This month in real estate history

The Real Deal looks back at some of New York's biggest real estate stories

Jan.January 30, 2009 04:01 PM

1965: First residential condominium opens in city

New York City’s first high-rise condominium apartment building opened on the East Side 44 years ago this month in a city long accustomed to cooperatives and skeptical of the new ownership structure.

The 35-story St. Tropez, at 340 East 64th Street between First and Second avenues, offered buyers the right to own the physical apartment for the first time.

But a year and a half after opening, only 141 apartments of the 301 units in the building had sold. In August 1966, developer Countrywide Realty sold the remaining sponsor units to a group of investors because the company believed it would take too long to recoup its investment. “Partly because the condominium form of ownership is unfamiliar to most would-be purchasers, sales have been sluggish from the start,” a 1966 article in the New York Times reported.

Before the St. Tropez opened, New Yorkers who wanted to buy in an apartment building could only buy in a cooperative, in which shares of the corporation that owns the building are purchased. The first cooperatives in New York City opened in the late 19th century. The New York state law legalizing the condominium structure passed in 1964.

Despite the rocky start, condos caught on in the city. In 1976 there were just 3,200 owner-occupied condo units compared with 102,8000 owner-occupied co-ops, but by 1999 the number of condos swelled to 46,600 while the number of co-ops doubled to 208,500, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual housing survey.

And in 2007, for the first time, there were more condo sales in Manhattan than co-ops, according to a report from Prudential Douglas Elliman covering 1998 to 2007. There were 6,461 co-op sales with a median price of $675,000 and 6,969 condo sales with a median price of $1.06 million that year, the report said.

1939: City’s first ‘skyscraper’ elementary school planned

Designs for the city’s first elementary school to be constructed in a high-rise building were revealed 69 years ago this month as school officials, squeezed by rising land prices on the West Side, were forced to build taller.

The Board of Education published the plans for the eight-story Joan of Arc Junior High School on 93rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues on a site that cost $744,838, which would be about $11 million in today’s dollars.

The building at 154 West 93rd Street was described as a skyscraper at the time, and was twice as tall as most elementary schools that were generally three- and four-story buildings. There were public schools built with more floors at the time, but they were high schools such as Washington Irving High School, at 40 Irving Place, built in 1913.

The groundbreaking for the 2,000-seat school was led by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on Oct. 14. “We had to adjust ourselves to conditions beyond our control,” he said at the groundbreaking, alluding to the high cost of land, the New York Times reported.

The school building, which opened in 1940, is today used by the city Department of Education for two middle schools and an elementary school.

1913: Grand Central Terminal opens

Grand Central Terminal, which funnels the millions of annual commuters that make Midtown the biggest business district in the nation, opened 95 years ago this month. When it opened, the station at the intersection of Park Avenue and 42nd Street was built to handle a capacity of 130,000 people, a number considered too large for the expected demand. But by 1937 it was handling 37 million commuter rail riders per year.

The New York Central Railroad began construction of the station in 1904 to replace the outgrown Grand Central Depot.

Downtown had been the city’s largest business district, but development around the rail center surged quickly. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the development of skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building took place in Midtown. After World War II, Midtown became the undisputed center of commerce in the city.

The station, which is the largest in the world by number of tracks, will be growing larger with the development of the East Side Access plan to bring Long Island Rail Road trains to the station by 2015.

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