This month in real estate history

The Real Deal looks back at some of New York's biggest real estate stories

Nov.November 03, 2008 03:12 PM

1974: First modern skyscraper declared landmark

The American Radiator Building on the south side of Bryant Park in Midtown was the first modern skyscraper to be designated a city landmark, 34 years ago this month.

The 23-story black and gold office tower at 40 West 40th Street was built in 1924 in the Art Deco style, eschewing the Beaux-Arts style that dominated high-rise building design in previous decades.

At the time, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission had designated only two other skyscrapers — the Manhattan Municipal Building at 1 Centre Street and the Flatiron Building at Broadway and 23rd Street, both in 1966.

Since the designation, about 40 skyscrapers have been landmarked, including the Chrysler Building and the Chanin Building in 1978 and the Empire State Building in 1981.

The commission wrote in its designation report, “With its striking forms and colors … (it) initiated a new trend in skyscraper design in New York City.” The building was designed by Raymond Hood, the architect of the Daily News and McGraw-Hill buildings on 42nd Street. The 338-foot tower is now occupied by the high-end Bryant Park Hotel.

1936: Rockefeller buys Harlem apartment after foreclosure

John D. Rockefeller Jr. paid $1.857 million to buy the insolvent Dunbar Apartments in Harlem 72 years ago this month, a complex he built eight years earlier for $3.5 million.

The 511-unit apartment complex, between Seventh and Eighth avenues and 149th and 150th streets, was the first large co-operative built for black tenants in the city. Named for the famous poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who died in 1906, it opened in 1928 as a project intended to improve the quality of housing in Harlem. Residents paid an average $14.50 per room. The project sold out its first year.

But the stock market crash in 1929 and the Depression hurt tenants’ ability to make their payments. Despite being nearly 98 percent occupied in 1931, the building became insolvent. Rockefeller brought the foreclosure against the housing complex, which had defaulted on a $2 million mortgage originally written in December 1927. He returned the tenants’ equity, and the six-building complex was converted to a rental building.

Rockefeller sold the building in 1937 for $1 million. After changing hands several times over the years, the Pinnacle Group bought the property in 2005 from landlord Baruch Singer for $94.38 million, city records show.

Famous residents of the building, which was designated a landmark by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1970, included writer W.E.B. DuBois, actor Paul Robeson and North Pole explorer Matthew Henson.

1909: Record $822 per foot set for Manhattan parcel

The banking firm the Manhattan Trust Company agreed to pay a record $822 per square foot for a Downtown building at the corner of Nassau and Wall streets 99 years ago this month, surpassing the previous top price of $700 per foot.

The 20-story steel-framed Gillender Building was built on a slim 1,825-square-foot parcel, a prime piece of real estate adjacent to a seven-story building.

The Gillender tower was the tallest building in the city to be torn down when it was demolished in 1910, just 13 years after it was built. It was replaced by the 41-story Bankers Trust Building.

Negotiations for the building began in April, the deal was finalized in November and the final contract was signed in December, the New York Times reported.

The previous record of $700 was paid several years earlier for a lot on the southeast corner of Broadway and Wall Street. The cost at the time was calculated by the size of the 25- by 73-foot parcel, not by the building’s total square feet or the buildable feet. Using today’s pricing method, the $1.5 million paid for the approximately 31,000-square-foot tower would be considered about $48 per foot. Pricing it according to the buildable square feet used in the Bankers Trust Building would yield a cost of only about $20 per foot.

Compiled by Adam Pincus


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