The Real Deal New York

This month in real estate history

By Adam Pincus | July 01, 2009 01:55PM

1983: Top prices for auctioned government-owned parcels

In auctions held a week apart, Financial District properties owned by the federal and city governments sold for record amounts 26 years ago this month.

The former United States Assay Office at 32 Old Slip was purchased for $27 million on July 20, besting the former top price of $3 million for a federal building that sold in Philadelphia just days earlier.

And a five-building, city-owned parcel at the corner of William and Beaver streets sold a week later for $13.15 million, topping the previous record price of $4.6 million in 1980 for a New York City property.

Paris-headquartered office developer HRO International bought the 120,100-square-foot Assay Office building that until 1982 stored 4,140 bags of gold coins confiscated from Nazi Germany as well as silver and gold. The United States Bureau of the Mint, which owned the building, also burned damaged paper money and melted damaged coins at the location on the East River, bounded by Old Slip, South Street, Front Street and Gouverneur Lane.

The building was demolished in 1986, and in 1987 HRO International built a 36-story office tower at 32 Old Slip, known as Financial Square. Paramount Group sold it for $751 million in 2007 to Beacon Capital Partners.

Trans World Equities bought the city properties at 13-15 and 23 William Street and 51-53 Beaver Street that the city had acquired in 1979 for nonpayment of taxes.

The site is now the home to a trendy, 330-unit condominium tower being built by hotel developer André Balazs and the private real estate firm SDS Investments, led by developers S. Lawrence Davis and Alex Sapir, president of the Sapir Organization.

1953: Cement driver strike idles 100,000 workers

The post-war construction boom in New York City was halted for two months during a strike 56 years ago this month by a union representing 1,800 truck drivers that froze construction on $600 million worth of projects and idled 100,000 workers.

The drivers of Local 282 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who deliver sand, gravel and ready-mix cement, as well as building supplies, first walked off the job July 3 because of a dispute over wages and benefits.

At the height of the stoppage, Mayor Vincent Impellitteri convened a three-person mediation committee to try to resolve the dispute. The strike did not end until the president of the national Teamsters union, Dave Beck, forced the drivers to return to work in exchange for sending negotiations to binding arbitration.

Affected projects included the $13 million Bellevue nurses’ home and school, the East Harlem Hospital and a hospital in Elmhurst, Queens. Paving work on the approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge was stalled as well, delaying completion of the project.

1931: 112-year-old Chelsea brokerage incorporated

The real estate brokerage firm James N. Wells’ Sons, founded in 1819 to manage the real estate concerns for the Moore family farm known as “Chelsea,” was reorganized as a corporate entity 78 years ago this month.

The firm was closely tied to the growth of the West Side neighborhood that grew from a bucolic area to a working-class residential enclave.

The founder of the company, James N. Wells, was a carpenter and builder who was acquainted with Clement Clarke Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (now known as “The Night Before Christmas”) and became his real estate adviser.

The Chelsea farm’s original boundaries ran from 19th to 24th streets, and from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River.

Wells convinced Moore that instead of selling the land, he should lease it in parcels for long terms. In 1931 the realty corporation’s president, James Eadie, valued the property at $40 million.

The most significant single lease that the Wells Company arranged was to Henry Mandel, developer of the London Terrace apartment houses, for the block between 23rd and 24th streets and Ninth and 10th avenues.

James N. Wells’ Sons still survives as Stribling-Wells & Gay, after being acquired by Stribling & Associates in 1989.

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