The Pleasantville Apartment Project, a one story complex of 297 identical two bedroom apartments, was the first part of Pleasantville to be constructed. In consultation with Mrs. Josie Robinson and her husband Judson Robinson Sr., the developers also began to build single family homes, and the apartments quickly filled with those eager to buy.
The first phase of development in Pleasantville was the construction of 197 identical two bedroom apartments along with washeterias and playgrounds built as part of the Federal Housing Authority’s program 608, which allowed developers to quickly (and often shoddily) build rental apartments for returning veterans with little to no financial risk. The project was overseen by Melvin Silverman, a local developer and fixture of Houston’s Jewish community, and his cousin, Bernard Paul who owned the land. At the time, Silverman was also overseeing the construction of Houston’s first skyscraper, the Melrose building. Both the Melrose building and the first 197 Pleasantville apartments were completed in 1951. Based on the rapid success of the first phase of building, Silverman added another 104 units to the apartment complex in 1952 using another FHA program that ensured loans to build good quality middle-income rentals in areas of high need. The apartments were intended only as a short term fix. The real vision for Pleasantville was Black home ownership, and many of the renters came with the intention of moving into new single family homes as soon as they were built. In consultation with Josie Robinson and her husband Judson Robinson Sr. — community leaders who were also resident managers of the apartment complex — Silverman began the construction of 273 single-family homes at the same time as the second phase of apartments. He soon had a waiting list of prospective buyers from among residents eager to achieve the lauded dream of middle class home ownership that was denied to so many Black Americans.
Home ownership opportunities were largely unavailable to Black Houstonians at the time because of the compounded effect of racist policies of segregation and redlining–the widespread practice by which banks refused financing for properties in Black and other non-white neighborhoods. Thanks to the efforts of its earliest residents, Pleasantville would go on to become a center for Black civic engagement in the city, and was held up as a shining example of the kinds of thriving Black communities that could emerge from post-war Federal Housing Authority programs.