New-York Historical Society

Joseph P. Day: The Man Who Sold The Bronx

Post written by Daniel Velardo, Scanning Technician

New York City officially consolidated with its outer boroughs in 1898. The metropolitan area was now comprised of vast swaths of unpopulated lands ready for development, especially those east of the Bronx River which were formerly part of Westchester County.

This problem was solved in in 1904 when New York City’s famed subway system served to connect some of these newly incorporated parts of the city with Manhattan. With the subway’s second phase of construction completed in 1920, there was a new hope to achieve the American Dream outside of the city’s crowded streets.

Increased public transit accessibility, combined with high demand for new housing, meant unsold property would be a hot commodity. Enter Joseph P. Day, a born and raised New Yorker, at a time when immigrants were arriving by the thousands at Ellis Island. A full fledged realtor by the age of 21, Day would become a recognized name relatively quickly. With his status in areas of Brooklyn and Queens secured through large lot real estate auctions, Day moved his keen eye for development to the Bronx. Traveling from property to property with his commissioned photographer, William D. Hassler, the pair not only sold land but helped photographically map and document the rapidly expanding city. The photos taken by Hassler are currently being digitized via a grant-funded project and featured throughout this piece.

Auction Day, May 31, 1914 PR83 Hassler Collection

Auction Day, May 31, 1914
PR83 Hassler Collection

What would currently be nestled under the shadow of the Bronx’s largest public hospital, Jacobi Medical Center, the Pearsall Estate was a large plot of private property situated in the present day neighborhood of Morris Park. Historically just open land, the estate was broken into lots, given street names and sold at auction under the tutelage of Joseph P. Day, who on the day of auction played both realtor and auctioneer. Day partnered with J. Clarence Davies to sell a grand total of 420 lots of undeveloped land over two days, May 31st and June 1st, 1914. Said lots commanded an average price tag of around $805, or $18,760.44 in today’s money. However, Day wouldn’t rest on his laurels. In 1921, he would hold what might possibly be the largest single day real estate sale ever; selling over 1,500 homes in 12 hours (Alef, D.,  Joseph P. Day: The Great Salesman; p 2).

The new community boasted easy access to travel through trolley connections to train lines that no longer exist, the Second and Third Avenue Els, and within a year, the promise of a new station along White Plains Road. The Pearsall Estate auction represented an opportunity to have a home away from the hustle and bustle of the inner city, which had yet to feel the effects of slum clearance, but remain within the city’s limits.

Close up of auction sign, corner of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway

Close up of auction sign, corner of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway

Advertised on a considerably large billboard at the time at the intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway (see photo), the auction was a well publicized event. The New York Times advertised the then mostly rural area as a “growing section of [the] borough.” Today the Morris Park neighborhood (mostly 10461 zip code) in which the Pearsall Estate was located has a population density just under 22,000 people per square mile. Within a hundred year period, the borough would transform immensely and so would the neighborhood, changing from Jewish to Italian and now slowly into Latino hands.

Pearsall Avenue just north of original Pearsall Estate holdings

Pearsall Avenue just north of Pearsall Estate border

Today, much like the other families with large holdings in the borough (Astor, Spencer, Morris, Pell, etc.), the only link the residents of this Morris Park community have to the Pearsall family and its rural estate is a street sign, Pearsall Avenue, which runs north-northwest from the estate’s northern boundary.

Note: All original Hassler photos will be uploaded to the Photographs of New York City and Beyond section of New York Heritage digital collections.

 

 

 

The gallery below features both images of the area in 1914, and what it looks like today:

Intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway, 1914 PR83 Hassler Collection

Intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway, 1914
PR83 Hassler Collection

 

Intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway, 2014

Intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intersection of Yates Avenue and Pelham Parkway, 1914 PR83 Hassler Collection

Intersection of Yates Avenue and Pelham Parkway, 1914
PR83 Hassler Collection

 

Intersection of Yates Avenue and Pelham Parkway, 2014

Intersection of Yates Avenue and Pelham Parkway, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panoramic view of Narragansett and Lydig Avenues, 1914 PR83 Hassler Collection

Panoramic view of Narragansett and Lydig Avenues, 1914
PR83 Hassler Collection

Intersection of Narragansett and Lydig Avenues, 2014

Intersection of Narragansett and Lydig Avenues, 2014

 

 

 

1 Comment to Joseph P. Day: The Man Who Sold The Bronx

  1. Joanie Milone's Gravatar Joanie Milone
    February 19, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I sent this article to my cousin who is the family genealogist. That he lived on Pearsall Ave will have particular interest to him. Thank you for it. I wonder if our grandfather bought his property this way. You have me curious.

    Our in-common maternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant and bought property at E 223rd St in the Bronx sometime in the twenties. He built what we kids call the house in the hole which still stands today. It is quite unique in that he built his house before the streets were completed.

    The borough raised the streets in front and behind his property by 6 -8 feet and the house literally sat in a hole once the roadways were complete. What exacerbated the feeling of being in a subterranean lot was the grape arbor Grandpa built from the front of the property to the back. The yard was covered in a canopy of grape vines and leaves from the fig, mulberry, cherry and other trees grown there. It was quite unique, a sylvan paradise to us grandkids.

    There are other very interesting stories about the house in the hole at 1159 E 223rd. I believe Grandpa built it himself. Supposedly he had plans drawn up to build a suitable home for his wife and 8 children but the depression hit and other family set backs occurred.

    Family lore says that Grandpa had to retrofit his early construction, a 1200 ft oblong at the back of the property, into a house. Trouble was, when they raised the street behind the house dirt was backfilled up against the back wall 6-8 feet high. The house was literally wedged into the back of the property by a wall of dirt.

    When Grandpa put in windows he had to put them almost at roofline. It was the only way to bring light across his home. We could see the ankles of the neighbors on the next street as they played in their elevated yard. It was an interesting house to say the least.

    I’ve always wondered if there truly were plans to build a nice house on the property or if that was a story my mom made up to cover up her shame for being swamped by the Depression. I suppose I’ll never know. I wonder who my grandfather bought this property from–and if they knew, or witheld information about the street to make a quick dollar. Do you have any ideas?

    From what I see on Google Earth the drop off between street and house does not seem as drastic as it was when we were kids. The trees are gone but the dead woody vines of the grape arbor are still standing. I have my pictures to back up my memories of the house in the hole.

    If your out that way take a look and tell me what you think. It would be great to start a dialog with you. Sincerely, Joan Milone

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