1. Harlem River Houses

“Large sculpture of two bears playing: Harlem River Housing Project: New York NY: by Heinz Warneke,” ca. 1937. Via Wikimedia Commons, photo from National Archives and Records Administration

The City and Federal governments completed the Harlem River Houses in 1937 after a 1935 riot focused attention on Harlem€™’s housing shortage. It was designed by a team of architects including John Louis Wilson, Jr., the first African-American architecture graduate of Columbia University.

Along with the Williamsburg Houses built at the same time, the Harlem River Houses were the the first federally-funded public housing in the country. Reflecting the segregated times, the Harlem River Houses were explicitly for black residents only.

Similar to other pre-war apartment houses, the mid-rise 4 and 5-story buildings face onto the streets and the development includes interior courtyards. The site also features artwork, including sculptures.

But, as a harbinger of things to come, the Modernist-style Harlem River Houses are essentially brick boxes with a €œsuper-block€ plan that interrupted the street grid. After World War II, these elements would be combined with larger buildings in tower-in-the-park configurations for many public housing projects. One era was ending and a new would soon dawn.

The Harlem River Houses are currently undergoing a major rehabilitation project

Next, read about pre-war apartment house gems of Washington Heights and the South Bronx, and top ten secrets of The Dakota.