Historical Markers
Mooncrest Historical Marker
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Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Mooncrest Drive at Old Thorn Run Road, Moon Township

Dedication Date:
April 15, 2004

Behind the Marker

This photograph was taken at the launch of this ship on Memorial Day, 1944.
Launching of the U.S.S. Jenks by the Dravo Corporation at Neville Island....
During World War II, Pennsylvania's industries sprang into action, rapidly converting to wartime production and becoming what Governor James called "The Arsenal of America." The Commonwealth's war plants underwent explosive growth, especially its shipyards, which undertook the most ambitious maritime construction program in American history. As a result, newcomers poured into Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and other cities with defense-related plants. The workforce at the Philadelphia Navy Yard soared from under 6,000 to more than 58,000 by the end of 1942; Sun Ship in Chester soon employed more than 35,000. In Pittsburgh, thousands went to work at the Dravo Corporation's Neville Island Shipyard, manufacturing Landing Ship-Tanks (LSTs), the landing ship that would carry American troops and equipment onto beaches in both Europe and the Pacific.

Image of housing development.
Construction of the federally funded Pennypack Woods defense housing development,...
The onslaught of new war workers quickly overwhelmed the available housing, already in short supply because of the collapse of the housing starts during the Great Depression. In October 1940, President Roosevelt attempted to avoid a housing shortage by signing into law the National Defense Housing Act, which authorized the Federal Works Agency (FWA) to construct housing projects for defense workers in areas that Roosevelt and his committee deemed the most critical. In November 1941, Philadelphia's first defense housing project opened in Passyunk, home to 1,000 families of workers at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This development is still there today, owned by the city's housing authority. Over the course of the war, the government constructed 32,039 units in Pennsylvania, about five percent of the national total of more than 614,000 units. Almost all of Pennsylvania's housing projects were located near military installations, ordnance plants, steel mills, and manufacturing plants in Allentown, Bethlehem, Erie, Johnstown, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, which had the greatest concentration of defense housing in the state.

In 1943, the federal government funded the construction of defense housing on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River, to shelter workers at the nearby markerDravo Corporation's Neville Island shipyards. Named Mooncrest, the original complex consisted of 106 brick residential structures, which contained 396 one-, two-, and three-bedroom housing units. The FWA hired famed architects, including Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer of the Bauhaus style; Oscar Stonorov, who had designed Philadelphia's innovative Carl Mackley Houses in the 1930s, and Richard J. Neutra, a rival of Frank Lloyd Wright, to design housing that was both affordable and architecturally innovative. Mooncrest housing came in six building styles, laid out on seven blocks of circular, looping streets, with lots of open space. The designers also provided one off-street parking space for each unit, despite the fact that the community was close enough to the shipyards for most defense workers to walk there. Like better defense housing projects, Mooncrest also featured playgrounds, a community recreation center, and visiting dental and medical clinics provided by the city of Pittsburgh.

Aerial of the town
The "ultra modern" community of Levittown sprawling out behind its shopping...
During World War II, tens of thousands of Southern African Americans came to Pennsylvania cities to work in war plants. Although a presidential order forbid discrimination in the defense industries, most government-funded housing was segregated, and even in integrated communities a clear disparity often existed between the races. Philadelphia's Shipyard Homes, for example, permitted African Americans to live in the development, but did not allow them to live in the better homes. The Passyunk Homes for Navy Yard workers denied admittance to blacks altogether. In North Philadelphia, the federal government razed the housing of poor African Americans to construct the Richard Allen Homes, then restricted them to white defense workers only, even though more than 1,000 African Americans had lived in the houses that were torn down. The resulting scandal caused the Philadelphia Inquirer to remark that it was "a crying shame [to] make poor families suffer in order to adequately house defense workers."

ith the end of the war, the federal government disposed of its defense housing communities by transferring them to local governments or selling them to residents under the Mutual Home Ownership Plan. Despite the opposition of local realtors, thirteen defense housing projects in the Pittsburgh area, including Aluminum City Terrace (designed by Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer), were transferred to their residents. Other defense housing communities were not so lucky. Many were constructed in mill towns that were heavily dependent on local industry. When those companies went out of business or relocated they left devastated communities in their wake. Increasingly isolated and dilapidated, many of the wartime housing projects fell victim to the wrecking ball in the 1970s.

After the war ended, the United States Air Force operated Mooncrest for service families at a nearby base. In 1958, the government sold Mooncrest to private developers, who in turn sold the individual units to landlords or new owners. While the nearby town of Moon grew increasingly popular and affluent, Mooncrest suffered from neglect and a lack of parking so severe that many owners paved over the much-touted green spaces of the war era. In the late 1990s, the Mooncrest Neighborhood Association began to revitalize the community.

By twenty-first-century standards, the housing units at Mooncrest and other wartime housing projects are small and cramped. These government-funded residential projects, however, enabled workers to live in clean, affordable communities near their families and workplaces. Today, Mooncrest is one of the few examples of World War II defense housing to survive, an important reminder of the time, during World War II, when the federal government was the Commonwealth's biggest landlord.

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