Childs 1918

Richard S. Childs, "The First War Emergency Government Towns for Shipyard Workers. I. 'Yorkship Village' at Camden, N. J.," Journal of the American Institute of Architects 6, pp. 237-244, 249-251 (1918). Click on images for supersizes.

Camden, N. J. for the New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Electus D. Litchfield, Architect.

The First War Emergency Government Towns for Shipyard Workers

YORKSHIP Village is the name of the housing project of the Emergency Fleet Corporation for employees of the New York Shipbuilding Company at Camden, N. J. If it indicates the kind of Government housing that is to follow, we may all rejoice.

The site is an irregular tract of 225 acres of farm land on the outskirts of Camden, just within the city line near Gloucester and Westmont. lt is shut off from Camden and Gloucester by a marshy brook. A highway with a new trolley leads to Gloucester, and a new road crosses the marshy land toward Camden. For all practical purposes the site is an island --- a feature with economic possibilities that we will consider later.

The entire tract has space for 2,400 lots. The present contract develops 90 acres and calls for the erection of 907 houses, some stores, apartments, and a theatre. Sewers, lights, and gas are being brought in from Camden, and Camden will supply a school. Work is well under way, and the town will doubtless be a living reality before summer ends.

Electus D. Litchfield, of New York, is the architect and town planner, and he desires that generous credit for assistance be given to his junior associate, Pliny Rogers.

Having a flat, unobstructed site, almost unconnected with other areas, Mr. Litchfield was able to draw his town plan on practically blank paper. His starting-point was the new road from Camden, which he broadened to a parkway and terminated in a plaza and commercial center m the heart of the tract. At an angle he ran another parkway toward Gloucester, where is another shipyard; the rest was a matter of spinning a cobweb in such fashion as to avoid long weary lines in favor of short closed vistas. He has not let his fancy run as far and free as the English planners did at Well Hall, where straight lines were studiously and completely avoided, even the edges of the sidewalks being made irregular, but his straight lines are short, and the end of the street or a turn of the way will always be in sight. As no thoroughfare cuts through the tract any way, the residential roads are secure from heavy traffic and will be quiet and safe. There are generous playgrounds, a spacious school-site, and a space for gardening for workers who desire land for that purpose.

ALBEMARLE SQUARE, YORKSHIP VILLAGE. --- A Housing Development near
Camden, N. J. for the New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Electus D. Litchfield, Architect.

In the houses, Mr. Litchfield has drawn upon his successful experience with small houses at Jamaica, Long Island, and has devised a charming series of Colonial exteriors in brick and in stucco. The creation of a whole town in Colonial architecture will set a novel standard in town harmony!

It ls hard to realize that these varied and attractive facades mask a type of small home, the endless monotony of whose exterior treatment makes Philadelphia so dreary to the eye! Long rows are avoided, the longest groups having eleven house. There are 243 groups altogether, composed of 27 types of houses in 70 different combinations. Broken roof-lines are the rule. The ship-worker will not have to look at the number to identify his home in Yorkship Village!


BUILDING NOS. 132 - 37
43 - 30 - 99 - 166 - 200

BUILDING NOS. 132 - 199
12 - 121 -149 - 238


A Housing Development near Camden, N. J. for the New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Electus D. Litchfield, Architect.

The improvements on a typical lot will cost $450, perhaps more; a typical house costs $2,700. The bulk of the money is lent by the Government (Emergency Fleet Corporation) to the New York Shipbuilding Company, with provision for the transfer of the whole housing enterprise to a subsidiary corporation, the Fairview Realty Company, the stock in which is, for the present at least, in the hands of the shipbuilding company. Mr. Wallace Benedict, of the New York Shipbuilding Company, is the active manager of the project.

The contract with the Government makes the loan a first lien upon the property, charges 5 percent interest, and demands repayment of the principal at the rate of 3 percent a year. Houses may be sold and the parcel excepted from the blanket mortgage by paying off the due proportion thereof, and such a payment (rather illogically) may be counted as part of the general 3 percent amortization charge. There is no arrangement for continuing the Government loan as a separate little mortgage on such a parcel; private capital must be found to finance a worker who wants to purchase on a monthly installment plan. The private capital stock is forever limited to dividends of 5 percent cumulative, even after the Government gets its money back. In the period from two to five years after the close of the war, the realty company, if it has been unable to meet the Government's demands and to pay its 5 percent dividends, may secure an appraisal of the assets of the company by a board of arbitration, and the shrinkage up to 30 percent will be written off the Government loan and presumably refunded likewise to any who may have purchased houses meanwhile. The foreclosure provisions are slow and lenient. The present generation of Fleet Corporation officials interprets the contract to mean: "Get along if you can. lf you make money, use an amount up to 3 percent each year to repay the Government. Any excess beyond that goes back into welfare work or further improvement of the property. Their will be no foreclosure if your management is competent and sincere. After the war, if building costs go down, leaving you face to face with a competition that you can't meet, or if a reaction in local industry leaves you with a deserted village on your hands, we will absorb the shrinkage as a cost of war and write it off the Government mortgage, making the property once more a sound business proposition, with all your arrears of dividends cleared up. Go ahead now, pick your own architect, show us the land and the plans for our o. k. and don't be afraid to make the place attractive to labor, so as to reduce the labor turnover which is now crippling the shipyards."

For the present, the contract is, I understand, typical of those emanating from both the Emergency Fleet Corporation and the housing organization under Mr. Eidlitz.

Locally capitalized corporations are insisted upon in all these projects because of the Government's reluctance to be a landlord, but, in cases like this, where the employer is the only available local capitalist, it creates the unfortunate embarrassment of making the employer the landlord, subject to the additional friction with his employees that the relation of landlord and tenant so often involves.

