From the (1939) WPA Guide to New York City:
Williamsburg, the area extending fanwise from the Williamsburg Bridge to Flushing and Bushwick Avenues, has a large polyglot population. The neighborhood, formerly the most congested residential area in Brooklyn, has lost some sixty thousand inhabitants since the 1920'S. Here, with the erection in 1936-7 of Williamsburg Houses, a PWA construction project, began Brooklyn's first experiment in large-scale low-rent housing.
Originally part of the town of Bushwick, Williamsburg was founded about 1810 and named for a Colonel Williams, the engineer who surveyed it. About 1819 Noah Waterbury established a distillery at the foot of South Second Street, the first industrial plant in the locality. Williamsburg in the middle nineteenth century was a popular resort; its hotels near the Brooklyn Ferry attracted a wealthy, cosmopolitan crowd, including such gourmets and sportsmen as Commodore Vanderbilt, Jim Fisk, and William C. Whitney. With the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 and the resultant influx of immigrant families from overcrowded Manhattan, the district's affluence vanished.
Statue Of George Washington, west side of Washington Plaza, Broadway and Havemeyer Street, is a bronze equestrian figure on a high granite pedestal. The work of Henry M. Shrady, it was presented to the city in 1901 by James R. Howe, a member of Congress. An enormous volume of traffic--el trains, surface cars, automobiles, wagons and pedestrians--streams by the statue, for the plaza is the formal Brooklyn terminus of the Williamsburg Bridge.
Wallabout Market, Flushing and Clinton Avenues, Brooklyn's only public wholesale market, is a vast clearinghouse for produce from New York and New Jersey farms. The quaintness of buildings inspired by old Dutch prototypes lends an old-world atmosphere to the terminal The market is housed in blocks of two-story brick structures, each surmounted by a watchtower and a weathercock. The blocks arc grouped around a wide plaza called Farmers' Square. A relatively deserted region by day, from midnight to dawn the market bustles with noisy activity: Farmers' Square is a solid mass of vehicles, crates, and barrels, and truck drivers, jobbers, and farmers.
The site of the market, once part of the large tract acquired by the United States for a navy yard, was sold to Brooklyn by Congress in July, 1890.
Naval Hospital, Flushing Avenue and Ryerson Street, is separated from the Navy Yard by Wallabout Market. Its neatly landscaped grounds are enclosed by a high brick wall. Founded in 1834, the hospital has 508 beds, four emergency ambulances and a staff of more than two hundred. The patients--Navy men, war veterans, ECC and. lately, members of the CCC and WPA--have the use of a six-thousand volume library and may attend nightly movie shows.
Williamsburg Houses, Scholes Street to Maujer Street, Leonard Street to Bushwick Avenue, is the largest slum-clearance and low-rent housing project completed under the Federal Housing program (1939). Built at a cost of about $12,800,000, the development includes twenty apartment houses, four stories high, accommodating 1,622 low-income families (about six thousand persons).
Together with a landscaped park and numerous playgrounds, the project covers twenty five gross acres, formerly twelve slum blocks. The buildings, occupying only about 30 per cent of the gross area, are grouped into four super-blocks, formed by closing two through streets to traffic. Three blocks have six apartment houses each, the other has two houses the new William J. Gaynor Junior High School, a park, and a playground. Unfortunately, the school is in a rather dull neoclassic style which adds little to the architectural interest of the group.
The houses are placed at a fifteen-degree angle to the streets to orient the buildings toward the sun. The buildings, individually pleasing in design, are of fireproof construction with reinforced concrete floors. Color provides much of their charm--yellow ochre brick, gray cement, blue-gray terra cotta between windows, bright blue doors, and dark blue store front parapets. The floor lines are marked by horizontal bands of concrete, which create an unusual striped effect. Most of the details--entrances, store fronts, etc.--are imaginative and highly successful. The entire group was planned by a committee of architects selected by the New York City Housing Authority, with R. H. Shreve as chairman.
All apartments--two to five rooms--are equipped with electric stoves, refrigerators, and modern plumbing, and supplied with steam heat, hot and cold water. The living room of a typical apartment has a floor area of 150 square feet; the kitchen, 75; and the bedroom, 120.
Williamsburg Houses are under the management of the New York City Housing Authority. Tenants are selected on the basis of income and the need for better housing. No family is eligible whose total income is more than five times the amount of rent plus the cost of utility service. Preference was given to families that had lived on the site of the development, provided they were otherwise eligible as required by law. The first tenants, chosen from a list of more than nineteen thousand applicants, moved into the project in September, 1937, and since then only a few have moved.
Rents, paid weekly in advance, range from $4.45 a week for a two-room apartment to $7.20 for five rooms; electricity for an apartment costs 90 cents to $1.20 a week. Three hundred and ninety-eight residents are employed as clerical workers, 49 as professionals, managers, and officials, 353 as skilled workers, 468 as semiskilled, and 283 as unskilled.
The cultural activities are held in the social and craft rooms of the project and the community center of the high school. The Authority provides space for classes for mothers in child care and psychology, men's and women's clubs, a glee club, a tenants' council, and youth groups, but these activities are initiated and conducted by the tenants themselves. The tenants also publish a semimonthly paper, the Projector.
T. F. Hamlin, in an article in Pencil Points, declared that the Williamsburg development offers more of the amenities of good housing than many expensive Park Avenue apartment houses. "In every really important general matter of land usage--in air, in light, in a sense of green and growing things as a concomitant of living; in the creation of an atmosphere of humanity and decency, a place where children would be glad to grow up; in the development of a community that brings with it a new vision of democracy and of progress," he said, "[this development has] qualities that no money can buy."