Home » Urban Renewal » Recent Articles:

A Pop Culture Look at Urban Renewal From 46 Years Ago Today

In August a couple of friends told me about an episode of ‘Car 54 Where Are You?’ dealing with Urban Renewal. The episode, ‘Occupancy August 1st’, of the police sitcom set in the Bronx, first Aired on October 21, 1962 – forty six years ago tonight. This was five years prior to my birth and although I had heard of the show I don’t recall ever seeing an episode from its 2-season run. Thanks to YouTube I was able to find and watch this episode — what a gem!

The show opens on the construction site of a new public housing project with workers spotting a woman on the 14th floor. The workers thinking she is going to jump call the police. The job foreman calls the Building Commissioner to explain about the woman on the construction site. The Commissioner responds, “Oh no, another delay?”

Officers Toody & Muldoon from Car 54 arrive. When they make their way to the 14th floor (via a beam hoisted by a crane) they find a sweet Jewish woman, Mrs Bronson, setting up home in the unfinished building still lacking walls. They explain to her “you can’t stay here.” She rebuts, “For two years I’ve been waiting to move in and now ‘You can’t stay here.’ In my own apartment I can’t stay?”

She produces a lease which begins on August 1st. In the exchange with the officer she asks what the sign out front says. He responds, “Occupancy August 1st.” What is the date? August 1st.

“In the old tenement when they tore it down for six months they kept nagging with papers and eviction notices. A new apartment they promised me. Now I’m in the new apartment and it’s ‘Get Out, Get Out.”

“I’m back in the Bronx. For two years I lived with my daughter in Brooklyn. She’s a lovely girl but who can live with her.”

Lots of great lines. At one point Mrs Bronson asks the Architect, Hilton Hartford Harlow (played by Charles Nelson Riley), to make sure the electric & gas meters are above the icebox. He indicates the building will have refrigerators and the meters will be in the basement.

“You mean there won’t be electric or gas men to come here to check the meters and their won’t be an ice man to sit and talk with me for a half hour? What are you building for me here a jail? Apartments are for people to visit.”

“But this is progress!” replies the Architect.

“You are making so much progress I could drop dead and nobody would find me in 10 years.”

The 22-minute episode is on YouTube in four segments (Note @ 12:40pm – the embedded video is not working correctly, please use the links to watch the video segments)

Part 1 of 4


Part 2 of 4


Part 3 of 4


Part 4 of 4


All the characters are in place, the sweet woman that loved her old tenement, the uncaring building commissioner, the architect that cares more about his reputation than building a good space for people. An interesting step back in time indeed.