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.”