By Peggy Taylor
It was a Saturday of nostalgia and joy as 300-plus current and former residents of the Amsterdam Houses gathered in their community house and on their shady playgrounds to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the housing complex.
The thirteen buildings were built by the city in 1947 to house 1,084 World War II veterans. The tree-lined campus spreads over nine acres and stretches between West 61st and West 64th Streets, and Amsterdam and West End Avenues.
The Houses were there before ground was broken for Fordham University Law School (1961); before “West Side Story” was filmed (1961); before Lincoln Center was built (1955-69). Rising a modest 6-13 stories tall, they nonetheless dwarfed the surrounding tenements, before they would later be dwarfed by a forest of luxury condominiums, one 52 stories high.
But despite all the changes, despite the gentrification, despite the loss of residents who have moved to other boroughs and other cities, the Amsterdam Houses are still here and this is what residents, current and past, came to celebrate.
Among the celebrants was Robert Johnson, the first Black district attorney in the State of New York and the former district attorney of the Bronx. He told the audience during a ceremony that the highlight of the celebration for him was the walk he would take to 250 West 61st Drive to see the building where he lived for 16 years after his parents moved there when he was one month old.
“The Houses have been part of my life for 74 years,” he said. “I am grateful for their role in making me who I am today, for putting me on the right path. I didn’t achieve what I achieved all by myself.”
Maybe 30 years ago I raised the money & helped build the basketball courts at Amsterdam Houses. I still have the photos from the opening ceremony on my walls. Great day & great people.
As early as 1962 I played basketball in the playground. Thanks for contributing to their replacements.
Hay Barry, do you remember playing stickball with the white chalk on that wall and using a spalding ? OR. How about roller hockey on that Blacktop ?
What a fabulous change to that old playground.
After the army I wound up in Fort Worth Texas in 65.
Wonderful! Thanks for sharing your great connection to the Houses.
How great of you to do so.
Great article and photos! Thank you Peggy for this story of our city.
You’re most welcome!
You’re most welcome. So glad you enjoyed both the article and the photos!
A welcome, positive story!
Great story, Peggy! Don’t miss working but do miss the wonderful people I met along the way. You were always a favorite when I ventured up to the 11th floor. Good to see you’re still doing what you do so well.
Thanks, Jill! Good hearing from you. Glad you liked the article.
Why no mention of the deplorable conditions some of the buildings are in because of the construction that has continued for years? The outside along Amsterdam Ave. looks like a war zone. Construction scaffolding, netting, ruined landscaping, garbage plus the buildings surrounded by netting so any residents left can’t even look out of their windows. The city and the politicians who attended looked so happy. I’d been on the phone immediately to find out what was going on.
No wonder that they only posted photos of the back buildings.
Very interesting to see this. My family lived there from 1947 through 1993. The Amsterdam Houses have contributed their fair share of notables and celebrities to American society.
Very good point, Barry. A very large segment of the projects looks horrible today and I don’t know what’s taking so long to clean it up.. Maybe the trees weren’t as tall and there were definitely no AC units in our windows, but we survived, we loved, we shared and built a strong Foundation for our kids and grandkids. I only wish we could have made all the yearly reunions they have had since the ’60s. God bless our history.