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What Harlem Looked like in 1939

Discussion in 'The Observation Bar' started by commanderbond, Sep 15, 2016.

  1. commanderbond

    commanderbond Familiar Face

    fascinating bit of footage. Just about every adult man and woman is wearing a hat!
  2. Also, a lot of suspenders for the men and almost every woman was wearing a dress (a few skirts, but mainly dresses and I didn't see a single woman in pants).

    And for our neon-sign thread - how fantastic is that "Harlem Sea Food" sign.
  3. Stearmen

    Stearmen I'll Lock Up

    A little sad at the end, watching all the modern apartment complexes being built!
  4. Probably not for the people who were looking forward to having something other than dark rat-infested four-to-a-bed fire-trap Old Law tenements to live in.
  5. ⇧ If I am correct, a lot of those look like housing projects, which were pretty good for their first twenty or so years ('40s and '50s) and, as Lizzie noted, provided a trade up from tenements. Unfortunately, however, after the second half of the '60s, they turned into bleak hell-holes of crime, urban disfunction, lawlessness, drug dealing, family breakdown - essentially, they became symbolic of the post-'60s vicious decline of inner cities.

    Edit Add: And here's the sad thing, in Harlem and in Manhattan, while the neighborhoods around the housing projects have improved - in many cases, the improvement is quite meaningful since the lows of the '70s/'80s - the housing projects themselves haven't experienced the same improvement. The numbers on crime, etc. are still terrible and just walking by them, it looks like all the positive change in the city has just passed them by - they still have that '70s urban dystopian look and feel.
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2016
    EmergencyIan likes this.
  6. The first big wave of public housing in New York was actually in the mid-1930s -- I have a recording of WOR's coverage of the dedication of Hillside Homes in the Bronx, a project which was touted as revolutionary in both its design and its execution, and in his dedicatory remarks, Nathan Strauss Jr.-- the head of the project who would go on to head the city's Housing Authority -- goes on at considerable length in comparing it to the utter filth and squalor that it had replaced.

    People forget that Harlem in the thirties wasn't just jazz and fine tailoring -- it was in fact a hotbed of organized radicalism, with the movement for tenant rights and housing improvement very much in the forefront of those organized campaigns. Rent strikes and similar organized protests were rampant in Harlem thruout the mid-thirties against the predatory practices of tenement landlords, and demanding a government response to the question of inadequate housing for the poor.

    A lot of observers put a lot of the blame for the decline of public housing in New York on Robert Moses, who was both demonstrably racist in the way he laid and administered his various projects, and palpably elitist in his absolute disdain for the city's poor. Even though he was fading out of the scene by the sixties, he had laid much of the groundwork for the attitudes which prevailed in the years that followed.
  7. I have no love for Robert Moses, but I'd say the decline in public housing in NYC was part of whatever multiple factors caused the entire breakdown of the inner city, nation wide (but to be sure, he contributed to it in NCY). And while there were signs of decline before the second half of the '60s, the public data on crime, drug use, family breakdown, etc., all point to the late '60s as the turning point.
  8. EmergencyIan

    EmergencyIan Practically Family

    ^ As Mark says, the inner cities never recovered from "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

    - Ian
  9. Except that this decline was well underway by the early 1950s. The area around the Polo Grounds, in Harlem, where a Moses project was constructed on the side of the old Manhattan Field on 155th Street, was notorious as a hotbed of drugs, violence and crime even while the Giants were still playing there. There was a widespread belief that Moses had arranged matters to deliberately drive the Giants off the site -- either to Yankee Stadium across the Harlem River, or out of New York altogether, by ensuring that the earlier project would not be well-maintained or well-policed.

    Robert Murphy, in his excellent book "After Many A Summer," which deals with the real reasons why the Giants and Dodgers left New York, goes into quite a bit of documented detail about the political manipulations that were going on concerning the Polo Grounds site, which fit into the larger picture of how Moses was manipulating demographic shifts across the city to suit his particular vision for what the city ought to be. I highly recommend Murphy's book for anyone interested in the byzantine world of New York City politics in the 1950s.
    EmergencyIan likes this.
  10. EmergencyIan

    EmergencyIan Practically Family

    ^ Sounds like a great book, Lizzie!

    - Ian
  11. Denton

    Denton One of the Regulars

    I have just been reading Jane Jacobs's last book, Dark Age Ahead, in which she can't help taking a few swipes at her old enemy:

    "Robert Moses, the nearest thing to a dictator with which New York and New Jersey have ever been afflicted (so far), thought of himself as a master builder, and his much diminished corps of admirers still nostalgically recall him as that; but he was a master obliterator."
  12. TimeWarpWife

    TimeWarpWife One of the Regulars

    Nary a pair of underwear hanging out from pants worn around the hips, thong, pajamas, or bedroom shoes in sight - how refreshing. If only people dressed as nice nowadays as the folks in this video. I do get tired of going out somewhere and having to see people's underwear, pajamas, bellies, and other assorted body parts that should be covered up in public. :eek:
  13. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch Practically Family

    Anyone driving into Oklahoma City from any direction notices that the city limit signs appear long before you can even see the city. Some far-sighted city directors made a huge area city property to prevent businesses from fleeing to the suburbs to escape city taxes. Thus OC's downtown never suffered the decline that afflicted most American cities. The businesses stayed put and downtown continued to prosper.
  14. Sort of a digression here, this made me think of the Hill District in Pittsburgh. A thriving, mostly black community, sort of the Iron City's version of Harlem, where one could imagine the young Mary Lou Williams or Billy Strayhorn spending an evening.



    Although Pittsburgh didn't suffer at the hands of postwar urban renewal as much as other cities--they were too busy scraping the soot of of pretty much everything--this particular area was gutted, mostly due to plans for a civic arena that didn't quite work out the way it was trumpeted. Here's a picture of the corner of Centre and Herron in its heyday:


    Here's the Google Map view of the same area today:


    Another typical view of the area:


    The URL for this photo is includes, "August Wilson lived here," citing PGH's famous playwright.

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