The eight-decade story of a New York neighborhood
In 1940, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company opened a planned community in the East Bronx, New York. A model of what the neighborhood would become was first displayed to an excited public at the 1939 World’s Fair. Parkchester was celebrated as a “city within a city,” offering many of the attractions and comforts of suburbia, but without the transportation issues that plagued commuters who trekked into New York City every day. This new neighborhood initially constituted a desirable alternative to inner city neighborhoods for white ethnic groups with the means to leave their Depression-era homes. In this bucolic environment within Gotham, the Irish and Italian Catholics, white Protestants and Jews lived together rather harmoniously.
In Parkchester, Jeffrey S. Gurock explains how and why a “get along” spirit prevailed in Parkchester and marked a turning point in ethnic relations in the city.
Gurock is also attuned to, and documents fully, the egregious side to the neighborhood’s early history. Until the late 1960s, Parkchester was off-limits to African Americans and Latinos. He is also sensitive to the processes of integration that took place once the community was opened to all and explains why transition was made without significant turmoil and violence that marked integration in other parts of the city. This eight decade history takes Parkchester’s tale up to the present day and indicates that while the neighborhood is today predominantly African American and Latino, and home to immigrants from all over the world, the spirit of conviviality still prevails on its East Bronx streets.
As a child of Parkchester himself, Gurock couples his critical expertise as leading scholar of New York City’s history with an insider’s insight in producing a thoughtful, nuanced understanding of ethnic and race relations in the city.
""Illuminates important questions regarding housing, ethnic succession, race and community." ~Robert Snyder,Director of American Studies, Rutgers University
"Fascinating … Vintage photos of the neighborhood and its people enhance the narrative, and snippets of interviews and conversations with former and current residents emphasize the story’s human element." ~Foreword Reviews
"Parkchester is a page turner, a history lesson, and a Bronx tale about a community and the various ethnic cultures who reside there." ~Bronx Times
"Parkchester was the largest privately-developed housing project in American history when it opened in the Bronx in 1940. With 171 buildings and 40,000 residents in a well-planned arrangement around a spectacular oval, it has now survived for almost 80 years and continues to stand as a successful attempt to integrate Irish and Italian Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and more recently blacks, Latinos, Bangladeshis, Parkistanis, and Indians into a peaceful environment. And now Jeffrey Gurock has given us a grand book worthy of its exceptional subject. If you ever lived in Parkchester or know anyone who did, you must read this book, which is well-illustrated, well-written, and almost lovingly argued." ~Kenneth T. Jackson,Editor-in-Chief, The Encyclopedia of New York City
The only word to describe Professor Gurock’s book is superb. It is a “no-nonsense” look at Parkchester, with all its contrasts—the “city within a city” that offered the best of city and suburb together, but also the hard years when it saw unfortunate decline; the beauty of the Oval, but the ugliness of racial discrimination in the early years. What comes alive in these pages is that Parkchester had and indeed has what Professor Gurock calls “an enduring get-along spirit,” especially in Jewish-Catholic relations . Is it just a coincidence that a Catholic pastor writes these words in praise of a book written by a Jewish professor? That itself captures the true “Parkchester spirit,” a spirit that continues today as new ethnic groups are welcomed as they make Parkchester the same “special place” that it has been for so many others before them." ~Msgr. Thomas B. Derivan, Former pastor, St. Helena Catholic Church
If you know Parkchester, this is your book because it reminds you of who you are. If you do not know Parkchester, the Professor will enroll you in his class and teach you about this “special place” which is still magic for all of us who call it home.
"Few people know and understand New York City as well as Jeffrey Gurock, and in Parkchester he has again brought his savvy eye and intelligence to bear on an iconic neighborhood. . . . He unflinchingly traces its jagged history as a sedate enclave, one that in its earliest years excluded black Americans. He also chronicles its ethnic and racial transformation in recent decades, revealing both the relative harmony in how its inhabitants grappled with the changeover and episodes when tolerance was limited. The book is a must for anyone interested in the complexity of urban dynamics and for aficionados of New York." ~Joseph Berger, veteran New York Times reporter
"Jeffrey Gurock has done it again! One of our most prolific and insightful ethnic historians has written another gem of a neighborhood study. His well-crafted narrative presents a convincing history of Parkchester’s transition from a whites-only melting pot to a complex and racially diverse alternative to suburbia. Gurock raises significant questions that are persuasively answered by his solid research and clear-eyed analysis. His chapters throb with real life tensions and controversies and finally with lessons about how reason and comity ultimately can prevail over intolerance." ~Thomas Kessner, Distinguished Professor of History, CUNY Graduate Center