This month in real estate history

A look back at some of New York City's biggest real estate stories

Jun.June 01, 2013 07:00 AM

1971: Largest portfolio, valued at $1.2B, put up for sale

The nation’s largest railroad, the bankrupt Penn Central Transportation, announced it would sell 23 Manhattan parcels worth an estimated $1.2 billion, 42 years ago this month. The offering could have yielded the largest sale of real estate in the city by a single owner to that point.

245 Park Avenue

245 Park Avenue

All 23 properties generated about $21 million a year in rent revenue for the railroad, which filed to reorganize in 1970.

Included in the assets were the Barclay, Biltmore, Commodore and Roosevelt hotels as well as office buildings at 466 Lexington Avenue and 52 Vanderbilt Street.

Also, Penn Central was selling the land under the Met Life building, then named the Pan American Building; the Graybar Building; the Yale Club; and 1.7 million square feet of air rights over Grand Central Terminal, though the station was not on the auction block.

The railroad’s properties were scattered over roughly 10 blocks within 29 acres in Midtown, from Madison to Lexington avenues and from 42nd to 52nd streets.

Penn Central acquired the parcels along Park Avenue in a merger of Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central Railroad.

Legal wrangling delayed the package sale; ultimately, different entities bought the parcels — over several years — for less than $1.2 billion.

The New York Bank for Savings made the first buy, paying $24 million for 230 Park Avenue in 1976. Two other notable sales: Developer Stanley Stahl ponied up $12 million for the land under 277 Park Avenue and the Loews Corporation laid out $55 million for the Barclay, Biltmore and Roosevelt hotels.

1943: White-only Stuy Town plan approved

The city’s Board of Estimate approved land and tax breaks for Stuyvesant Town even after the developer said the housing project would be for white residents only, 70 years ago this month.

Stuy Town discrimination

Stuy Town discrimination

Board members voted 11 to 5 to give a 25-year tax exemption and the use of eminent domain to assist Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in building its $50 million development on Manhattan’s East Side.

The controversial decision came after a hearing that lasted three and a half hours; more than a dozen in the room spoke against Met Life’s ban on black applicants.

Just days before the vote, Met Life Chairman Frederick Ecker had told the New York Post: “Negroes and whites do not mix.”

Law prohibited discrimination in pubic developments but not in private ones. And despite the city’s involvement, Stuyvesant Town was considered a private project.

City officials had even backed the partnership with Met Life. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia encouraged insurance companies and banks to use their money to improve the city’s slums; parks commissioner Robert Moses, also a noted builder, championed the suggestion — especially the Met Life plan.

Stuyvesant Town’s first apartments opened in 1947. Two years later, the state’s highest court backed Met Life against three black World War II veterans who sued for the right to live in the development. In 1951, the city banned discrimination in all housing projects.

1911: City gets gift of Rockaways beachfront

Rockaway Park in 1917

Rockaway Park in 1917

New York City acquired more than a mile of beachfront in Rockaway Park that became part of the peninsula’s popular boardwalk, 102 years ago this month.

A citizens group purchased the land from the Rockaway Park Improvement Company, a local real estate development company, and turned it over to the city.

The price paid: $10,000, a fraction of the property’s $150,000 estimated value.

Measuring 5,000 feet long and 400 feet wide, the stretch is now a portion of the boardwalk called Ocean Promenade, constructed in 1922 and 1923, which extends from 110th to 126th street.


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