Creating the Worst Block in the City: East 100th Street, 1900-1970

Michael J McKenna, Fordham University


This dissertation, “Creating the Worst Block in the City: East 100th Street, 1900-1970,” is a study of the rise and collapse of a single block in New York City’s Spanish Harlem. The analysis of this one block in New York City functions as a window into a much larger narrative. A study of East 100th Street reveals the manifold intersections of race, class, political economy, governmental policy, social injustice, philanthropy, and media representations that dictate the course of 20th century urban American history. Substantial attention is paid to media depictions of people of color and the varied ways that this imagery promoted racist tropes and contributed to an emerging anti-urban sentiment, as well as to the political realignment that hampered efforts to aid those trapped in poverty. Tracing the history of the block reveals the evolution of a neighborhood which housed generations of striving immigrants, from the southern and eastern Europeans in the early twentieth century, to people of color who inherited the block after WWII. This study suggests that the seeds of post-war decline were sown early in the century, and that these diverse groups over time shared many experiences, a fact that seemed to have been ignored or forgotten by later generations. These constructed or flawed memories will be examined, as will the consequences. Additionally, this dissertation will fill an historiographical gap by establishing that East 100th Street deserves inclusion and equivalency in the ignominious canon of urban decline in New York City, alongside standard bearers such as the Five Points, Mulberry Bend, the Bowery, and Charlotte Street. While these prominent locations have been the focus of extensive study and debate over the last several decades, East 100th Street has been generally ignored. A dedicated study of East 100th Street not only fills a gap in the urban historiography, notably that of New York City, but it also offers vital insight into several of the most compelling contributory factors in the emergence of the nationwide post-WWII urban crisis.

Subject Area

American history|American studies|Mass communications

Recommended Citation

McKenna, Michael J, "Creating the Worst Block in the City: East 100th Street, 1900-1970" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30489984.