The history of NYC’s Quonset Huts, Robert Moses-era veterans housing

Posted On Fri, April 21, 2017 By

Posted On Fri, April 21, 2017 By In Brooklyn, History

A row of Quonset huts in Canarsie, via Brooklyn Public Library

When veterans returned to NYC from WWII, they were met with a Depression-era housing shortage that resulted from a nearly 15-year lack of new development. To immediately address the issue, “master builder” Robert Moses (who by this time was reigning over the city’s public housing projects) proposed erecting Quonset huts on vacant land in Brooklyn and Queens. These curved, corrugated steel “shacks” were used in the Pacific as barracks and offices, as they were lightweight and quick and easy to assemble. As the Brownstone Detectives tell us, after much debate, the city agreed to use more than 500 Federal surplus huts as temporary public housing on land along the Belt Parkway in the South Brooklyn neighborhoods of Canarsie and Jamaica Bay, as well as in Jackson Heights, Middle Village, and Corona in Queens.

Moses’ idea, however, did not go according to plan. The huts took longer than expected to arrive and builders were unaware of the work involved of retrofitting them as living spaces. Veterans were not happy with the conditions, complaining of a lack of heat in the winter (despite the potbellied stoves that were installed in the living rooms) and leaks.

Eventually, the housing shortage came to an end, and Robert Moses went on to build massive, tower-in-the-park complexes, such as Stuyvesant TownRiverton Square in Harlem, and Parkchester in the Bronx, to serve as affordable housing for veterans. So in the mid ’50s, the huts were taken down and sold to the public as garages, storage units, and even homes. And according to Queens Chronicle, in Queens and Long Island many were converted to carwashes.

Interestingly, as Brownstone Detectives noticed, there are still some quonset huts standing and in use, like the two pictured above at 1200 Broadway in East Bed-Stuy.

[Via Brownstone Detectives]

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