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.
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.
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.
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: