Electus D. Litchfield, "Yorkship Village in 1917 and 1939," The American City 54, pp. 43-44, 111 (November 1939).
|Yorkship Village in 1917 and 1939|
|BY ELECTUS D. LITCHFIELD|
Architect, New York
PEACE-TIME VALUES OF WAR-TIME HOUSING
Before the outbreak of the European war the editor of The American City suggested to Mr. Litchfield that municipal officials and city planners, because of their increasing interest in housing and neighborhood improvement through public initiative, ought to know how America’s largest world-war housing project – Yorkship Village – had survived the twenty-two years since its inception.
The article has since been written and is here published with reproductions of several recent photographs. These give visual evidence that lasting community values are obtainable from well-planned housing developments, even when built under the threat or stress of war.
WITH the uncertainty of what recent developments in Europe may mean for America, we should remember how the lack of modern industrial housing crippled the American output of ships and other war material in 1917. Few among the present generation of "housers" seem to be familiar with what the nation did at that time, nor of the advances then made in the planning of low-cost sanitary and efficient housing. Many large-scale and permanent low-cost housing developments were then undertaken, and the largest of them rivals in size any government-aided housing projects which have been undertaken since. Only the Red Hook and Queensbridge projects in New York, now nearing completion, exceed it in the number of persons accommodated.
In her cyclopaedic book on Modern Housing, Catherine Bauer limited her comments on the achievements of American war housing to the following:
"Some of the War Workers' housing, particularly that at York (sic) and Bridgeport, came up to all minimum requirements."
"The government housing for war workers, particularly that at Bridgeport, Conn., and at Camden, N. J., created almost a sensational precedent in quality of community planning, as well as public responsibility."
Philadelphians cross to Camden almost only when they must entrain for South Jersey resorts, and, as Miss Bauer confessed, she had never seen Yorkship until after the publication of her brilliant book. While its plan and characteristic views did achieve the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that they are not found in Miss Bauer’s housing bible, has been one of its planner’s greatest disappointments.
Yorkship was planned for 2,000 houses, averaging 5 1/3 rooms each. Owing to the signing of the Armistice, not all of these were built, but enough to make it a practically completed town.
Stores and Apartment Houses on Yorkship Square
The Three-House Group - an Interesting End for the Vista
The Church on the Commons
One of the Three-Family Groups
Yorkship Road, with Mall and Two One-Way Drives
The instructions given me in Washington one morning in February, 1917, were exciting in the extreme. In short: "Select with the shipbuilders and the local authorities, a suitable site in Camden, N. J., and produce a town of 2,000 houses, economical but permanent in construction, and so comfortable and otherwise satisfactory as to do away with the labor turnover in the shipyards." The responsibility for design and economy of production were to rest with me. "The town must be ready for occupancy immediately, or as close thereafter as humanly possible."
A recent aeroplane view shows the town plan. Like the early American towns, it has a central square and commons. Its street plan is influenced by the boundaries of the site, which consist of the North and South Branches of Newton Creek, the third boundary being the Mt. Ephraim Pike, leading into Camden.
The town plan provides for convenience of access to its business center, and to the bridge which was thrown across the Northern Branch of Newton Creek, which affords convenient access to the yards of the Shipbuilding Corporation.
Space does not permit more than a few words relative to its buildings. The houses are built largely of brick, two stories in height, the majority having slate roofs. Great care was taken to avoid an institutional character for the development. Nine different types and colors of roofing were definitely located on the plans before construction was started. The houses vary from single and semi-detached, to groups of from three to eleven houses in a single group. Around the square there are also apartments three stories in height.
On the advice of the Federation of Labor, backyards were made of minimum size. There were enclosed by hedges, reinforced with chains suspended from concrete posts. Back of the yards were located playgrounds for the youngest children, while ample playgrounds and recreation space for adults and the older boys and girls was elsewhere provided.
It is now twenty years since the completion of the project. It is gratifying to its architect, on a recent visit, to find it completely occupied, and now considered one of the most desirable residence sections of the city of Camden. The rentals average from $5 to $6 per room, and the real-estate broker on Yorkship Square reports that if any of the four-room houses become vacant, they are immediately snapped up.
The town is, generally speaking, very well kept up, the only unsightly feature being the enclosures of porches with glass or fly screens, made by the tenants without benefit of expert advice. It is of particular note that though these buildings are semi-fireproof in construction, with wood beams and wood stud partitions, they continue in thoroughly usable condition.
Digitized strictly for educational use with very minor editorial changes (see below).
Editorial changes from original.
- Spelling changes:
- "Brittanica" replaced with "Britannica"
- "Newtown Creek" replaced with the current name "Newton Creek"
- "Mt. Ephriam" replaced "Mt. Ephraim"
Note: The better-quality image of Fig. 1 is courtesy Frances Loeb Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.