Decades of Crimes of Passion, Protests, Bank Robberies, and Other Mayhem in Sunnyside, Queens

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sunnyside Depression Foreclosure Protests - 1935

Sunnyside, like the rest of the United States, was roiled by foreclosures in the 1930s, as the economy continued to contract due to the Great Depression. Although the neighborhood was only heavily developed within the decade, Sunnyside Gardens residents felt strong ties to their threatened homes and the greater neighborhood. They took their protests direct to the lenders, painting them as villains - garnering press from the Times along the way. In the middle of November 1935, dozens of residents that recently lost their homes picketed the offices of Merchants Fire Insurance Company (at 45 John Street in Manhattan), carrying signs reading "Rockefeller puts families out of homes." The article notes that John D. Rockefeller was a director of the company at the time. Children held placards reading, "We were born in Sunnyside and we want to stay there."

Protests continued in December at the Long Island City County Courthouse, with Sunnyside Gardens women in full costume ("gingham dresses and bonnets" notes the newspaper) carrying brooms (to sweep away the foreclosures). The women performed a protest song and folk dance against the auction of three Gardens homes occurring that day (December 20, 1935) at the courthouse.

The song (to the tune of "John Brown's Body") went like this:

Sunnyside is on a mortgage holiday.
Sweeping 6 percent philanthropy away.
Second mortgages can't make these houses pay.
Although their sales go on.

The chorus, according to the Times:

Glory for the six-per-centers.
Who are out to make us renters.
What a pity we're dissenters.
We'll stay in Sunnyside.

An accompanying photo reveals residents again carrying signs, this time that read "Sunnyside Homeowners Will Fight Evictions" and "End the Foreclosure Racket." One sign, presumably from an evicted resident, read simply (in all caps), "FORECLOSED."

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