The Real Deal New York

This month in real estate history

October 24, 2007

1982: Borough Park’s building, baby boom

Twenty-five years ago this month, statistics showed that the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park was one of the fastest-growing areas in the city. It’s today home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish populations in the world outside of Israel.

Borough Park’s growth began to pick up steam in the late ’70s as more Orthodox Jews, who often have large families, migrated to the area from the city’s other traditionally Jewish enclaves such as the Lower East Side and Williamsburg.

Between 1978 and 1982, the Jewish population of Borough Park expanded by 25 percent, and Orthodox residents numbered roughly 65,000 of the neighborhood’s 100,000 residents.

Property values were soaring along with the influx of people, and neighborhood boundaries were being redrawn to include what had formerly been considered sections of Midwood and Flatbush.

Lawrence Rezak, a developer who was building housing in Borough Park, said he thought it was the most exciting residential market in the Northeast. Land prices in the area fetched a premium because there was a dearth of available plots: 40-foot plots were going for around $180,000, and 60-foot plots were selling for around $250,000, which city brokers said were the highest prices being paid for low-rise development sites outside of Manhattan.

In 1982, a spokesperson for the local hospital, Maimonides Medical Center, said 5,000 babies were being born there a year, which was approximately double the rate of any other hospital in the city. Today, the neighborhood’s birth rate continues to be among the highest in the city.

1962: Lincoln Square, Columbus Circle revival eyed

The Lincoln Square Renewal Project started bearing fruit 55 years ago this month. Fordham University’s law school, completed in 1962, was the first building in the urban renewal project spearheaded by John D. Rockefeller III and Robert Moses. It would eventually be joined by Lincoln Center.

At the time, the revitalization of neighboring Columbus Circle was thought to be a certainty as well. Several city building booms had largely bypassed Columbus Circle since the late 19th century, when the circle was given its present name after the installation of a 77-foot statue of Christopher Columbus in the center of Manhattan’s only major traffic circle.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Columbus Circle area became a cultural hub that rivaled Times Square, known for its popular after-theater restaurants.

By mid-century, however, Columbus Circle fell into decline, seemingly forgotten by developers despite its proximity to mass transportation and Central Park. The area had low land values, much cheaper than other centrally located Manhattan neighborhoods.
Only in 2004, with the completion of the Time Warner Center, did Columbus Circle’s revival start to come around.

1947: Planning begins for New York City’s Golden Jubilee

Over 100 architects, government officials and real estate professionals gathered at a meeting 60 years ago this month to begin planning New York City’s Golden Jubilee to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the consolidation of Manhattan, the city of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island into New York City. Plans for the celebration, which was held in 1948, called for the beautification of the area surrounding City Hall to create a “setting befitting the Capitol of the Capital of the World,” said an official involved in the planning. The main highlight of the citywide celebration was an exposition held at the now-demolished Grand Central Palace, a trade show hall near Grand Central Terminal. The exposition featured a popular exhibit called “Man and the Atom,” which described the supposedly limitless potential of atomic energy. Another highlight of the Golden Jubilee was an international air show at Idlewild Airport, now John F. Kennedy International Airport. The airport opened in 1947.

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