Rochdale Village

Rochdale Village: Robert Moses, 6,000 Families, and New York City's Great Experiment in Integrated Housing

Peter Eisenstadt
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 328
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    Rochdale Village
    Book Description:

    From 1963 to 1965 roughly 6,000 families moved into Rochdale Village, at the time the world's largest housing cooperative, in southeastern Queens, New York. The moderate-income cooperative attracted families from a diverse background, white and black, to what was a predominantly black neighborhood. In its early years, Rochdale was widely hailed as one of the few successful large-scale efforts to create an integrated community in New York City or, for that matter, anywhere in the United States.

    Rochdale was built by the United Housing Foundation. Its president, Abraham Kazan, had been the major builder of low-cost cooperative housing in New York City for decades. His partner in many of these ventures was Robert Moses. Their work together was a marriage of opposites: Kazan's utopian-anarchist strain of social idealism with its roots in the early twentieth century Jewish labor movement combined with Moses's hardheaded, no-nonsense pragmatism.

    Peter Eisenstadt recounts the history of Rochdale Village's first years, from the controversies over its planning, to the civil rights demonstrations at its construction site in 1963, through the late 1970s, tracing the rise and fall of integration in the cooperative. (Today, although Rochdale is no longer integrated, it remains a successful and vibrant cooperative that is a testament to the ideals of its founders and the hard work of its residents.) Rochdale's problems were a microcosm of those of the city as a whole-troubled schools, rising levels of crime, fallout from the disastrous teachers' strike of 1968, and generally heightened racial tensions. By the end of the 1970s few white families remained.

    Drawing on exhaustive archival research, extensive interviews with the planners and residents, and his own childhood experiences growing up in Rochdale Village, Eisenstadt offers an insightful and engaging look at what it was like to live in Rochdale and explores the community's place in the postwar history of America's cities and in the still unfinished quests for racial equality and affordable urban housing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5997-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-20)

    In November 1966 in a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine, the veteran radical journalist Harvey Swados wrote of “the vast confrontation between black and white now taking place not only across the United States but throughout the world.” South Africa had apartheid; the United States had its own version. If the explicit legal proscriptions of Jim Crow were beginning to vanish, the unwritten rules of neighborhood separation and segregation were proving more sturdy, with white and black enclaves “separated by a Gaza Strip or a 17th Parallel,” enforced by the heavy weight of custom, political complicity, and,...

  5. 1. The Utopian: ABRAHAM KAZAN
    (pp. 21-32)

    When Abraham Kazan was nearing the end of his career in the mid-1960s he was in regular contact with many of the most powerful people in New York City and State, including Governor Nelson Rockefeller. After one meeting, Rockefeller was very impressed with Kazan’s business acumen, and his ability to construct and negotiate complex deals. He gave him the highest praise a Rockefeller could bestow. He told Kazan that he “could have gone into private business, and made himself a fortune.” If Kazan was flattered by Rockefeller’s remark, he remained true to his principles. “I am a co-operator,” he replied,...

  6. 2. The Anti-Utopian: ROBERT MOSES
    (pp. 33-43)

    One week before Rochdale Village opened, Robert Moses published a long article about the new cooperative in the Long Island Press, the daily newspaper for southeastern Queens.¹ Moses was proud of what he had wrought on the grounds of the former Jamaica Racetrack, and as usual, he was not one to hide his light under a bushel. Moses’s role in the creation of Rochdale can hardly be overestimated. If Kazan provided the blueprint and the cooperative vision, Moses did almost everything else. Without Moses’s flexing of his political muscle, his complete mastery of the bureaucratic arts, and his unflagging enthusiasm...

  7. 3. The Birth of a Suburb, the Growth of a Ghetto
    (pp. 44-51)

    South Jamaica, before the early twentieth century, enjoyed a somewhat fugitive geographic existence as the southern and less-developed part of the Town of Jamaica. (South Jamaica first made it into the New York Times on August 1, 1853, in a description of a storm with hailstones the size of hens’ eggs.)¹ Early references to South Jamaica often emphasized its rusticity. As late as 1929 there was mention of goings on amid the “woods of South Jamaica.”² These woods were soon to vanish forever. In 1898, with consolidation, Jamaica had become a part of New York City, and with consolidation, Jamaica...

  8. 4. From Horses to Housing
    (pp. 52-67)

    Horses raced at Jamaica Racetrack for fifty-six years, from 1903 to 1959. The track’s primary creator, Timothy “Big Tim” Sullivan, was one of the most powerful and colorful of the leaders of Tammany Hall of his era, one of a long line of Tammany sachems who would also dabble in equine entrepreneurship. Jamaica would remain firmly in the ambit of Tammany throughout its existence. (Generally, if you didn’t like Tammany politics, you didn’t much like horse racing, and for progressives like La Guardia a hatred of both was a natural parlay.)¹

    The Jamaica track never had an impressive physical plant...

  9. 5. Robert Moses and His Path to Integration
    (pp. 68-82)

    I can imagine a common reaction to the previous chapter. Robert Moses, the stalwart champion of integrated housing? What about his role in keeping black tenants out of Stuyvesant Town? And isn’t this the same Robert Moses for whom Robert Caro in The Power Broker included twenty index entries under the heading “Robert Moses, prejudice against poor and non-white,”¹ and whom Caro described as despising “people of color,” as thinking blacks were “dirty,” and as wanting to keep them “in their place”?² The same man for whom a Google search reveals more than half a million hits for “Robert Moses”...

