Parkchester was conceived by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, as a real estate investment that would provide high quality affordable housing for thousands of New Yorkers. In 1938 Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, (Met Life) purchased a 129-acre plot of land in the Bronx and within that same year began preparing the site for the construction of Parkchester.
Met Life’s plan was to develop a fully landscaped self-contained community with its own shopping centers, restaurants, commercial office spaces for a variety of service providers, a movie theater, a US Post Office, recreational areas, playgrounds, ball fields, gardens, sitting areas, green malls, 5-story ramped parking garages, and its own steam heating plant, all to be attractively integrated among the residential buildings with special attention placed on a design that would maximize and enhance the elements of light, air and space.
For reasons of aesthetics, safety and security Met Life also thought it important to minimize the amount of vehicular traffic that would be able to travel through and within the complex. To achieve this objective only two through boulevards, positioned in an X pattern, and one intersection, at the juncture where the two streets were to cross each other, were planned. In an effort to control vehicular speed levels, it was determined that the intersection would be built as a landscaped traffic circle, known as Metropolitan Oval, which today is the location of one of Parkchester’s most beautiful sitting areas and its hallmark water fountain, originally created by the sculptor Raymond Granville Barker for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. This road design effectively divided the complex into four quadrants, north, south, east and west. Traffic within the quadrants was further controlled by virtue of the fact that most of the roads were built as dead ends and designed for delivery services and parking purposes only.
Upon completion in 1941, Parkchester comprised 12,271 apartments in 171 buildings of varying heights ranging from 7-13 stories, grouped into 51 clusters, and over 100 shopping and commercial spaces. While quite numerous, the buildings then and now occupy only 27.5% of Parkchester’s rolling topography. Remarkably 72.5% of the complex is open space, with 22% covered with major and minor streets and the largest part, 52.5%, made up of landscaped and recreational areas.
By 1943 all of Parkchester’s apartments were fully rented and occupied. Unfortunately at that time only white families were permitted to lease apartments. It wasn’t until July of 1968, when Metropolitan Life signed an “Open Occupancy Pledge” with the Commission on Human Rights, agreeing to modify its renting policies, that non-white families were finally welcomed as tenants. This historic moment marked the beginning of the integration of Parkchester. Shortly thereafter, in September of that same year, Metropolitan Life sold the complex in its entirety, to a syndicate headed by Harry B. Helmsley, who promised to honor the “Open Occupancy Pledge,” enabling Parkchester to evolve into the wonderfully diverse community that it is today.
When the Helmsley syndicate acquired the complex in 1968, it did so with the express intention of sponsoring Parkchester’s conversion to condominium ownership, which was in fact accomplished in two phases. The first phase was completed in 1972 when the Parkchester North Condominium (PNC) was established as per the terms of a non-eviction plan filed with the New York State Department of Law and the apartments in the North Quadrant were converted to condominium ownership. The second phase occurred in 1986 when the Parkchester South Condominium (PSC) was established and all the apartments in the remaining three Quadrants in the South, East and West were converted to condominium ownership.
In 1998 Helmsley sold all 6,362 unsold “Sponsor” owned apartments to Parkchester Preservation Company, L.P. (PPC), a partnership formed by two experienced real estate investor/developers, Morton Olshan and the late Jeremiah O’Connor, and CPC Resources, Inc., a development subsidiary of the Community Preservation Corporation, a not-for-profit lender led by Michael Lappin. With this purchase the legal designation of “Sponsor” was transferred from the Helmsley syndicate to PPC. As soon as the sale was completed PPC started working with the Board of Managers of the two condominiums to get agreement on a multi-million dollar modernization program and a financing plan for funding the major improvements, and Parkchester Preservation Management, LLC, the management arm of PPC, immediately began refurbishing and leasing the vacant “Sponsor” owned apartments to qualified applicants, which it continues to do, on an ongoing basis.
The modernization program, which included new windows, new domestic hot and cold water supply lines and upgraded electrical systems in all 12,271 apartments within the four quadrants of Parkchester, as well as extensive interior and exterior building restorations, rejuvenation of the on-site stores and shops, and a full renovation of the North Ball Field, began in December of 1999 and was completed in March of 2005. Probably one of the most dramatic changes that occurred in the lives of Parkchester residents as a result of the renovation project, was their being allowed to install air conditioners in their apartments if they chose to do so, which was not possible prior to the modernization program because the existing electrical wiring was unable to support such appliances. All told, the cost of Parkchester’s modernization initiative was about $250 million dollars, which included almost $30 million in PPC, (“Sponsor”), funded improvements. While the major renovation project has been completed, upgrades and improvements at Parkchester continue on an ongoing basis as both Condominium Boards, PPC, the “Sponsor,” and its management arm, PPM, are firmly committed to seeing that Parkchester remains the vibrant, welcoming and stable community that it is today.
In addition to underwriting the costs of many of the physical improvements at Parkchester since it became the “Sponsor”, PPC has also been a strong supporter, and contributor to many of the not-for-profit community organizations and civic groups that provide services and programs which benefit Parkchester residents of all ages. Especially noteworthy is its involvement with the Parkchester Enhancement Program for Seniors, (PEP), designed to enhance the lives of Parkchester residents, age 60 and older, and assist them with a variety of different services that will enable them to remain living independently within the community for as long as possible. PPC, PPM, Beth Abraham Health Services, Bronx Jewish Community Council and the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged are the co-founding partners of the program which was started in 2005. PEP is funded by a NORC grant from the NYC Department of the Aging, several small grants from a few other charitable organizations, annual operating subsidies it receives from PPC and the two Condominium Boards and in-kind contributions provided by all four founding partners. PEP operates out of a PPC owned apartment located at 1525 Unionport Rd, Apt. #TE.
In May of 2010 Parkchester celebrated its 70th Anniversary, with a festive gathering of many original tenants who no longer reside at Parkchester, current residents, management staff, non-resident owners, civic leaders and government officials. It was a joyous occasion attended by almost 1,500 people, that marked Parkchester’s uniqueness and resilience as a beautiful, charming, safe and secure oasis of affordable living within New York City’s borough of the Bronx. It was also a great tribute to all of those who labor tirelessly on a daily basis to ensure that Parkchester is maintained and operated to the very highest standards.
Today the residents of Parkchester enjoy many advantages and conveniences. They live in well-built, solidly constructed, fireproof buildings, adorned with whimsical terra cotta sculptures that have now been brought up to modern standards through the renovation program. The apartments have ample living rooms, windowed kitchens, windowed bathrooms, cross ventilation, large foyers and generous closets. Fios and high speed internet connections are available and conveniences abound.
There are more than 100 stores and offices in Parkchester that are within easy walking distance of the apartments. Macy’s opened its first New York City branch in Parkchester and it is still open and operating, having undergone a major renovation. There are medical and dental offices, supermarkets, several banks, bakeries, delicatessens, gift and candy shops, ice cream stores, pizza parlors, shoe shops, clothing shops, laundries, drug stores, beauty and barber shops as well as a first-run multi-screen movie theatre and many restaurants. Public transportation to midtown is fast and easy via the #6 line subway and frequent express buses. It is a wonderful place to call home.