Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, a Place that Matters
August 4th, 2009, 2:14 pm
The Amalgamated Housing Cooperative abutting Van Corlandt Park in the Bronx, is the oldest limited-equity housing cooperative in the United States. While it was not the first co-op in the United States, the Amalgamated was nominated to the Census of Places That Matter as an early and enduring model for cooperative housing in New York City throughout the 20th century.
In the late 1920s, population densities in New York City – especially in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods like the Lower East Side – were among the highest in the world and people were looking for alternative housing, often outside of Manhattan.
Already steeped in experience organizing credit unions and business cooperatives, Abraham E. Kazan convinced the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union (ACWU) to fund the construction of working-class, affordable housing in the Bronx. The Amalgamated was designed to provide families with more privacy and humane living conditions than was offered in the city’s tenement districts; the original five-story walk-ups designed by Springsteen and Goldhammer featured apartments with high ceilings, separate entrances, and a spacious shared central courtyard.
Through their shared ownership of the apartments, residents of the Amalgamated forged a strong sense of community that extended beyond the home. The Amalgamated expanded to include a communal grocery, library and nursery. The architect Daniel Liebeskind, who lived in the Amalgamated as a teenager told the New York Times, “[the complex] wasn’t just the architecture…It was also an ethical idea. We formed a community in the real American sense.” This community included the apartments’ financial backers, whose strong commitment allowed the Amalgamated to not only survive the Great Depression, but to construct desperately needed units during it.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, two large towers replaced the majority of the original housing to provide more housing. Today, the Amalgamated houses over a thousand families including some residents who were born there over half a century ago. It is a living testament to the cooperative housing movement and a model for affordable housing today. To read the nomination and new profile for the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, log on to Place Matters. Please tell your friends about these places of history, memory, and culture and invite them to join the Place Matters e-mail list.