Seward Park Urban Renewal Area
The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) is an area on Manhattan's Lower East Side south of Delancey Street by the entrance to the Williamsburg bridge. The area was declared "blighted" and cleared in 1967, but as of this writing forty years later, five parcels remain undeveloped, with four of them being used for parking lots. These blocks and the controversy they still inspire serve as a sad postscript to a misguided era of massive Federal urban renewal projects in the mid 20th century.
Numerous proposals for the site have come and gone over the years, with housing advocates pushing for low-cost housing and area co-op owners attempting to attract upscale development that will increase the value of their property.
The undeveloped area consists of four blocks of parking lots bounded on the north by Delancey Street, on the south by Broome Street, on the west by Essex Street and on the east by Clinton Street.
There is an additional "undeveloped" block south of Broome between Suffolk and Clinton. The north half of the block contains what appears to be a decommissioned fire house with art deco touches from the 1930s. The southern half of the block contains two residual tenament buildings - how they survived the demolition phase, I haven't a clue.
The block bordered by Broom, Norfolk, Grand and Suffolk Streets (south of the undeveloped SPURA blocks) is home to a church, an apartment tower of fairly recent vintage (with Chinese lettering on it), and an older, solid-looking five-story apartment building that seems to be a survivor of the SPURA demolitions.
The block bordered by Broome, Norfolk, Grand and Essex Streets (south of the undeveloped SPURA blocks) is the Seward Park Extension, a NYCHA complex consisting of two, 23-story buildings. The buildings have 359 apartments for 812 residents and were completed October 31, 1973.
Seward Park itself sits in the corner of a triangle formed by Essex Street, East Broadway and the Seward Park Houses. The city acquired the land for Seward Park by condemnation in 1897 but left the site unimproved until the Outdoor Recreation League (ORL) included the park with the nine privately-sponsored playgrounds they opened between 1898 and 1902. Seward Park opened in the north corner of the park on October 17, 1903 as the country's first municipally-built playground. The playground was a prototype for other playgrounds around the city and country with cinder surfacing, fences, a recreation pavilion, and play and gymnastic equipment. The 1903 park design also incorporated a large running track, a children's farm garden and a terra cotta pavilion with marble baths, a gymnasium and meeting rooms. The park was largely rebuilt in 1941 with facilities for basketball, horseshoe-pitching, and shuffleboard courts, and a large paved area adaptable for roller skating, paddle tennis, and ice skating. (Parks Dept. Historical Sign).
In 1957, the triangle bounded by Essex, East Broadway and Grand (to the east and north of the park) was condemned and leveled to build the Seward Park Houses as a private, free-market co-op. 219 buildings (most dating well back into the 19th century) housing 4,300 people were demolished. The development that opened in 1960 consisted of four 20-story residential buildings housing 1,728 families, two commercial structures and a small office building.
The only buildings spared during the demolition for Seward Park Houses were a public library building and the Bialystoker Home for the Aged.