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 09, 2010
By Adam Pincus

1971: State proposes development over Sunnyside Yards

State officials proposed the construction of a new neighborhood for 60,000 residents and 35,000 office and industrial workers above Sunnyside Yards in Long Island City, 39 years ago this month.

The Urban Development Corporation, a state agency, presented the $1.4 billion plan to Queens Borough President Sidney Leviss. It was the first time a residential development was suggested, but it was not the first proposal to build above the yards.

One early suggestion, made in 1925, was to build a commercial building for the United States Post Office. That was followed in 1951 by a plan to build a transportation hub over the yards. Later, in 1973, the State Racing and Wagering Board suggested the construction of a sports stadium. None of the projects was ever built, and the yards remain uncovered.

Most of the construction costs for the proposed village — which was to be built on columns and multilevel platforms above the yards owned by Penn Central railroad — would be paid for by private funds. Government agencies would contribute $105 million for schools and infrastructure and up to $89 million in additional subsidies.

The plan, which was to be carried out by architectural firm Gruzen & Partners and developer LeFrak Organization, included building six- and 20-story apartment buildings. Built in 1910, the Sunnyside Yards are bounded by Northern Boulevard, Skillman Avenue, Thomson Avenue and 48th Street.

1948: Historic Brevoort Hotel closes

The century-old Brevoort Hotel just north of Washington Square Park, which for generations had been a meeting place for the rich and influential in New York, announced 62 years ago this month that it would close because it could not meet new fire code regulations.

The hotel, located at 9-13 Fifth Avenue at 8th Street in Greenwich Village, was built in 1845, but by 1948 there were 52 long-term residents living there.

Some of the era’s notable figures, such as President James Garfield, writers Mark Twain, Edith Wharton and Eugene O’Neil, and even Edward VII, the Prince of Wales, stayed at the 113-unit hotel.

The hotel notified tenants on July 13 that a new state law, enacted after a fatal hotel fire in Atlanta, Ga., would make it impossible to bring the building up to code without rebuilding it.

The structure, along with several other buildings on the block, was demolished in 1954 to make way for developer Sam Minskoff & Sons’ 301-unit Brevoort co-op, at 11 Fifth Avenue, which opened in 1955 under a ground lease.

1914: Wrecking ball hits Bank of the Manhattan’s water tank

Demolition began 96 years ago this month on a four-story building housing a century-old water tank. The storied tank was built by the Bank of the Manhattan Company, a lender that won its charter to operate as a bank in 1799 under a ruse to deliver water to New York City residents.

The bank maintained the tank and a 30-foot deep empty well at the northwest corner of Lafayette and Reade streets in Lower Manhattan because it believed that its charter as a bank depended on maintaining an appearance of being able to supply water to the city. This continued despite the opening of the Croton Aqueduct system, which began distributing fresh water to the city in 1842.

The water tank was built in three sections between 1812 and 1836. A three-story restaurant rose in its place, and now a 21-story office building, occupied by the city, sits at the 2 Lafayette Street property.

The Manhattan Company was chartered by the state as a company to supply water to the city, a ploy used by backers such as Aaron Burr, who later became the third vice president of the United States. The ruse was necessary because of fierce opposition from Alexander Hamilton and his supporters of the Bank of New York, who didn’t want another lender in the city.