A fine example of the handsome, gracious apartment buildings which lined the streets of the neighborhood. It was possible for those of limited means to find a small apartment, while there were large apartments for more affluent people. The neighborhood thus had a naturally occurring mix of economic situations, the kind of situation contemporary planners in public housing attempt to achieve artificially with mixes of owned units plus subsidized housing.
I think that was only possible because of the huge stock of good quality apartments that neighborhoods like South Shore or Hyde Park had from an earlier time, a stock unlike anything I have observed in many other cities over the years.
The last time I visted the old neighborhood, during the mid-1980s, I was surprised and pleased that the pleasant and graceful streets of apartment buildings mostly looked good. The notable change was black iron gates in front of many of them, something which didn’t exist in the 1950/60s, a reflection of soaring crime rates.
In the 1950s, every yard and courtyard and gangway was part of our urban playground. More than once we did things like building a snowman at another building where the snow was more favorable or run and hide somewhere around a building while friends tried to find you.
Many of these apartment buildings have been converted to condos, which in the long term is good since people preserve and care for what they own.
The good condition was not true of all the streets and buildings. There were buildings with boarded windows on some streets (I’ve chosen not to include any images of that nature). Also the modest individual homes on streets, say, from about Kingston Avenue going east are in bad condition, and some have disappeared entirely.
My old good friend Preston Uney’s house on Kingston just south of 79th, for example, had suffered a fire and had part of the roof missing. I noted recently on Google Earth that it had disappeared entirely for a parking lot.
Commercial streets – 71st, 75th, and 79th – were depressing, much like war-savaged zones with relatively few stores, home-made signs, store-front churches, iron grills over fronts, plus plenty of empty lots like missing teeth in a smile.
Even today, if you look at Google Earth or at some commercial real estate offerings on the Internet, you will see that the commercial streets have never recovered. Many fine old commercial buildings have been torn down to be replaced by the kind of ugly, cheaply constructed units you might find in far-flung suburbs. Others have simply rotted into slums. Haphazard-looking parking lots are in scores of lots where buildings used to be.