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

April 01, 2011
By The Real Deal

Penn Station's demolition in 1963.

Despite harsh criticism from the real estate industry, Mayor Robert Wagner signed New York City’s first landmarks preservation bill into law 46 years ago this month.

The law restricted changes to the exteriors of protected buildings and converted the Landmarks Preservation Commission from a temporary body to a permanent city agency. At the time of the signing, the commission said there were 700 buildings in the city worthy of designation.

The law was prompted by the controversial demolition of significant city structures such as McKim, Mead & White’s soaring Beaux-Arts Pennsylvania Station, which was demolished in 1963 over the opposition of preservationists.

Several major landlord trade groups, including the Real Estate Board of New York, the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association and the Avenue of the Americas Association, decried the new law.

John O’Donoghue, REBNY’s then-executive secretary, said the tough regulations would “seriously impede the modern expansion and progress of the city.” Instead, he suggested commemorative plaques placed on buildings as a means to protect them.

1933: Sunnyside Gardens owners start mortgage strike

Middle-class homeowners in the Sunnyside Gardens development in western Queens stopped paying their mortgages 81 years ago this month, in an effort to reduce their monthly payments during the Great Depression.

The owners of the 563 homes — built between 1924 and 1928 by the private firm City Housing Corporation — banded together to ask their lenders for cuts in the interest and principal on their mortgages. They claimed that lost jobs and reduced wages made the payments unaffordable. Prior to the move, lenders had been providing relief to homeowners who were struggling through the Depression on a case-by-case basis.

But the effort failed, and by late 1935, there were 100 foreclosure actions, and about 50 more pending. In January 1936, six people were arrested after trying to prevent the eviction of a couple who had defaulted on their mortgage and were being evicted at one of the Sunnyside Gardens homes at 39-26 44th Street. The sheriffs kicked the couple out with a crowd of some 250 people jeering in protest.

At the time they were constructed, the one-, two- and three-family attached houses built on 70 acres had a market value of $6.4 million, and were home to artists, bricklayers, office workers, academics and architects.

Ultimately, 60 percent of the Sunnyside Gardens homeowners lost their houses during the economic slump.

1910: Park Avenue transforms into luxury apartment boulevard

One hundred and one years ago this month, developers purchased six lots at the southeast corner of Park Avenue and 78th Street to build a 12-story apartment building. The purchase signaled the area’s transformation from an inexpensive neighborhood to an enclave of high-end apartment buildings.

The developer, A.M. Jampol, planned an apartment building at 875 Park Avenue, with an estimated cost of $1 million.

Also that month, the New York Times described a burst of building activity a little farther south on the now-famous boulevard.

“Indeed, Park Avenue from Fifty-ninth to Sixty-third Street may truly be called the cooperative apartment house centre of New York,” the paper said, noting that by the end of 1911, nine large buildings would be constructed with a total cost of $8 million.

Compiled by Adam Pincus

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