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

February 28, 2011
By The Real Deal

The Garment District

In response to the continued exodus of manufacturing jobs from the Garment Center neighborhood, the city approved a special zoning district 24 years ago this month to preserve the character of the once-bustling apparel district.

The new regulations required that in the affected properties, no additional space could be converted to office use from manufacturing unless the same amount of space was preserved in another building.

The regulations were put in place to protect apparel producers because they were being squeezed from all sides at once.

For one, offshore manufacturers were producing apparel far more cheaply, undercutting domestic companies. At the same time, office tenants were offering to pay much more in rent. Indeed, building owners could improve the space and lease to office tenants who could pay up to $20 per square foot in rent, while manufacturing firms would pay only $8 to $10 per foot.

The Department of City Planning said the district was necessary because otherwise the industry might weaken and the city would lose its influence as a clothing center. The so-called Special Garment Center District was roughly bounded by 40th Street to the north, 35th Street on the south, Broadway to the east and Ninth Avenue to the west.

The district covered properties only on the side streets 100 feet or more from the avenues, which were exempt. The protected buildings were mostly five to 15 stories tall.

The law was supported by union leaders and manufacturers, but some property owners and the trade group, the Real Estate Board of New York, opposed it.

1961: State fair housing bill approved

Legislators in Albany approved the first statewide law that banned racial and religious discrimination against tenants in multiple dwellings and in commercial properties, 50 years ago this month.

The law prohibited discrimination in private real estate dealings, including in residential buildings of 10 units or more and in smaller homes. It excluded one- and two-family houses. It also banned such bias in mortgage lending, sales and leasing, as well as in advertising by real estate firms.

At the time there were about 1.8 million residential units in New York City that were covered by the housing regulations.

The law expanded upon New York City’s Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs Law, which went into effect three years earlier. That law already covered most of the residential aspects of the state law through restrictions on landlords and agents, but unlike the state law, it did not ban discrimination in commercial buildings or lending.

Opponents of the new law said it would violate the private rights of property owners, but it cleared both the Assembly and the Senate with wide margins, and was signed into law by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

1902: Construction begins on Hotel Astor in Times Square

William Waldorf Astor’s workmen started building the luxurious 10-story Hotel Astor in Times Square 109 years ago this month. The hotel became renowned for its rooftop gardens, and was a social hub and residence for celebrities for decades.

The son of John Jacob Astor III built the $8 million, 500-room hotel in partnership with brothers William and Frederick Muschenheim, who ran it for five decades. When construction began on the French Renaissance-style building, which had a brick-and-limestone façade, the neighborhood was still known as Longacre Square. But in 1904, the year it opened, the Crossroads of the World was renamed Times Square, in honor of the New York Times, which was located there.

One of the city’s most famous outdoor spots was the hotel’s rooftop, which included fish-filled ponds, spouting fountains, and gazebos and grottos, which could hold as many as 5,000 people.

Known both as Hotel Astor and the Astor Hotel, it was also home to residents such as conductor Arturo Toscanini, and celebrities such as actor Jimmy Durante and filmmaker D.W. Griffith stayed there.

Compiled by Adam Pincus

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