On paper, at least, Yorkship Village faces a remarkable economic opportunity, an opportunity that is enlarged by its topographical isolation. The unearned increment cannot very seriously spill over its borders to the enrichment of lucky neighbors or the enhancement of the business frontages of any adjacent community. Nobody can set up in business very near to Yorkship Village, for the wooded creek, with only one crossing, shuts off parasite developments and keeps within the tract the commercial land values that are due to be created by the spending-money of a thousand prosperous workers. Mrs. Shipyard Worker will therefore spend her husband's pay mostly in Yorkship Village. The Camden business streets are too far away --- a stiff walk or a roundabout trolley ride via Gloucester. Gloucester and Westmont are too small to outbid the markets of Yorkship Village itself. So the grocer and meatman and drygoods merchant and druggist and movie manager who seek the trade of the Yorkship Village people must come and jostle for elbow-room around the central plaza and pay good ground-rents for the privilege. The land values thus created constitute the major part of the unearned increment that is to be expected, and while the residential lots may remain worth only about what they have cost, the business frontages will be worth five and ten times their original cost and may be valued in scores of dollars per front foot.

A Housing Development near Camden, N. J. for the New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Electus D. Litchfield, Architect.

How much the increment will amount to is impossible to predict. But the cost of the land, with the land improvements, reckoning on 5,000 population, will be only about $90 per capita, whereas the normal land value is at least double that figure for a high-grade industrial community like this, without allowing anything for the extra value conferred by the charm of Mr. Litchfield's architecture and town plan. The land value in Gary is $743 per capita; in Lackawanna it is $644; in New York, over $1,000; in numberless towns of the size of Yorkship Village it runs from $150 to $450 per capita. If we take $200 per capita as the Yorkship Village value, we have an increment of $550,000, which at 5 percent gives an annual value of $27,500. In other words, the owners could safely charge the people $5.50 a year per head more land rent than the costs compel (assuming that house rents cover house costs).

BUILDING NOS. 120 - 27 - 173

BUILDING NOS. 56 - 180 - 222
139 - 135 - 40 - 7 - 159 - 24 - 13 - 243 - 143 - 145 - 127

BUILDING NOS. 179 - 168 - 167 - 21

A Housing Development near Camden, N. J. for the New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Electus D. Litchfield, Architect.

Moreover, there are empty lots left within the 90 acres against which no street improvements have been calculated, the whole cost being calculated above against the 907 lots that will be occupied at once by houses. To these extra lots nothing further will be chargeable on the books except the original cost of the land. As to the section reserved for future development, its water and sewers need not cost nearly as much per lot as in the first contract. There is room* for 2,400 houses altogether, and if they are built and occupied, as it seems likely they soon will be, the cost of improved land per capita goes down and the market value per capita goes up, increasing the indicated increment to over $1,000,000! That may seem fanciful to the builders of Yorkship Village, and we need not bet on it, but when a prosperous population of 12,000 suddenly goes to dwell on a rural farm, strange things are due to happen. The unearned increment at Lackawanna, which the Lackawanna Steel Company created (14,000 population), was $6,788,000. Part of it, of course, is a speculative value, but it serves to make an increment of at least $1,000,000 at Yorkship Village, with its ultimate 12,000 population, seem reasonable enough!

The annual value of that increment, if converted into revenue for the benefit of the community, would apparently add over 50 percent to the normal per capita income which Camden obtains from the general property tax.

As the dividends of the Fairview Realty Company are limited to 5 percent annually, the increment is safe from private exploitation so long as the Realty Company refrains from selling off any houses and lots to parties not similarly restrained. The Realty Company will probably charge no more rent than the costs compel and thus will deliver the increment to the tenants in the form of rents that are lower than unrestrained private landlords would exact. A better way, if practicable, would be to charge normal rents, i. e., what other landlords in the region charge for equal accommodations. Thus, private construction, which is still badly needed, will not be discouraged, and the wage-scale of the employer will not have an unequal value, depending on whether a worker is lucky enough to get into Yorkship Village. Such a rental basis might drive up the wage-scale --- it certainly would bring in a revenue in excess of all normal expenses. The community with its 50 percent extra revenue could do for itself a multitude of things along the lines of health, schools, and recreation that would make Yorkship Village as surely a garden city in a social sense as it is to be in the sense of physical attractiveness!

At all events, speculators must be excluded. While the war lasts they must not be permitted to get hold of these houses and take advantage of the continuing housing shortage to boost the rents to the maximum that the well-paid shipyard workers can stand. That would nullify high wages by high rents and restore the restlessness of labor and the high labor turnover, thereby delaying the ship program. Any Tory can see that!


But why not continue to prevent exploitation of the unearned increment after the war, too? Amortize the Government loans out of rentals, at least to the point where a private mortgage can be obtained to refund it! In other words, take advantage of the unique non-profit-seeking origin of this town to sell the town on the installment plan to the tenants as a group, to be held in perpetual trust for their benefit by a limited-dividend corporation, like Letchworth, or the Co-Partnership Tenancy Societies of England.

*With further additional street development.

Digitized strictly for educational use with very minor editorial changes (see below).

Editorial changes from original.

  • Spelling changes:
    • "Westmount" replaced with "Westmont"
    • "façade" replaced with "facade"
    • "per cent." replaced with "percent"
    • "instalment" replaced with "installment"
    • "132 199" replaced with "132 - 199" under a caption.
  • Periods added to some captions under figures.
  • Editorial decision in one place for placement of "BUILDING NOS." to be consistent.
  • Editorial liberty in placing figures within text.

Credits: The General Plan figure is courtesy Frances Loeb Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, replacing the identical figure which did not xerox well. Caption is equivalent to original caption.

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