New Book Highlights Yorkville’s Historic Developments and Immigrant Roots

Shaped by Immigrants: A History of Yorkville book cover. Image credit: FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts

The illustrative book displays the rich architecture and neighborhood’s character. On November 7, 2018, FRIENDS of the Upper Side Historic Districts, a not-for-profit membership organization, will release Shaped by Immigrants: A History of Yorkville. Shaped by Immigrants: A History of Yorkville chronicles the history of development in the Yorkville neighborhood in Manhattan through the 19th and early 20th centuries, which was home to Czechoslovakian, German, Hungarian, Irish, and other immigrant groups. Their settlement is described to have had a “lasting imprint” in Yorkville’s architecture, culture, and character as it was “where immigrants lived, worked, shopped, and prayed.”

Shaped by Immigrants: A History of Yorkville was researched and written by FRIENDS. FRIENDS was founded in 1982 as an organization dedicated to preserving the architectural legacy, livability, and sense of place of the Upper East Side.

The book provides historical research and photographs from various institutional archives in the City, which are placed alongside contemporary photographs of the neighborhood to show the progression throughout the years.  Council Member Ben Kallos and the Department of Cultural Affairs provided funding for the project.

St. Joseph’s Church, 420 East 87th Street, constructed to serve the growing German population of Yorkville. Image credit: TRIX ROSEN PHOTOGRAPHY, LTD.

One of the buildings showcased in the book is St. Joseph’s Church. After the Civil War, the large German Catholic population who settled here did not have a church of its own until 1873 when a German delegation from Yorkville approached the Jesuits of St. Lawrence O’Toole Church and asked to be provided a German-speaking priest. The following year a “modest brick church” was built, making St. Joseph’s the mother church of Yorkville. A new church, which stands now, was built in 1894-95 in the Romanesque Revival style with stained glass windows. The decline of the German population in Yorkville began in the 1970’s, but the parish still holds about 700 parishioners and the Church holds a monthly mass in German.

Another showcased piece of architecture is the Cherokee Apartments, four interconnected sex-story buildings. Originally called the East River Homes, the development was built in 1912 for the purpose of housing those suffering from tuberculosis. The development was conceived by Dr. Henry L. Shively, head of the tuberculosis clinic at Presbyterian Hospital, funded by Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt Sr. (née Anne Harriman), and designed by Henry Atterbury Smith. The designs included concrete floors and areas with significant air and light, which were crucial for providing safe, comfortable, and sanitary environments for tuberculosis sufferers. On July 5, 1985, the New York City Housing Preservation Commission designated the property as an official landmark, citing the development’s well-known role in the fight against tuberculosis

The Cherokee Apartments, at Cherokee Place and East 78th Street. Image credit: TRIX ROSEN PHOTOGRAPHY, LTD.

and its distinctive architectural features. In 1923, the buildings were sold to the City and Suburban Homes Company and the apartment interiors were redesigned.

Shaped by Immigrants is the culmination of a multi-year effort to research and document Yorkville that has been central to FRIENDS’ advocacy in the neighborhood. The book and film build on foundational research completed by a volunteer survey effort as well as several cohorts of graduate students in historic preservation at Columbia University. With this project, we hope to celebrate Yorkville’s singular sense of place and bring to light the lasting impact of its immigrant residents,” said Franny Eberhart, President of FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts.

“I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of Shaped by Immigrants. As a lifelong Upper East Side resident, I know firsthand the role immigrants have played in shaping this neighborhood. FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts has done excellent work to get this book published and I am grateful to have been able to support this effort to tell our community’s rich history,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents Yorkville and the Upper East Side.

Shaped by Immigrants: A History of Yorkville will be for sale for $30 beginning November 7, 2018, at a launch event at the National Society of Colonial Dames, 215 East 71st Street, and online thereafter here. The three-part mini documentary film will also be available online.


By: Samantha Albanese. (Samantha Albanese is a CityLaw intern, and a New York Law School student, Class of 2019).


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