1920s planned community to be heard


Built in the 1920s, Sunnyside Gardens influenced housing development throughout the country. Photo: LPC.

Idealistic planned suburban housing to be considered as historic district. On March 6, 2007, Landmarks voted to consider the potential designation of Sunnyside Gardens, a 600-building complex of one- and two-family homes and multi-family apartment buildings built between 1924 and 1928 in Sunnyside, Queens. Covering almost 16 blocks, only 28 percent of the site contains buildings, and much of the housing is built around large landscaped courtyards. Landmarks also included Sunnyside Park and the Phipps Garden Apartment buildings, added in the early 1930s, within the district’s boundaries.

Designed by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright and developed by the City Housing Corporation, Sunnyside Gardens was the first development to incorporate the planning theories of the Residential Planning Association of America, a progressive planning organization formed by Stein to respond to the nation’s housing crisis and the lack of quality low-income housing. An RPAA member, Alexander Bing, formed the City Housing Corporation as a limited dividend corporation to show that quality lowincome housing could be built while providing a guaranteed six percent return to investors. As one of the first low-density housing projects constructed around significant landscaped open space and designed for the working class, Sunnyside Gardens influenced regional planning throughout the United States.

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney said that consideration of Sunnyside Gardens fulfilled Landmarks’ “charter and cause.” Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz endorsed consideration, emphasizing Sunnyside Gardens’ significance in urban design. Gratz called Sunnyside Gardens a “streetcar suburb,” noting how its construction close to a commercial artery and public transit differed from later suburban development. Lessons from Sunnyside Gardens were lost, Gratz said, as the suburban ideal became a single-family home reachable only by car.

Landmarks voted unanimously to consider the proposed district, but did not set a hearing date. Residents of Sunnyside Gardens and community members are split over the designation, making the final decision controversial.

LPC: Sunnyside Gardens Historic District (LP-2258) (March 6, 2007).

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