A Successful Experiment in Living The Evolution of Parkchester

Nearly 150 years ago, the grounds of Parkchester in the Bronx served as a shelter for New York City’s homeless children. It was a place where kids could learn a trade and get a second chance. Today, Parkchester is enjoying its own second chance, a revitalization befitting of a place that once served as a model of planned community living.

Comprised of 112 residential buildings spread out over 129 acres, Parkchester today is home to more than 40,000 residents occupying some 8,000 condo and rental units. The community is also home to dozens of retail shops, restaurants and even a multiplex movie theatre.

The Early Days

In the early years of the 20th century, the tract of land bordered by East Tremont Avenue to the north, McGraw Avenue to the south, White Plains Road to the West and Purdy Street and Olmstead Avenue to the east served as the home of a Catholic protectory. Homeless kids, children in trouble with the law and young people whose parents could not afford to feed or clothe them found refuge on its grounds. They learned how to bake or do carpentry or sew, useful skills that would provide them with careers later. “They even had a uniformed band that would play throughout the city,” says Lloyd Ultan, Bronx Borough historian.

The Parkchester came into being through a fluke of legislation. In the 1930s, the New York State government temporarily amended its insurance code, providing a window of opportunity for life insurance companies to invest in rental housing projects. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company leapt at the chance to develop planned communities, the first of which was Parkchester.

The enormous complex—which at the time it was built was the largest housing complex in America—took its name from the communities that bordered it: Park Versailles and Westchester, which was the oldest continuously inhabited area of the Bronx, first settled in 1654. Construction on Parkchester began in 1938 and was completed in 1942, just after the United States entered World War II. The community was designed to be a middle-class city of its own, with shops including the first satellite Macy’s store, which is still there today. “Most new construction at that time was for the wealthy,” Ultan says. “Met Life built Parkchester as an experiment in housing for the middle class.”

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10 Comments

  • I moved into Parkchester in 1942 at the age of 5, and lived there for 11 years. I loved every minute of my growing up there. So much so that I moved back in as a newly wed in 1959, and stayed for another 6 years before the lure of suburban New Jersey pulled me away. I was saddened by the decline of the complex which I saw from a distance and from a few visits back over the years to show my kids where I spent my younger years. I am delighted now to read of its rebound. I wish for the current families living there the rich and positive experience i once had.
  • I moved into Parkchester with my parents and remained there for 20 years. We were the 5th tenant in the complex. I married a girl from there, Ronni Sharaga. I remain in contact with many of my public school friends and former Parkchesterites. It was the best place to grow up.
  • I was born in 1941 right after my parents moved to Parkchester. What a wonderful place to grow up, with the green trees, numerouse playgrounds famous Metropolitan oval and fountains. I lived in a two bedroom apartment but at 12 my parents were offered a beautiful spaceous 3 bedroom apartment with large terrace. I lived there till I was 20 and married and rented my first apartment at $66 a month in 1960. the best part was my sister and her family lived 3 floors above me and my aunt, uncle and cousins lived around the corner and my parents down the block. My parents lived in Parkchester for over 45 years. Fond memories of my youth are all connected with Parkchester and will always hold a special place in my heart. I am ready to retire and the young mother of two children who sits next to me at a prestidges university has just submitted an application for an apartment in Parkchester I hope she and her family can collect fond memories as I have growing up and living in Parkchester.
  • WO1 Martinez, Robert J. on Friday, November 09, 2007 10:42 AM
    The real beauty of parkchester is the the diversity of the "City within the City". I grew up and lived in PC from 1976 up until I joined the Army in 1999. My entire young adult life revolved around the community. I saw all the stages of development in that community and it just gets better and better with time. My mother still lives there Kim Park and she loves it. I have lived in many states and communities since then but none like that of PC. The one thing that I learned through time is the kids that grow up in a community like PC with that diversity are going to be far better off than that of kids from other neighboorhoods. You are able to adapt and work well with people from all over the world with no problem, whereas those who grew up in isolated areas of the US have a harder time, I see it first hand everyday in the Military. I feel blessed to have grown up there.
  • Marcia Geisenheimer Nee Bienen on Saturday, December 01, 2007 2:44 PM
    My parents lived in Parkchester before I was born, I grew up there, it was a good place to spend one's childhood. I remember the beautiful oval with the splended floral arrangements. I had a good childhood . I had fond memories from PS 106, and my childhood Parkchester Friends and neighbors. .
  • Parkchester is great, check out www.parkchesterinfo.com
  • My parents moved from puerto Rico to NY and quickly purchased a condo at 1705 purdy st.I was 2 years of age.I am now 42 and still live in parkchester.40 years in this neighborhood and I love it..I made great friends here and had a healthy childhood living here.go p.c.
  • Moved to Parkchester at age 13. Lived there 28 years, eventually with children of our own. Best place in the Bronx or all of NYC for school-age kids.
  • As a kid I never knew anything else,born in '46 I was taken home to Parkchester. It had good plumbing and great continuous hot water,with nice older guys who rode around on bicycles with their tool boxes in the basket.I left when I was 18 and have never looked back.I live on an acre of land in East Hawaii,the Big Island. As a kid I had these re-occurring night mares where I would hang from the window sill of the 7th floor,and then drop catching the 6th floor sill.It was my great escape,I never made it to the ground and would wake in a cold sweat. My brother to this day looks back nostalgically.He talk about all the kid to play with.To me it is a lesson of things to avoid;I love living in the country .Good luck to those in the old brown and red fortress.
  • Parkchester is a convenient place to live with its renovated Lexington #6 train line, Express bus into Manhattan, great solid apartments, and its affordable rents. Smart thinkers decide on Parkchester.