Parkchester 75 Years Later: A Brief History of A City Within A City

The fountain at Metropolitan Oval aka The Oval at Parkchester.
The fountain at Metropolitan Oval aka The Oval at Parkchester.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of Parkchester in The Bronx—one of the largest condominium projects in the country today.

As a child I was always fascinated by taking shopping trips with my mother to Macy’s and the many stores there. The architectural elements of the development kept me entertained for hours.

Construction of Parkchester began back in 1938 by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and by 1940 the south quadrant was completed allowing for the first 500 families to move in as the rest of development was constructed and completed by 1941 and by 1943 all 12,271 apartments were rented.

Met Life purchased the 129 acre site from the Roman Catholic Church (for the sum of $5 million) which from 1861 until 1938 served as the New York Catholic Protectory—an orphanage for boys and girls. In 1904 there were well over 2,500 children under the care of the Protectory.

Parkchester was and still remains a place where one can shop, work and live without ever having to step foot outside of the development although most commute outside of the area for employment.

In 1941, Macy’s opened its first store in the complex making it the second Macy’s in the world. The complex has its own post office and up until recently it even had its own movie theater which sadly has been converted to a cheap Marshall’s store.

Macy's opened its second store right here in The Bronx in 1941 at Parkchester.
Macy’s opened its second store right here in The Bronx in 1941 at Parkchester.

It was constructed with over 100 stores and commercial spaces and all 12,271 apartments are spread across 171 buildings the tallest of which are 12 stories and the shortest 7 stories.

Now all of that might sound quite dense but in reality a little over 50% of Parkchester is actually open spaces and recreational areas with the rest dedicated to its roadways and about 27.5% are actually buildings according to Parkchester’s website.

Unlike its sister developments of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan, also built by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company a few years later, Parkchester was built with beautiful architectural embellishments like medallions above entryways into the buildings, and statues both atop the corners of the buildings and below.

One of the dozens if not hundreds of statues you'll find around Parkchester.
One of the dozens if not hundreds of statues you’ll find around Parkchester.

Divided into four quadrants, Parkchester’s center of life revolves around the Metropolitan Oval or simply ‘The Oval’ which residents know it as. The beautiful landscaped area sits in the middle of the 4 quadrants of development and features a gorgeous water fountain that was designed in 1939 for the World’s Fair by Raymond Granville Barker.

But not all of Parkchester’s history is pleasant.

When the development opened in 1940, it was a “whites only” development and for 28 years people of color could not rent until Metropolitan Life finally agreed to allow non-whites to rent in 1968. The real shame behind this is the fact that Metropolitan Life Insurance had no problem taking money from African American families and people of color but then went ahead and used those same funds to build a development that would exclude blacks and people of color.

Interestingly enough, shortly after allowing folks of color to rent at Parkchester, Metropolitan Life dumped the development that same year and sold it off to the infamous Helmsley Corporation which then began to convert the rental apartments into condominiums. This led to the creation of Parkchester North and Parkchester South Condominiums.

Converting to condominiums actually wasn’t a bad idea for it created 12,271 units of quite affordable housing for purchase for families at market rates thus allowing people to invest their money into real estate rather than waste away on renting.

You can still rent an apartment however and rents range from $925 for a studio to $1,800 for a spacious 3 bedroom unit apartment. They also feature what they call the premier collection of apartments which have been updated and rent for a bit more than the average Parkchester apartment.

Studios typically sell for the low $80k and as high as $190s for 2 bedrooms. 3 Bedroom units are harder to come across.

During the early 2000s, I spent a considerable amount of appraising hundreds of apartments as a residential appraiser and got to know every nook and cranny of that place and I never tired of going.

The apartments are quite nice and spacious, comfortably arranged although many of the kitchens and bathrooms back then were pretty dated with very little modernization. Not sure what the situation is now but today’s Parkchester is not what it was when it opened.

Parkchester train station on the 6 line is an express stop during rush hour. In 3 stops when its running express you'll find yourself at 125th and Lexington in Manhattan.
Parkchester train station on the 6 line is an express stop during rush hour. In 3 stops when its running express you’ll find yourself at 125th and Lexington in Manhattan.

Today you walk around and a beautifully integrated community of people from all ethnic backgrounds; white black, Latino, Asian, South Asian, you name it. A beautiful reflection of the people of The Bronx.

Macy’s is still there as is the famous Zaro’s which so many people are addicted to their freshly baked goods and of course Metro Optics is still right where they started in Parkchester—a real Bronx small business success story now with four locations serving Bronxites’ eyewear and eye care needs for almost 40 years.

Next time you’re in Parkchester, remember its history but don’t forget to enjoy the architecture. Look everywhere. Just when you think you’ve seen every medallion and statue, you find one that you didn’t see before.

Click an image below to check out the gallery:

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.