During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the estates and villages of the early Bronx became urban neighborhoods. The basic, underlying factors that had permitted them to develop in the first place— the city's economy, population, and transit systems—were shared by all areas. The timing, pace, and conditions under which they grew differed. But the primary agent for neighborhood creation and growth was “the real estate operator “who” … gets hold of tracts of land here and there which he can map and cut up into blocks and building lots and advertise and sell.” “He is the man,” concluded Elihu Root, “who very largely determines the growth of a city.”1 These real estate operations created the city neighborhood by neighborhood.
One such neighborhood was Mott Haven, the southernmost area of the Bronx. Cheap rapid transit spurred its development. The Suburban Rapid Transit Company—the later Third Avenue El—reached Mott Haven in 1886 and made the area accessible to Manhattan's swelling population. From then on, Mott Haven had higher land values, much construction of residential and business buildings, a rapid pace of public improvements, and population growth. The combination of private and public endeavors transformed it into an urban neighborhood.2
In the immediate postannexation years, the Mott Haven area languished with the rest of the Bronx. With time, however, proximity to Manhattan gave it an edge in the competition for public and private improvements. Its street system was too long established to lend itself to wholesale change. Consequently, the Parks Department left Mott Haven to the same purposes its early developers had—for “commercial and manufacturing” facilities