This month in real estate history

Oct.October 01, 2014 07:00 AM
Mayor Robert Wagner signing a bill into law

Mayor Robert Wagner signing a bill into law

1955: J-51 predecessor introduced in Council

Mayor Robert Wagner’s office introduced legislation providing a tax abatement and exemption for landlords upgrading heating systems in old apartment buildings in the City Council 59 years ago this month.

The plan targeted the city’s so-called “old-law” tenements, or apartments constructed before 1901. The impetus was to convert heating from room units that often used kerosene, to safer, building-wide systems.

The plan gave exemptions and abatements to building owners and was part of a wider push to “clean up unhealthy slum conditions.” Wagner signed it in December 1955.

The plan, then known as J-41, for its placement in the city’s administrative code, was superseded with the J-51 language in 1963.

Today the J-51 program is the city’s second-largest tax exemption program, after the 421-a program, meant to spur new development.

Peaches Browning, who  infamously married Edward  Browning at 15

Peaches Browning, who
infamously married Edward
Browning at 15

1934: Notorious, colorful real estate mogul dies

A successful real estate operator and publicity hound renowned for lavishing attention on children and a scandalous marriage to a 15-year-old, died 80 years ago this month.

Edward Browning was 59 when he passed away at a rented mansion in Scarsdale, N.Y., after falling ill months earlier at a Manhattan hotel-apartment where he spent much of his time. He gained the nickname “Daddy” for the attention he gave children through personal contact and philanthropic enterprises. He was also a frequent subject of gossip columns of the day for his unusual marriages.

He built up a large portfolio of real estate in New York over three decades. One of the few investors in the late 1920s to sense the oncoming crash, Browning sold about $6 million in holdings in 1929, directing much of the proceeds to a foundation for children. His assets at the time of his death were estimated at about $6 million to $7 million, or roughly $106 million to $124 million in today’s dollars.

He frequently sought the limelight and papered his offices with press clippings.

In 1915, at the age of 40, he married a woman 15 years younger. They had no children, but adopted two young girls. They divorced in 1923, and Browning kept the younger child. Two years later, Browning advertised that he wanted to adopt a “girl of 14” who would be the older sister to the child, then 8.

After some 12,000 letters came in, he adopted a girl from Queens who claimed to be 16, but was in fact 21, and he had his guardianship annulled.

In 1926, at 51, he married a 15-year-old schoolgirl he met at a dance. The pair had a rocky relationship, and she left their home after just six months, initiating years of litigation that ended after his death with her winning the right to a third of his property.

The Simpson-Crawford department store

The Simpson-Crawford department store

1914: Recession brings large foreclosures

A two-year recession that stretched into late 1914 precipitated a string of property foreclosures in Manhattan, including the once-regal department store at 641 Sixth Avenue along Ladies Mile, 99 years ago this month.

The lender on the property, the Equitable Life Assurance Society, filed to foreclose on $1.4 million in loans for the building and related properties between 19th and 20th streets, once occupied by the venerable Simpson-Crawford department store.

The store was a pioneer on Sixth Avenue in the 1860s. But the recession, in combination with a move by larger competitors like B. Altman to Fifth Avenue, spelled ruin for Simpson-Crawford, which closed in early 1914. In 1916, the store was repurposed as a U.S. Post Office building and a mail-order warehouse.

Earlier in 1914, the famous Bijou Theater, at 1239 Broadway between 30th and 31st streets, was sold at a foreclosure auction for the second time in less than 12 months. It had a mortgage of $438,000. It was demolished the following year.

The recession ended as the U.S. ramped up production to supply European nations devastated by World War I.


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