As World War II came to an end, the Eagle pointed out that "war is not ended with the defeat of the enemy's arms." Life in Brooklyn would continue, but it had to adjust to the return of its brave soldiers. 326,000 men had served in the war, 12% of Brooklyn's total population and, more staggeringly, 58% of Brooklyn's males between the ages of 18 and 37. While Brooklynites were thrilled to have their boys back home, there was a question as to where all of these returning citizens were going to live.
Demand for housing was high across the city, but particularly among veterans. In February 1946, the Times reported that on a single day 500 families applied for housing when only 5 single rooms and 2 apartments were available. Mrs. William H. Browning, the wife of a veteran and a former Red Cross worker told the Times, "I'm so discouraged. I wish I had stayed overseas."
Young newlyweds and expanding families found themselves living in hotels, basements and friends' spare bedrooms. Some families resorted to sharing single-family homes because alternatives were simply not available.
In response to growing demands, city, state and federal government funding was allocated for Emergency Temporary Housing for Veterans. The bulk of this funding became available in 1946, providing a boom in veterans' housing in Brooklyn and beyond. As the housing was viewed as "temporary," projects were developed simply and quickly. The city rented large plots of land in areas such as Jamaica Bay, Manhattan Beach, Ulmer Park and Marine Park. And each project included its own unqiue take on the single-family dwelling, including...
The metal, airplane hanger-esque Quonset house:
The quickly-built frame house:
The re-purposed military barrack:
And the renovated Coast Guard building:
Given the challenges of finding housing in the city, the new residents of these homes were thrilled to be selected. The bare bones structures were a vast improvement on their previous living situations. Many young families were particularly excited to have their own home, something that had seemed impossible. And better yet, they were to be surrounded by other veteran families.
While the neighborhoods were not perfect -- many lacked paved roads and were not very close to public transportation -- the residents were willing to overlook these inconveniences in exchange for a roof over their heads. Some units were even designed with disabled veterans in mind, providing an ease of living that was unavailble in other housing options. Ramps, specialty closets and lower appliances made disabled veterans feel more comfortable in their own home. The Newmans, at left, were thrilled that their new home allowed them to complete chores, like washing the dishes, together.
Unfortunately, it took less than a year for families to realize that their new homes were less than perfect. By 1947, the Eagle began reporting that the veteran's homes were more temporary than originally thought. In particular, the Quonset structures in Ulmer Parked were defenseless against rain and snow. Tarps were used to cover the roofs and fathers spent more time cleaning up leaks than playing with their children.
Within a few years, the families were continuing to grow, but the structures were looking more and more dilapidated. The inexpensive materials of the houses could not hold up against the regular wear-and-tear of family life.
While many families prospered and moved on to permanent housing, many, many families were unable to make that leap. For them, city housing was not a temporary solution -- it was the only option.
In the early 1950s, with less funding and a greater demand for housing beyond the veteran community, the city began to make changes. Some projects were re-classified to fulfill general (not just veteran) housing needs. Others were slated for complete closure. Perhaps the most controversial was the decision to tear down the Manhattan Beach project for the creation of a city park in 1953.
For the hundreds of families living in Manhattan Beach, this news was unwelcome. Mothers and children protested (above) throughout the summer of 1953 and watched as abandoned houses around them were torn down (below), a sign that that city was not going to give in.
In December, the city took drastic measures against the final remaining residents by shutting off the electricity in the project. On the left, the Clark family attempted to live by candlelight in the hopes that their home would be saved - sadly, they were unsuccessful and quickly moved. The last resident, Leon Mitrany was finally forced out in January 1954.
The era of veterans' housing was quickly coming to an end. The city promised to continue housing veterans in need, but it was clear that their priorities were not the same as they had been in 1946. Many of the veterans that had been eager to call Brooklyn home felt that the city had given up on them. It seemed that they had failed to make the transition from temporary to permanent fast enough.
In the summer of 1954, nearly 500 former residents of the Manhattan Beach project held a reunion. The Eagle covered the event and noted that only 7% of the families that had once lived in that community still lived in Brooklyn. Many of Brooklyn's brave soldiers could not afford to live in their own hometown. And yet, despite their relocations, many were determined to keep their Brooklyn roots alive with annual picnics and gatherings. "No matter how far apart they have settled, however," the Eagle reported, "their unity still remains."