The Transformation of the Peter Cooper Tenements

Leo Bellino and Courtney Masters

Plans for the housing unit that would come to be known as “Stuytown” began in 1942-1943 after the housing shortage following the Great Depression. With a surplus of World War II veterans returning to America, New York City began planning housing units for these middle class families. But in order to create such large housing unit that would spread from 14th to 23rd street and 1st Avenue to the FDR Highway, the city had to displace a large group of people which the NY Times in 1945 referred to as “the greatest and most significant mass movement of families in New York’s history”.

The area had previously been called the “Gashouse district” because of the numerous amounts of gas tanks that had dotted the landscape. But by the 1930s, only 4 tanks were left and the neighborhood was destitute due to affects the Great Depression. The neighborhood consisted of tenement buildings, public schools, churches, and a couple of recently renovated middle-class housing. The move was surprisingly met with little resistance.

The project was completely funded by the corporation Metropolitan Life Insurance. Met Life promoted the new project as an “oasis in the city”, where one could get away from the hectic and chaotic feeling of Manhattan with the multiple parks and greenery located throughout the complex. When the housing project opened its doors in 1947, it originally only allowed non-whites and families to move into the building. In 1950, only 114 people out of the 30,000 residents were African American. E. B. White would have been aware of all these changes happening on the East side of Manhattan. When Here is New York was published in 1948, Stuyvesant Village and the Peter Cooper Tenements doors would have been opened to the white middle class families and veterans returning from World War II. E. B. White would have associated the housing project with middle class families in this oasis in the middle of Manhattan.

E. B. White’s Stuyvesant Village is extremely different than the Stuyvesant Village of today. A newly renovated one bedroom will rent for over $3,000 and the tenets are extremely diversified.

Bibliography and credits

(2006, August 30). Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village: FOR SALE. [Web Log Comment]. Retrieved from

(2011, June 20). The East Side’s long-gone Gas House District. Ephemeral New York: Chronicling an ever-changing city through faded and forgotten artifacts. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

(2011, July 10). Yard of Tenement at Park Avenue and 107th Street in Harlem, 1900. [Web Log Comment]. Retrieved from

(2011, November 4). Saturday 11AM Meeting at the Oval. [Web Log Comment]. Retrieved from

(2011, November 29). World War II Veterans Sought to Share Stories. [Web Log Comment]. Retrieved from

Bryan (2011, August 26). Interested about the history of Stuyvesant Town? [Web Log Comment]. Retrieved from

Bagali, Charles V. (2009). Court Deals Blow to Owners of Apartment Complex. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Building Stuyvesant Town in the 1940s. Ephemeral New York: Chronicling an ever-changing city through faded and forgotten artifacts. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Citizens Housing & Planning Council. Stuyvesant Town History Archives Collection.

Demas, Corinne (2002). Eleven stories high: growing up in Stuyvesant Town (1948-1968). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Geberer, Raanan (2006). The Sale of the Century: Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. The Cooperator. Retrieved from

Jcunneen (2010, September 21). Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village Background from

Murrary, Bill. (Year Uploaded 2010). I’ll Do It All Over Again. Free Music Archive. Retrieved April 1, 2012.

NYPL Digital Gallery. 14th Street (East) – 23rd Street [Stuyvesant Village]. Image ID: 1507797

Troianovski, Anton (2011). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Writing New York: Posts from the Boroughs and Beyond. [Web Log Comment]. Retrieved from

P. 34-35 “The city is literally a composite of tens of thousands of tiny neighborhood units. There are, of course, the big districts and big units: Chelsea and Murray Hill and Gramercy (which are residential units), Harlem (a racial unit), Greenwich Village (a unit dedicated to the arts and other matters), and there is Radio City (a commercial development), Peter Cooper Village (a housing unit), the Medical Center (a sickness unit) and many other sections each of which has some distinguishing characteristic.”


One comment

  1. Rickey

    I was born in Peter Cooper Village over 60 years ago, and lived there the first 7 years of my life. Dad paid $115 a month for a 3 bedroom end unit, where I could look across the street and see the VA from my bedroom. Dad would turn in his grave if he knew what the rental rates are now!

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