This month in real estate history

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

Nov.November 01, 2013 07:00 AM

1980: Olympia & York picked for mega project

Battery Park City in 1982

Battery Park City in 1982

The Toronto-based real estate firm Olympia & York beat out several of the city’s top developers 33 years ago this month to win the right to build 6 million square feet of office space in Battery Park City.

The firm — which was owned by the Reichmann family — got the conditional nod after submitting a request for proposals to lease 14 acres of the state-owned land for $189 million and build four office towers expected to cost more than $1 billion.

Other bidders included Tishman Speyer, the Solow Building Corp., a joint venture of the LeFrak, Fisher and Olnick families, and developer Harry Helmsley.

The development firm, the second largest commercial property owner in the city at the time, built the four towers that comprised the World Financial Center between 1982 and 1988. The global company was stretched thin during the recession that followed, however, and in 1992 filed for bankruptcy and lost the towers.

In 1996, another Canadian company, Brookfield Office Properties, bought a stake in the towers and now owns them outright.

1953: City tries to clean up Times Square

Times Square in 1953

Times Square in 1953

The city announced its first proposal to clean up Times Square 60 years ago this month. The Department of City Planning proposed changes to zoning regulations that sought to eliminate carnival-style freak shows, flea circuses, shooting galleries and similar tawdry businesses in Times Square.

According to the New York Times, city officials said the businesses were depressing real estate values.

The proposed changes followed years of pressure from local merchants and neighborhood groups looking to reverse the area’s decline.

Indeed, business organizations such as the Broadway Association and religious orders such as the Catholic Church had voiced objections to the “shadowy” culture in Times Square.

The zoning proposal applied to the area bounded by 42nd and 57th streets and Eighth and Sixth avenues, and included banning outdoor cafes, wax museums and open-front stores. (Existing businesses were grandfathered in.)

While the city’s Board of Estimate approved the plan in early 1954, illegal activities, from massage parlors to prostitution, only got worse. Efforts to reform Times Square continued for the next several decades, until Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led a push in the 1990s that is widely credited with cleaning up the neighborhood.

1924: Rhinelander heir seeks annulment

From left: Alice Jones and Leonard Kip Rhinelander

From left: Alice Jones and Leonard Kip Rhinelander

A scion of one of Manhattan’s wealthiest real estate families filed to annul his marriage 89 years ago this month, claiming his wife had concealed the fact that she was biracial from him.

Leonard Kip Rhinelander — an heir to a fortune concentrated on the Upper East Side that was estimated in 1908 to be worth about $50 million — married a domestic worker named Alice Jones.

Rhinelander learned within weeks of the wedding through published reports that she was the daughter of a black cab driver and a white British woman.

Under pressure from his father, less than one month after the wedding, he filed for annulment, alleging Jones committed fraud by concealing her racial makeup.

A jury — after a trial in which she was forced to expose her breasts so jury members could deduce her racial makeup — rejected his claim.

However, in 1929, Jones agreed to a divorce in Nevada. That agreement was modified in 1930, giving her a lump-sum payment of $31,500 and $3,600 per year, for the rest of her life. As part of the deal, she waived any future claims on the family’s estate.


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