The Real Deal New York

This month in real estate history

The Real Deal looks back at some of New York's biggest real estate stories

December 30, 2009
By The Real Deal

Millennium Broadway Hotel
Millennium Broadway Hotel

1985: Macklowe demolishes Times Square SROs in illegal nighttime action

In an audacious attempt to circumvent more-restrictive building laws set to take effect two days later, the Macklowe Corp. sent contractors overnight to demolish four Times Square structures 25 years ago this month.

On Jan. 7, workers partially brought down four buildings at 143-149 West 44th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. The demolition included two single-room-occupancy hotels.
The work was done without disconnecting the gas lines or obtaining the required permits. While no one was injured, the next morning the street was blocked with bricks and broken glass.

The firm, headed by developer Harry Macklowe and later renamed Macklowe Properties, hastily took down the buildings to avoid a moratorium on the demolition of SROs proposed by the administration of Mayor Ed Koch that was set to go into effect on Jan. 9. Elected officials and housing activists were outraged by the demolition, particularly because at the time, SROs housed many of the city’s homeless.

While Macklowe didn’t own the buildings, he had an agreement to buy them from developer Sol Goldman and took title of them later that month.

Macklowe was not indicted, but his company and a vice president pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless endangerment charges. Goldman was charged with perjury, but was acquitted in a jury trial in 1986.

As part of an agreement with the city, Macklowe paid $2 million for the development and maintenance of SROs elsewhere in the city. But that money plus interest was refunded in 1990 after the payment was ruled unconstitutional.

After a two-year delay related to the demolition, Macklowe began construction and opened the 38-story Macklowe Hotel at 145 West 44th Street in 1990. The hotel is now called the Millennium Broadway Hotel.

1960: LeFrak buys Queensland for world’s largest private rental project

LeFrak City

The LeFrak Organization quietly purchased 40 acres in central Queens for $7 million to develop the largest privately financed apartment development in the world, 50 years ago this month.

LeFrak assembled the land from the estates of John Jacob Astor and William Waldorf Astor in Corona, the New York Times reported in 1960. The land had once been a country home for President Martin Van Buren.

Company president Samuel LeFrak announced in May 1960 that his firm would build a $100 million development without public financing. That was a contrast to projects such as Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town, which was built using tax abatements. The 5,000-unit development, north of the Long Island Expressway between Junction Boulevard and 59th Street, ultimately cost $150 million.

Composed of 20 high-rise buildings, the complex was completed in 1967. The monthly rent for a three-bedroom in 1964 was $240. Today the same size apartment is priced at about $1,700.

1891: Tracking New York City properties gets easier

A new method for recording deeds and mortgages in New York City using the city block as the point of reference instead of the name of the property owner, vastly simplifying title searches, went into effect 119 years ago this month.

Under the 1889 state law that created the new system, property transfers were recorded in the city Register of Deeds office in books organized by the city block, instead of by the name of the property owner. The law was a precursor to the system in use today that divides the city into blocks and individual lots.

The changes were sought because of the large volume of filings — 25,000 annually in 1890 — in the city. At the time New York City only included Manhattan and the Bronx. The boroughs were divided into 3,428 city blocks.

A year before the law went into effect, major reform advocate and real estate attorney Dwight Olmstead estimated that the change would increase property values by 5 percent, or $100 million, because of the greater ease in recording sales.

Compiled by Adam Pincus

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