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
March 31, 2008 12:16PM

1986: Jacob K. Javits Convention Center opens

The sprawling Jacob K. Javits Convention Center opened 22 years ago this month. With 1.8 million square feet of show space on Manhattan’s West Side, the convention center has the most amount of space under one roof in the country.

While the city’s new center was triple the size of the New York Coliseum on Columbus Circle, which it was built to replace, it was not the largest convention complex in the nation, trailing the Las Vegas Convention Center and McCormick Place in Chicago.

The American International Fur Fair and Art Expo ’86 were the first trade shows mounted on the center’s opening day, April 3, 1986. The $486 million modernist glass and steel center, designed by I.M. Pei and Partners, extends from 34th to 38th streets and between 11th and 12 avenues. It took seven years to build.

A ceremony in 1984 named the unfinished center in honor of Jacob K. Javits, a popular New York senator who served for 24 years. He died a month before the building opened.

Preliminary plans for a $1.8 billion expansion of the center, which would increase its size by 45 percent, were approved by the state in 2006, but after cost estimates for the project jumped to $3.2 billion, then-Governor Eliot Spitzer cancelled the complete overhaul. Spitzer had proposed a much less ambitious, 100,000-square-foot expansion prior to his resignation; final plans are tied up in political wrangling between Albany and New York City.

1944: Manhattan vacancy rates dip below 1 percent

Vacancy rates for Manhattan’s rental apartment buildings fell below 1 percent for the first time 64 years ago this month, according to a report from the Real Estate Board of New York, as the economy improved and recently returned World War II soldiers needed housing.

The results came from a sample of the borough’s 321,765 units in modern
elevator and walk-up buildings, but did not count the so-called “old law” tenements and “slum buildings.” Desperate prospective tenants were “scanning the obituary columns for leads on possible new vacancies,” according to a Times article. The
vacancy rate for modern buildings had been falling steadily since 1932, when it hit a
record high of 17.7 percent, then began dropping dramatically in the fall of 1942, when it was recorded at 9.8 percent.

In 2005, 3.79 percent of Manhattan’s approximately 600,000 rental units were vacant, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s Housing Vacancy Survey. However, a 2007 report by brokerage Citi Habitats contended that the rate that year was in fact below 1 percent in most neighborhoods in the borough.

1913: Record-breaking mortgage for Equitable Building

Ninety-five years ago this month, the largest mortgage the city had ever seen for a single parcel of property was arranged for the construction of the Equitable Building at 120 Broadway.

Delaware businessman Thomas Coleman Du Pont, an heir of the famed Du Pont family, along with his associates, borrowed a $20.5 million loan from the Equitable Life Assurance Company and filed the note with the city on April 25, 1913. The agreement stipulated that the long-term mortgage, at 4.5 percent interest, would be paid in gold. The loan was expected to be paid off by May 1, 1974.

Du Pont’s Equitable Office Building Corporation had purchased the development site in October 1912 for $13.5 million, after an earlier Equitable Building was destroyed in a fire in January that year. The 38-story building covers the entire lot bounded by Nassau, Cedar and Pine streets and Broadway. When it opened in 1915, the 1.7 million-square-foot building became the largest office building in the world by total floor area.

The Beaux-Arts structure rises straight up with no setback, casting an enormous shadow. Even before it was built, plans for the building stirred controversy, as neighborhood advocates had suggested that the city build a park on the site.
The Equitable Life Assurance Co. sold the mortgage in 1947 and then bought the building in 1958, according to a federal landmark designation report. In 1980, a partnership including Silverstein Properties purchased the office tower for $60 million, and in 1996 it was designated a landmark.

Compiled by Adam Pincus

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