This month in real estate history

The Real Deal <i>looks back at some of New York’s biggest real estate stories</i>


A Japanese industrial firm paid $501 per square foot for a Midtown skyscraper known as Tower 49, a price that at the time was the highest ever paid for a Manhattan office building, 22 years ago this month.

The company, Kato Kagaku, purchased the 45-story midblock high-rise at 12 East 49th Street, between Fifth and Madison avenues, from the building’s developers for $301 million. The 600,000-square-foot skyscraper was built by David Solomon, G. Ware Travelstead and First Boston on an irregular parcel extending from 48th to 49th Street and opened in 1984.

Kato Kagaku, a manufacturer of corn-based products, still owns the building today. The tower is home to a variety of companies, including the corporate offices of retailer Saks Fifth Avenue, financial firm Steinberg Asset Management and the sales office for metal recycling firm Schnitzer Steel Industries.

The previous highest price for a major Manhattan office building was the Japanese real estate company Shuwa’s purchase in June 1986 of the American Broadcasting Corporation building at 1330 Sixth Avenue for $175 million, about $365 per square foot.

In the most recent run-up of prices, major office buildings traded for about triple the Tower 49 price. In June 2008, Boston Properties bought the General Motors Building for $2.8 billion, or $1,400 per square foot.


The United Nations General Assembly selected a site on the East Side of Midtown in Turtle Bay for the permanent headquarters of the international body 63 year ago this month.

Because of its density, Manhattan had been a dubious contender for the prestigious project until John D. Rockefeller Jr. made a last-minute offer to purchase six blocks of East Side property owned by William Zeckendorf for $8.5 million and donate it to the U.N.

The international body voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 14 in favor of the move to the Midtown location, stretching from 42nd to 48th streets between First Avenue and what is now the FDR Drive.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

At the time the choice was made, the East Side parcels were home to slaughterhouses and low-quality housing. New York City contributed additional parcels to complete the site. Construction began on the $65 million headquarters building in January 1949, and it opened in August 1950.


White tenants in Harlem pleaded with their black landlord not to be evicted during the Christmas holidays 104 years ago this month, as the latest victims in a tit-for-tat battle of evictions by white as well as black landlords in the midst of a real estate bust hitting upper Manhattan at the time.

The black landlord, legendary Harlem real estate broker Philip Payton, forced out white tenants in three tenements on 135th Street near Lenox Avenue in response to white landlords who had previously evicted black tenants from the same buildings.

After the black tenants were pushed out of those buildings in 1904, Payton formed Afro-American Realty to buy and manage apartments that had become less expensive as a result of a bust that followed a speculative building boom driven by subway expansion in the 1890s.

In addition to buying properties, historian Gilbert Osofsky writes in “Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto” that Payton obtained five-year leases from white investors for units he managed and rented to black tenants.

Payton paved the way for the rise of the black enclave in Harlem, in part because African-American residents were being pushed out of Midtown following race riots in 1900 and the construction of Pennsylvania Station in a formerly black neighborhood of the Tenderloin.

Dozens of investors in Afro-American Realty sued the firm in 1906 for making false claims in its prospectus. The firm ceased conducting business in 1908. Despite that setback, Payton continued as a real estate owner and operator in Harlem. He died in 1917.

Compiled by Adam Pincus