  10. 6. The Fight at the Construction Site
    (pp. 83-105)

    Rochdale Village was a hot news item in the summer of 1963, hitting the front page of the New York Times on several occasions. This was a few months before the first families would move in to the development, but the news coverage was not about the expected opening of the largest housing cooperative in the world, which was dutifully noted that December with a small, perfunctory notice in the paper of record. Rochdale Village was in the news for reasons that had nothing, directly, to do with housing. At its construction site in July, August, and September, thousands of...

  11. 7. Creating Community
    (pp. 106-129)

    A housing cooperative like Rochdale Village was necessarily many things at once: a business, a participatory democracy, and a place to hang your hat, but above all, it had to be a functioning community. Abraham Kazan, for whom Rochdale Village was the culmination of a life’s dream, had no interest in the well-intentioned but short-lived communal efforts that fill the pages of the history of American utopian experiments, prized apart by internal tension and external hostility. His monument was to be cooperatives and utopias that could endure. His faith in the power of cooperatives as a positive social good was...

  12. 8. Integrated Living
    (pp. 130-153)

    In the beginning of 1965, as the final families were moving into Rochdale, Abraham Kazan wrote about what he thought was the most important aspect of the new cooperative. “The most significant achievement of these activities was the bringing about of racial integration at Rochdale Village in a constructive and practical manner. . . . At Rochdale Village, approximately 4,700 white and 1,200 Negro families have jointly built a cooperative-housing development where they intend to live together, and equally enjoy all the benefits that they may expect from this cooperative development.” For Kazan and the UHF, integration in Rochdale wasn’t...

  13. 9. Going to School
    (pp. 154-172)

    When I was beginning to think about this book, one of the things that convinced me to write it was when a former classmate shared with me our fifth-grade class photo, from my first year in Rochdale, 1964–65. There are twenty-eight of us in the picture. I am the little smiling tyke sitting directly behind the sign that informs the world that we are “Public School 30, Queens, 1965, Class 5-302” (see fig. 14, p. 309).

    After studying the photograph, and with a little help from some longtime friends, I have been able to identify almost everyone in it....

  14. 10. The Great Fear and the High-Crime Era
    (pp. 173-190)

    A few months after Rochdale Village opened in December 1963, a new and not particularly proud era in the history of New York City had its defining and emblematic event. On March 13, 1964, in Kew Gardens, Queens, just a few subway stops from Rochdale, Kitty Genovese, coming home late from work, was stabbed by an assailant in a random, remorseless, brutal sex crime and murder. What gave the case instant and lasting notoriety were the news reports that thirty-eight people had heard her screams for help, heard her death throes, and no one came to her aid. (There have...

  15. 11. The 1968 Teachers’ Strike and the Implosion of Integration
    (pp. 191-214)

    Late in the summer of 1968, a group of civic leaders from Rochdale Village sat down with Albert Shanker, the powerful president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Since May of 1968, the UFT had been threatening a citywide strike over teacher transfers in the Ocean Hill–Brownsville community school district, one of three experimental districts in the city that gave the local school boards increased powers to organize and administer their local schools. The sniping between the UFT, whose membership was largely white and predominantly Jewish, and the overwhelmingly African American leadership of the Ocean Hill–Brownsville school...

  16. 12. As Integration Ebbed
    (pp. 215-228)

    In 1973, WNET, the public television station in New York City, had a relatively short-lived news program, The 51st State (a catchphrase popularized in Norman Mailer’s 1969 mayoral bid).¹ The show prided itself on its daring and willingness to flutter the dovecotes of conventional wisdom. On March 22, 1973, they had a program on Rochdale Village, and whether it still deserved its reputation as a showcase for successful integration. If the program was intended to be provocative, it succeeded. The program rather gave away the ending in its title, “A Dream That Failed,” concluding that integration in Rochdale was in...

  17. 13. The Trouble with the Teamsters
    (pp. 229-238)

    It is striking how often Rochdale, created by a consortium of labor unions, the home of many thousands of union members, and dedicated to the proposition that protection of the rights of labor was a core principle of a fair, just, and equitable society, had serious problems with labor unions. Indeed, one can demarcate major transitions in the history of Rochdale by its labor troubles; the controversy over discrimination in the building trades unions at the Rochdale construction site in 1963; the teachers’ strike in 1968 and its aftermath; and in the late 1970s, the bitter strife that accompanied the...

  18. Epilogue: LOOKING BACKWARD
    (pp. 239-252)

    You can’t go home again, I suppose, but you can go back to where you used to live. Rochdale looks great. In many ways, it looks unchanged. The bus from Hillside Avenue has a new number, but it still takes the same route through South Jamaica, past the main branch of the Queens Borough Public Library, a building with innumerable good memories, and down Merrick Boulevard, past Junior High School 8, a building with a different set of memories. The former St. Albans Naval Hospital closed in 1974—I never quite figured out what it was doing in a gritty...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 253-300)
  20. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 301-306)
  21. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 307-310)
  22. Index
    (pp. 311-324)