Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Bronx's Answer to Sunnyside Gardens: Hillside Homes

Most people don't think of the Bronx when it comes to historic preservation.  But one block off of Boston Road in Williamsbridge lies Hillside Homes, a model housing complex that has made a remarkable comeback following years of decline. 

Around New York, architect Clarence Stein is best known for the Sunnyside Gardens and the Phipps Houses developments in Queens. A leader in the movement to create low-density, quality housing for people of modest means, Stein specialized in developing communities with plenty of open space. Like the Phipps Houses, Hillside featured mostly four-storey buildings, great brickwork, landscaped gardens and many walkways. Stein also added a community center, playgrounds and sunken interior courts.  

Like many areas, Hillside Homes was hard hit by economic hardship and the drug epidemic. But new management and some tough-minded residents have really turned this community around, and nowadays Hillside is a huge success.  When I visited there with some friends a while back I found the entire six-block area to be clean, well-maintained and cheerful. Kids played and older people relaxed outside. The residents we met were proud of their homes, which were graffiti-free. Compared to the projects, it was a virtual paradise. 

Hillside Homes is located one block west of Boston Road at Eastchester Road. It's a little bit out-of-the-way, but if you're interested in local history or historic preservation, it's worth the trip. 

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At 2:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This place has not been called Hillside for years. I lived there between 1972 and 1976 when I moved to Washington, DC and where I still live.
Hillside was my first home away from my parents and in my heart the best place I have ever lived.
By the way, it is now called Eastchester Heights.
Washington, DC

At 6:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up here. I had a wonderful childhood, love the place with al my heart. it was a great place to raise kids and I'm so happy it has been turned around.

At 1:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Hillside Homes back in the 1950's. Recently I passed by on Boston Road and could not believe how my beautiful childhood area has changed. I guess nothing lasts for ever.

At 8:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived in Hillside Homes (Fish Avenue) from early 1950's until 1972. Great neighborhood, wonderful memories - candy store run by Max & Harold, bazaar at Sts. Phillip & James, Melba & Garden Hill bakeries, two movie theaters, the 5 & 10 store, eggs creams, lime dickies, Post Arrow, Izzy's small grocery store, corner drug store, A & P, play ground. It was a wonderful place to grow up.

At 2:07 PM , Anonymous Lynn Clarke said...

I grew up there in the 1950's to 1969 until the drug epidemic, it was a beautiful safe and wonderful place to live. Having access to NYC and suburbia NY it was a great combination of both. The cultural exposure as well ethnic is something I carry with me always. It is a pleasure to be able to show my children and grandchildren

At 2:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Hillside Homes. I was born there in 1939, and moved away in 1963. The pictures you show of Hillside are not the place I grew up in. During those days,there were trimmed privet hedges lining all of the streets, between the edge of the sidewalks and the buildings. There were two maple trees in front of most of the buildings, one on each side of the entrance. The development was one long block wide (from Boston Post Road on the east, to Hicks Street on the west) and six blocks long (from Wilson Avenue on the south to Eastchester Road on the north). Several of the streets had horseshoe shaped lawns and shrubs in the center of the block, facing the street. These lawns and shrubs were enclosed by wooden rail and post fences, not metal chain-linked fences. The mid-block area on Eastchester Road had a stone garden in it instead of lawn and shrubs. The inner courtyards were accessed through pedestrian "tunnels" which had windows in them. The tunnels were not gated or sealed. Inside the inner courtyards were manicured lawns, shrubs and flowers. They also had areas with swings,sliding ponds, monkey bars, see-saws and sandboxes for young children to play in. One such courtyard had beautiful rose bushes. The large playground area in the center of the development had two childrens' wading pools at one time; one later on. There were no ugly concrete walls anywhere. The buildings and retaining walls throughout Hillside were all brick. And, yes, there were two movie theaters, the Loew's and the Melba Theater on Boston Road, and at least 3 candy stores that I can remember. At one time there was even an Addie Vallins Ice Cream Parlor (similar to Jahn's Ice Cream) on the corner of Boston Road and Seymour Avenue. During the summer, there was a paid staff to run the activities at the playground. And there were many open spaces for kids to play in abutting the community. It was a wonderful place to grow up.

At 9:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Hillside from the time I was born in 1945 and moved out in 1963 before my high school graduation. I always felt that the one who designed Hillside was brilliant. One could walk through the buildings and courtyards from Wilson Avenue to Eastchester Rd without ever walking to the main roads. Every building of 4 floor walk-ups were connected by open tunnels, basement laundry rooms and walkways and stairs. No two streets were of the same design. There was a huge playground right in the middle of the blocks that had a large wading pool for the little ones, swings, monkey bars, and included a concrete basket ball court and past that, an open area for baseball. Every spring the playground was opened up to booth games, penny pitching, ice cream carts and soda bottles, and the penny arcade. It brought out all the tenants and the kids were everywhere. It was such fun! My Father and Uncle owned the drug store Phelbe Pharmacy right next door to the Melba movie theater on Boston Road. We escaped the heat and humidity of the summer in the city by driving up to Lake George, NY to camp on the islands for 6 weeks each summer. My best friend and I met in Kinder garden and remain close friends to this day. I often day dream of the years I lived there. Then there was no danger in walking through the playground alone at night as I often did in my teenage years. I loved listening to the summer sounds through the open windows of our apartment. The night time foot falls and distant music and the sound of cars driving past and watching the light through the wooden blinds dance across the ceiling of the bedrooms. I remember my mom tossing money down to me wrapped in a paper towel as she tossed it out the kitchen window to me waiting below. It was a wonderful place to grow up and remember. The open lot on the corner of the next block where all the kids went sleigh riding and zooming down 'Dead Man's Hell' which I was so afraid to try for so many years. When seeing the lot some years later I laughed at what I use to think was a dangerous hill but now seemed so small and benign. It was a wonderful place to grow up and I still think that the one who designed it was way ahead of his time.

At 9:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Hillside Homes from 1942 to 1959. Lived on Corsa Ave. Went to P.S. 78 and then on to Evander Childs High School. Loved Hillside Homes. A great place to grow up with so many kids to play with on the street.I remember Lowes and Melba theaters. We had Italian, Chinese and Jewish Deli right there. Moved to California and haven't been back.

At 10:54 PM , Blogger NYRaised said...

Come join the hillside homes group on Facebook

At 10:55 PM , Blogger NYRaised said...

Come join the hillside homes group on Facebook

At 7:28 PM , Anonymous Tom Tommarello said...

My parents were living in Hillside Homes (Fenton Avenue) when I was born in 1959. Many of the things I’m reading from all of you brings back so many memories: the Melba, the Loews, the SPJ Bazzars, my Mom throwing money wrapped in a paper towel down from the kitchen window - to go buy her cigarettes!! And then going to Happy’s to buy them. My dad worked evenings there after delivering for Taystee Bread during the day. I have fond memories of hanging out there on summer nights, drinking egg creams or malteds my father would make for me. Would love to hear from some of you who grew up on Fenton Avenue in the 60’s and early 70’s!


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