This month in real estate history

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

Sep.September 01, 2014 07:00 AM

1943: REBNY fights apartment rent freeze plan

Mayor

Mayor Fiorello La Guardia

The Real Estate Board of New York lobbied against a wartime proposal to cap rents on several million New York City apartment units, 71 years ago this month.

REBNY appealed via telegram to officials in Washington within the federal Office of Price Administration, who were responsible for implementing price controls. The caps were part of a broader national law passed in 1942 that was aimed at easing the impact of inflation brought on by World War II.

The trade group said landlords were being squeezed by surging taxes, fuel and labor costs and that Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was trying to make “political capital” when he began pushing for the limits a few months earlier.

La Guardia proposed the freeze in response to the extremely tight rental market. While the city’s economy was improving, many tenants were on fixed incomes and wartime material restrictions severely limited new housing construction.

The federal government sided with the mayor, and imposed rent control for New York City on Nov. 1, 1943. Today, the state enforces rent regulations, which cover about 1 million apartment units in the city.

1922: Artists ask DA to probe studio rentals

Artist George Bellows

Artist George Bellows

An influential group of American artists asked the New York District Attorney to investigate landlords who were renting artists’ studios to “pseudo artists and loose living people,” 92 years ago this month.

The League of American Artists, which included important painters such as George Bellows and Robert Henri, cited a survey that found that 70 percent of the studios in Manhattan were occupied by people of “questionable character,” with the problem particularly acute in Greenwich Village and Columbus Circle.

Meanwhile, artists were being forced out of Manhattan to Brooklyn, the Bronx and to other states. The group estimated that of about 14,000 studios in Manhattan, about 10,000 were rented to “fake” artists.

One building that had undergone the change was Hotel des Artistes, a 17-story building at 1 West 67th Street (now a cooperative building) where most of the tenants were no longer artists.

“Real estate agents are booming the studio idea. And stressing the so-called ‘free life’ of artists to such an extent that bona-fide artists are being denied renewals,” the New York Times quoted the artist Julian Bowes as saying.

Bowes said in one instance a studio that had been rented to an artist for $35 per month a few years earlier was raised to $150 per month by a landlord whose motto was, “No questions asked.”

1882: Edison opens first commercial power plant

257 Pearl Street

257 Pearl Street

Inventor Thomas Alva Edison opened the nation’s first commercial power station in a four-story loft building at 257 Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan, 132 years ago this month, for the first time providing constant electricity to city buildings.

Electric power spurred the development of skyscrapers by providing energy for elevators and lighting.

Edison purchased the brick and wood-framed structure and the adjacent 255 Pearl, located between Fulton and John streets, in 1881 for what he considered an exorbitant sum of $65,000. He then installed steam-electric generators in the basement of 257 Pearl, which provided electricity to several dozen buildings within roughly one square mile bounded by Nassau, Wall, Spruce and Pearl streets when the service started on Sept. 4.

Edison Electric Illuminating Company’s first clients included the New York Times at 41 Park Row and the banking firm Morgan, Drexel and Company at 23 Wall Street.

Dynamos produced nearly continuous power from 257 Pearl until a fire in January 1890 put the station out of commission for 11 days. It was back in action for several years, but decommissioned in 1895, and Edison sold the building, which was later demolished.

The property is now a parking lot.


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