The Legacy of San Juan Hill – Not Pretty!

The New York Times ran a story by James Barron on February 15, 2023, “Before Lincoln Center, San Juan Hill was a Vibrant Black Community.”

The article focused on an established and vibrant neighborhood that was razed for Lincoln Center in Manhattan.

Seven thousand families and 800 businesses were displaced by urban renewal. The name of the neighborhood was thought to have been a tribute to the Black cavalry unit that fought in the battle of San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War in 1898.  San Juan Hill was an incredibly cosmopolitan community and became the city’s largest Black community.  Historian Marcy Sacks wrote that “racial intolerance among Manhattan’s white residents grew in tandem with the increase in the number of Black residents.”

“Increased harassment by whites” drove Black people “into ever-more-limited residential spaces,” Sacks wrote, making San Juan Hill “one of the most congested neighborhoods in New York.”

The Lincoln Center complex took shape after the Mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance, led by Robert Moses, announced that San Juan Hill and the adjacent Lincoln Square area were a blighted slum that demanded urban renewal.

“Lincoln Center was the shining ornament of a large, gritty slum clearance and redevelopment program that promised to revitalize the city’s traditional urban fabric by destroying whole sections of it,” the architectural survey “New York 1960: Architecture and Urbanism between the Second World War and the Bicentennial” concluded.  Robert A. Caro, in “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” wrote that “Moses was not making a pretense of creating new homes for the families displaced; to replace the 7,000 low-income apartments being destroyed, 4,400 new ones were planned – 4,000 of them luxury apartments.

Posted in Blight, Condemnation, Racial Prejudice, Urban Renewal

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