First Houses

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First Houses
First Houses in winter from west.jpg
First Houses is located in New York City
First Houses
First Houses is located in New York
First Houses
First Houses is located in the US
First Houses
Location 29-41 Ave. A & 112-138 E. 3rd St.
Manhattan, New York City
Coordinates 40°43′25″N 73°59′9″W / 40.72361°N 73.98583°W / 40.72361; -73.98583Coordinates: 40°43′25″N 73°59′9″W / 40.72361°N 73.98583°W / 40.72361; -73.98583
Area 1.2 acres (0.49 ha)
Built 1935-36
Architect Frederick L. Ackerman
NRHP Reference # 79001602[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP December 18, 1979
Designated NYCL November 12, 1974

First Houses is a public housing project in Manhattan in New York City and the first such in the United States. First Houses were designated a New York City and National Historic Landmark in 1974. They are managed by the New York City Housing Authority.


The project consists of 122 three-room or four-room apartments in 8 four-story or five-story buildings, and is located on the south side of East 3rd Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, and on the west side of Avenue A between East 2nd and East 3rd Streets.


First Houses take their name from their distinction of being the first public housing units constructed in the United States,[2] opening for the first tenants on December 3, 1935. Victorian-era tenements existed on the site before they were cleared to build the project, which was also the very first project undertaken by the city's new Housing Authority,[2] which completed it in 1936.[2][3]

The project was planned as a gut rehab, with every third tenement building torn down to provide extra light and air,[2] but architect Frederick L. Ackerman and his engineers soon discovered that the 19th century tenements were too fragile to be reconstructed. So they were torn down and First Houses was built from scratch, with a small number of the original foundation supports being used.[4] The project employed re-used bricks and dozens of workers on relief paid for by the federal government. Ackerman designed the apartment buildings with rear entrances and courtyards to allow more light and air than the existing tenements in the neighborhood, and the cobbled open areas behind the buildings provided playgrounds, trees, benches and sculptures for the tenants.[2][3]

A closer look at one of the buildings (2011)

Although First Houses cost far more than anticipated, Housing Authority chairman Langdon Post said it was worth it. "In the first place ... it has taken the question of public housing out of the realm of debate and into the realm of fact. Second, it has established the Authority as an agency for the issuance of slum clearance bonds. Both Vincent Astor and Bernard M. Baruch accepted the Authority’s bonds to cover payments for the land – the first such bonds ever issued. In the third place, it provided an opportunity to test the Authority’s power to condemn land for slum clearance – a test which we won. Fourth, in Mayor La Guardia’s words, it provided us with 'Boondoggling Exhibit A.'"[4]

The test which the Housing Authority won was the right to exercise the powerful tool of eminent domain. The owner of two tenements on East 3rd Street contended that seizing his property, even with compensation, contravened the constitutions of the United States and New York State. The New York State Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, ruled that the Housing Authority could seize private property with these words: "Whenever there arises, in the state, a condition of affairs holding a substantial menace to the public health, safety or general welfare, it becomes the duty of the government to apply whatever power is necessary and appropriate to check it."

See also[edit]



  1. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c d e New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Dolkart, Andrew S. (text); Postal, Matthew A. (text) (2009), Postal, Matthew A., ed., Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.), New York: John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1 , p.68
  3. ^ a b White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot; Leadon, Fran (2010), AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195383867 , p. 202
  4. ^ a b New York Times (November 21, 1935)

External links[edit]