Presumably the Housing Authority, named on the placard, was supposed to replace these buildings with something better. New York was not yet operating public housing – the first Housing Authority project, the First Houses, wouldn’t open until 1935 – but the idea was obviously there.

I’m not sure what happened at this site. The photo is titled “Demolition in progress: 422-426 E. 35th St.-1st Av, Manhattan” but no public housing was built there. The site currently has an apartment house constructed in the 1980s. And in 1955:

Demolishing the tenements and not building new housing was a net loss, regardless of how bad the conditions were.