During the Great Depression, many people turned to the parks and public spaces of New York City as a refuge. People set up camp in Central Park in 1930 and were quickly evicted by police. As the Depression wore on, however, attitudes toward these people began to change, and public sentiment grew more sympathetic.
In July 1931, 22 unemployed men were arrested in Central Park, but charges against them were later dropped and the ruling judge granted each of them two dollars out of his pocket. In addition, tenants of Fifth Avenue and Central Park West apartments did not consider these individuals as unwelcome guests.
The most famous of the Hoovervilles in New York City was located in the middle of Central Park near the abandoned Croton Reservoir. There were some skilled builders among the shantytown residents. In one example, unemployed masons repurposed stone blocks from the reservoir to create a twenty-foot high shanty. Others lived in abandoned water mains. Despite their impoverished living conditions, these residents remained as happy and resilient as ever.
In the 1930s, the stock market crash in October 1929 caused an unprecedented number of people to lose their jobs and homes. These people resorted to improvised construction methods to keep themselves warm. They created shantytowns out of discarded materials, and some of them built brick homes. These “shanty towns” grew to become known as Hoovervilles, after the Republican President Herbert Hoover. While not the largest or the longest-lasting, they were an interesting sight to visit.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Central Park, NY honors the president of the United States and his New Deal policies. Dedicated to the betterment of the country, the monument honors the president’s ideals and his contributions to society. The museum also highlights the many achievements of President Roosevelt, who grew up in New York City. The museum’s display of historic photos traces Roosevelt’s life and career.
During his second term, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was largely focused on addressing the massive relief needs triggered by the Great Depression. To achieve this goal, FDR tapped into public funds and enlisted the help of the state’s government and private sector. His New Deal programs, such as TERA, made New York City an attractive place to live and work. The President also participated in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.
The Great Depression
In 1931, the Great Lawn in Central Park, New York served as a kind of Hooverville for out-of-work men in the city. During the Great Depression, 1.2 million Americans were homeless and 2,000 of them were New Yorkers. A few years later, in 1933, similar encampments appeared in other parts of the city. There was “Hardlucksville,” a settlement of 80 shacks along the East River, and “Camp Thomas Paine” along the Hudson River. But no other place in the city was as infamous as the Central Park encampment.
The Great Depression affected everyone in New York City. Middle-class families were forced to live paycheck-to-paycheck, while working-class residents struggled to find jobs. Many of these residents ended up in shanty towns near free soup kitchens. The people living in these shanty towns were trespassing on private land, but were tolerated out of necessity. While some people built stone-walled homes, most lived in cardboard, water mains, or on the ground.
The Great Lawn
During the Great Depression, the area of Central Park which is now the Great Lawn was once a reservoir. The emptied reservoir left an expanse of open land that would later become the Great Lawn. A large part of this area was used to house the homeless, who built a makeshift village on the empty water main. Some dubbed the area ‘Little Casino’ in honor of Mayor Jimmy Walker, who was known for patronizing local restaurants.
During the Great Depression, the people who lived in Central Park were forced to move from their homes. Many resisted eviction and even remained in the shantytown. These acts of goodwill, however, would not prevent the eviction process forever. In summer 1934, Moses and his crew began demolishing most of Hooverville, paving the way for the Great Lawn. While the New York Daily News reports that city officials helped relocate the homeless to another neighborhood, others claim that they were evicted from Central Park without warning.