The Real Deal New York

This month in real estate history

October 22, 2007 10:55AM

1977: Artists get affordable housing in Times Square

Before it was known as “Broadway’s bedroom,” the future of Times Square’s Manhattan Plaza was the subject of lively debate. When work on the rental towers began in 1973, the project — developed by Richard Ravitch with significant city subsidies — was designed to draw middle-class tenants to the downtrodden Theater District. As building costs soared in the mid-’70s and work on the two 46-story towers stalled, both the city and developer came to the conclusion that their costs would not be recouped. While the project was floundering, federal Section 8 funds became available, and Manhattan Plaza was reconceived as housing for the city’s performing arts community.

In January 1977 debate centered on the New York City Planning Commission’s approval of a plan to give performers preference for all of the complex’s low-rent units. Groups representing performers had already made an agreement with Community Board 4 stipulating that performers would only get preference for 70 percent of Manhattan Plaza’s apartments, and that half of the remaining units would be set aside for the elderly and half for local Clinton neighborhood residents. Eventually the Community Board plan was adopted, and today Manhattan Plaza is such a popular building that its preliminary waiting list is closed.

1947: East Side experiences renewal via United Nations, Stuyvesant Town

In January 1947 the New York Times ran an extensive article under the headline “The East River Shore Regains Its Glory,” viewing plans for the United Nations headquarters as a harbinger of the East Side’s renewal.

The Times reported that the East 40s were “a depressed area worthy of mention only because it is there that the United Nations will be built…along 47th Street to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive are dingy lofts, abandoned buildings, a depot for refilling fuel-oil trucks and a tiny strip where Italians play bocce. Down First Avenue to 46th Street are automobile repair shops and a gasoline station. And then come the slaughterhouses, solid down to 43rd Street.”

Plans for middle- and lower-income housing farther downtown along the East River were also key to the area’s rejuvenation. Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were then under construction, and parcels farther downtown were slated to get several large housing projects. The slate of planned affordable apartments was expected to house over 60,000 people. Looking ahead, the Times article projected that “the East River front in 1957 will be an almost unbroken fa├žde of beauty and prosperity from Gracie Mansion south. Manhattan’s eastern waterfront will be lined with modern hospitals, lavish homes, fashionable apartment houses and vast housing projects.”

1917: Subway development’s impact on real estate values debated

There was much discussion in January 1917 about how the far-reaching expansion of the subway system would impact real estate values outside of central Manhattan.

As Clifton Hood notes in “722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York,” at the end of the first decade of the 20th century, “Manhattan was vastly more populous that the other four boroughs. In 1910, 49 of every 100 New Yorkers lived in Manhattan. At a time when many parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island were thinly settled, Manhattan bristled with tenements, row houses, apartment buildings and factories.”

In 1913, the BRT and IRT agreed to dual contracts, whereby each company was given a contract to extend and manage their subway lines for the next 49 years. The dual contracts would eventually double the length of the city’s rapid transit system and extend service much farther into Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

In January 1917, however, real estate experts debated whether population growth would follow the subway lines’ extensions in the outer boroughs, and therefore whether land values would increase. Both happened. As Hood writes, “The dual system completed the enormous task of unifying greater New York…leaping across the East River, binding Queens and Brooklyn to Manhattan and the Bronx, and opening thousands of acres of new land for development.”

1907: Future landmarks, granite palaces rise

One hundred years ago this month there was a great deal of excitement over the many impressive buildings scheduled to be completed in Manhattan in 1907. Perhaps the most anticipated structure was Cass Gilbert’s U.S. Custom House in Bowling Green. According to “The Landmarks of New York,” by Barbaralee Diamonstein, “Gilbert’s building — a granite palace executed in a monumental Beaux Arts style — is a paean to trade, to the city’s role as a great seaport, and to American’s status as one of the leading commercial nations in the world.”

The building was declared a landmark in 1965 and now houses the National Museum of the American Indian.

The Hall of Records building north of City Hall Park was also being built then, as were the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, the North Campus of City College, Hamilton Hall and St. Paul’s Chapel on Columbia’s campus, and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower at 1 Madison Avenue. All these buildings were also eventually granted landmark status.

Compiled by Gabby Warshawer

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