They built New York: Fred F. French

"You can't overbuild in New York," developer once said

TRD New York /
Oct.October 30, 2015 04:30 PM

Born into poverty, Fred F. French had to go to work as a young boy, selling newspapers and doing odd jobs to help support his family. Yet he also managed to stay in school, and eventually study engineering at Columbia University. When he died, he would be credited with building some of the most significant residential developments of the 20th Century, along with several notable office towers.

In 1925, he undertook Manhattan’s largest-ever housing project, on five acres along the East River in the 40s.

His plan was to build a $25 million “urban Utopia” of parks, gardens and neo-Gothic apartment buildings in an area dominated until then by slums, tenements and slaughterhouses. His aim was to provide affordable housing for office workers then fleeing Manhattan for the outer boroughs and the suburbs.

The project, called Tudor City, saw its first building open in 1927. Considered the world’s first residential skyscraper complex, it included 11 high-rises, four brownstones and a hotel, with roughly 3,000 units when complete.

Although there are still a good number of rental tenants, the properties, now across the street from the United Nations’ headquarters, went co-op in 1984.

French led an expansive lifestyle. And he once famously said, “You can’t overbuild in New York.”

By 1934, French was also at work building Knickerbocker Village, a multi-building complex for the working class on the site of another notorious slum between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. It was one of the first federally subsidized urban renewal projects to be privately built and owned.

French also built several office towers, notably the Art Deco French Building at 45th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Among his innovations was the use of investment capital from individual investors, who purchased equity shares in his projects and were paid dividends before the developer took any profits.


Related Articles

arrow_forward_ios
(Image by Wolfgang & Hite via Dezeen)

Hudson Yards megadevelopment inspires a new line of sex toys

Cammeby's International Group founder Rubin Schron and, from top: 194-05 67th Avenue, 189-15 73rd Avenue and 64-05 186th Lane (Credit: Google Maps)

Ruby Schron lands $500M refi for sprawling Queens apartment portfolio

Wendy Silverstein (Credit: Getty Images)

Wendy Silverstein, co-head of WeWork’s real-estate fund, is out

(Illustration by Andrea Mongia)

‘Thank God’ for techies: Silicon Valley execs ramp up NYC resi purchases

101 West 23rd Street and E&M Management principal Daniel Goldstein (Credit: Google Maps and E&M)

“Something is rotten” at Chelsea co-op, owners say

Corcoran CEO Pam Liebman and president of sales Bill Cunningham 

Corcoran shakeup: Bill Cunningham out; Gary Malin now COO

Battle of the boroughs: Tallying the city’s top law firms by real estate loans

Battle of the boroughs: Tallying the city’s top law firms by real estate loans

Playboy CEO Ben Kohn and Adam Hochfelder with 510 West 42nd Street (Credit: Google Maps, Getty Images)

Exposed: Playboy has left the Playboy Club New York

arrow_forward_ios