Portfolio: Todt Hill Houses

Todt Hill Houses, Castleton Corners, Staten Island | Photo by Ben Stechschulte

Our ongoing Portfolio series showcases bodies of work by artists inspired by or working in the city, often accompanied by a statement from the artist expounding on the images presented in the slideshow. This portfolio takes a slightly different tack. As part of the Architectural League / Urban Omnibus project Typecast, we asked five photographers to explore the architectural typology of “towers-in-the-park” by documenting the buildings, residents, street life, and surroundings of five study sites: Co-op City (Baychester and Eastchester, The Bronx), Sea Rise and Sea Park East (Coney Island, Brooklyn), Todt Hill Houses (Castleton Corners, Staten Island), Electchester (Pomonok, Queens), and Alfred E. Smith Houses (Two Bridges, Manhattan).

One of the initial goals of the Typecast project is to investigate the unique social experience of each of these places — as opposed to an exclusive focus on their shared physical characteristics — by calling attention to site-specific histories and raising questions about what assets the typology offers that might be hidden in plain sight. In order to do that, the five photo essays seek to demonstrate how residents and neighbors negotiate and navigate both the built and the open space of these building complexes.

In this series of photographs, Ben Stechschulte documents the Todt Hill Houses in Castleton Corners, Staten Island. Images from all five series will be on view in the Architectural League / Urban Omnibus booth at the IDEAS CITY Festival StreetFest on Saturday, May 4th. Click here to learn more about Typecast, or to see photographs of four other study sites. But first, a brief introduction to the Todt Hill Houses.

The Todt Hill Houses, designed by architect H.I. Feldman, consist of seven, six-story buildings on 13.34 acres with 502 apartments that house some 1,081 people. The complex is adjacent to the Staten Island Expressway, in the low-density neighborhood of Castleton Corners, a largely middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhood of Staten Island. The hill upon which is sits is the highest point on the eastern seaboard south of Maine. There is an abundance of undeveloped parkland nearby.

One local and a few express bus lines to Manhattan are the only public transportation. The neighborhood is mostly car dependent. There are a small number of neighborhood retail and service businesses within walking distance, but most employment or commercials needs require a car or bus trip.

The Todt Hill Houses were completed in 1950, in a period of time when the neighborhood, the borough, and the region saw significant expansion after World War II. The development predated the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which sped up development on Staten Island even more. The Todt Hill Houses are generally regarded as some of the safer housing developments under NYCHA control. — D.R.

Ben Stechschulte is a photographer and filmmaker whose images appear in publications including TIME, New York Magazine, and The New York Times Magazine. Assignments and personal projects have led Ben to photograph an array of subjects such as agriculture and food production, demolition derby, and honor killing in the Middle East. His recent PBS documentary film, Small Farm Rising, follows three unique farms as they carry plants and animals through an entire growing season. Ben lives and works in New York City and the Adirondacks Mountains.

Series

Typecast

The Architectural League’s long-term investigation into architectural typologies that have come to be seen as outdated, stagnant, or obsolete.

In This Series

Comments

mitch g May 7, 2013

just a small correction. Todt Hill Houses was never regarded as being in emerson hill. if anything Todt Hill Houses was part of the Castleton Corners area. Emerson Hill is actually located east of Todt Hill.
There is an ongoing issue which is the Todt Hill Playground was re-named Toad Hall Playground which many of us who lived there were very upset. I have spoken to the Borough’s office and were told that is was changed because the new name represents an old English background. what this has to do with the Todt Hill Houses is nothing more then someone’s ego to make changes that they were not a part of. Still, today we have an annual Todt Hill Re-union and not a Toad Hall re-union.

Daniel Rojo May 8, 2013

Thanks Mitch. Since neighborhood boundaries are notoriously difficult to define, for this project we decided to use the neighborhood borders provided by Google Maps – admittedly, an imperfect solution. Further research suggests that Castleton Corners is a more appropriate designation, so we have updated our text accordingly. Thank you for the correction.
-Daniel, UO

Hallie July 14, 2013

Thank you for this beautiful look at my old neighborhood. For those of you who are curious to know more about it you can check out the facebook page “Todt Hill Projects 60-80”.

I am so impressed with the members of that group and the deep love and nostalgia we all share for growing up in the Todt Hill Projects. Plus, there are lots of amazing old photos.

Thanks again,
Hallie.