gas house district-stuy town-manhattan-nyc-untapped citiesEast 20th Street facing east towards 1st Avenue in 1938 with two huge gas holders in the distance. Image via Wikimedia Commons from New York Public Library

Before the housing complex we’re familiar with in Stuyvesant Town was built, the area was formerly known as the Gas House District, named because of the two giant, circular gas storage tanks, or “gashouses.” In the late 19th and early 20th century, this Gas House District was a cheap place to live, with tenement prices being very low, as a result, it was a  magnet for poor immigrants coming in from Ireland in the mid-19th century, and then Germans, Easter Europeans, Italians and Armenians by the 1920s. 

The area was very poor, and much like other sections of the city where poor immigrants lived, the conditions were squalid. The area looked bad, smelled bad because if frequent gas leaks, and had a very high crime rate as the home of the Gas House Gang. The gang reportedly committed 30 holdups every night on 18th street alone. Not to mention there was an added danger of living near gas tanks. In 1898, one collapsed, killing three and severely injuring 13.  Needless to say, this was not an ideal place to live, still it was all some could afford.

By the 1930s it was clear some change was in order. The gas storage tanks had been dismantled, and the development of FDR Drive on the East River opened up the streets. Soon, following the end of World War II, there was a desperate need for housing. Enter the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The company purchased and set up Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, the private residential development known today as “Stuy Town.”

Stuyvesant Town-NYC-Aerial-NYonAir-UntappedCities_Bhushan mondkarStuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village

The razing of the old tenements caused a mass relocation of immigrants, as only about 3% of the Gas House District residents would be able to afford the Stuy Town rent. Rent in the Gas House District was only half of what Stuy Town would cost. Following unsuccessful protests, but the project, pitched as an urban renewal was too good of an offer to refuse. The first building opened in 1947.

In 2015, MetLife sold the complex to the Blackstone Group, a Wall Street Investment firm, for $5.3 billion. When word got out that the area was up for sale, many residents feared eviction and worried about increasing rent prices. But as the sale concluded, Blackstone Group made a deal with Mayor De Blasio to keep 5,000 units within financial reach for the city’s working people.

Next, check out NYC Then & Now: From Pushcarts to Trendy Boutiques on the Lower East Side

 Bill de Blasio, immigration, Metropolitan Life Building, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, vintage photos, wall street

One Response
  1. The last paragraph of your story is wholly untrue. The complex was sold to Tishman Speyer Realty in 2006, and they defaulted on their loans and ultimately walked away from the deal. The bondholders were left holding the bag, and after much hand wringing and negotiation, the debt was assumed by Blackstone in 2015.

    There was NO fear of eviction by the residents because the complex is regulated under the NY State Rent Stabilization Laws which gives residents the right to renewal leases, and under the terms of a lawsuit settlement (The Roberts Litigation), even many apartments that were renovated and taken out of Stabilization were brought back under the RS rules.

    However, the DeBlasio “deal” to preserve 5000 apartments as “affordable” are hardly so, as they’re based on a very high median income. If you are fortunate enough to secure one of them through the lottery, your rent will be considerable, but somewhat under market rent. The real story is how the NY real estate lobby (REBNY) has weakened the stabilization laws so badly that they have created loopholes that allow all landlords to churn apartment leases under dubious circumstances and play fast and loose with their reported renovation costs, and ultimately remove many apartments from Rent Stabilization entirely. Stuyvesant Town will continue to lose stabilized apartments when those Roberts restrictions expire in 2020, and will no longer be a home for many middle class New Yorkers going forward.

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