Over the last several months NY1 has been traveling back in time with the help of the Museum of the City of New York, examining historical events throughout the city. This week, with additional help from the Bronx Historical Society, the station looks back at the the largest housing development of its time.
Irene Horowitz, 97, has lived in Parkchester since 1940, the year the development first opened – meaning she has spent 70 years in the same apartment.
"From the very first minute, I loved it,” Horowitz said. “I loved it very much."
Construction on Parkchester in the Bronx started in 1938. With more than 12,000 apartments, it was built as a city within a city. Families wanted desperately to live the American dream here.
Maretta Krista, 93, signed her lease before her building was up. Thinking about it, brings tears to her eyes.
"We came up to find our building. There was no building here. There was just mud and planks,” recalled Krista.
She and her husband happily moved in when the property was completed. The rent was $56 a month.
Parkchester had many restaurants and stores including Macy's, which remains here today. There was also the Loews American Theater, which is still around, as well.
"We had such wonderful neighbors," said Krista. "And, you know, everyone was young then. We were all new couples in this place. We had parties every month."
With so many great memories, the Bronx County Historical Society reached into its archives and currently has an exhibit on Parkchester.
"After World War II with the baby boom, a lot of kids starting coming into Parkchester,” explains Angel Hernandez of the Bronx County Historical Society. “So a lot of playgrounds, basketball courts, recreational centers."
Many of these same amenities make the development attractive to the 45,000 current residents.
These days, Parkchester is a melting pot, with people from different ethnic backgrounds living here. But, that was not always the case.
"Blacks were just ordinarily refused any consideration at all for apartments in the area,” said Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan. “It wasn't until the civil rights revolution occurred that Metropolitan Life Insurance Company opened it up to blacks."
Met Life owned the development at that point. Current Bronx resident Sara Joseph remembers being turned away.
"'Oh we don't have anything available that we can talk to you about right now,'” Joseph said she was told. “I said, 'Oh, I know this guy is giving me the story.' I knew he was giving me a story. I never went back. I never went back."
After the 1960s, Parkchester was integrated. Today it is a rainbow of color.
Irene Horowitz says she enjoys the diversity.
"I see people from every nationality and they said, ‘You know, you remind me of my mother,’” said Horowitz. “So I say, ‘Did you love your mother?’ I want to make sure."
A Glimpse Of The Old Bronx View a gallery of past times in the Bronx, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York, and the Bronx Historical Society.
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