This month in real estate history

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

1961: Record-setting $70M mortgage at Pan Am Building

A pension fund agreed to provide a mortgage of up to $70 million for the Pan Am Building, located just north of Grand Central Terminal, 49 years ago this month, at the time the most expensive loan made on a single building in New York City.

The mortgage was $10 million greater than the previous record, a $60 million loan made on 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, which was completed in 1961.

The 59-story Pan Am Building, designed by Emery Roth & Sons in consultation with Walter Gropius and Pietro Belluschi, was developed by a partnership between American and British builders, and opened in 1963. The octagonal tower was named for its largest tenant, the now-defunct airline Pan American World Airways, which leased 613,000 square feet of the 2.4 million-square-foot tower, the largest lease ever when it was signed.

With booming development in Manhattan, it was only a decade later that Prudential Insurance wrote a loan worth twice as much, agreeing to lend $150 million on the 53-story tower at 55 Water Street in 1971.

1939: Massive waterfront area of Lower East Side rezoned

A swath of the Lower East Side, encompassing 170 blocks filled with aging garages and warehouses fronting the East River, was rezoned from a heavily commercial district to a residential one 71 years ago this month.

A business association called the East Side Chamber of Commerce pushed eight years for the change in zoning, passed by the City Planning Commission.

The rezoning proposed a mix of retail and residential generally bounded by 11th Street on the north, James Street on the south, the East River Drive on the east, and Pitt Avenue and Division Street on the west.

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The plan called for a concentration of retail on streets such as Madison and Avenue D, and residential in other areas, with a maximum height of six stories.

But the dream of the planners for a mixed neighborhood with commercial and residential was not entirely borne out. Many blocks of the western portion of the rezoned area were never rehabilitated, and much of the area closest to the river was demolished and replaced with public housing during the 1950s.

Housing projects included the 12-building Alfred E. Smith Houses, 15- to 17-story towers, completed in 1953, at Catherine and Madison streets; and the 17-building Bernard M. Baruch Houses, composed of buildings between seven and 14 stories, completed in 1959, between Columbia Street and the FDR Drive.

1909: Midtown South sees explosive growth

215 Park Ave. South
A building development burst in Midtown South’s so-called loft zone took off 101 years ago this month in response to demand from clothing manufacturers. Starting in January 1909, and continuing for at least the next 18 months, developers and owners filed plans with the city’s Building Department for at least 84 structures worth more than $30 million. The buildings, included in a list published by the New York Times that year, ranged in height from seven to 20 stories, with costs between $100,000 and $1.8 million.

Apparel manufacturers including fur and women’s wear companies occupied the loft buildings west of Fifth Avenue, while the new structures rising on Park Avenue South were mainly offices.

The informally named loft zone — much of which is now known as the Garment District — was defined at the time as 14th Street on the south, 42nd Street on the north, Eighth Avenue on the west and Fourth Avenue on the east.

Many of the buildings developed during the boom still stand, including the 19-story building at 225 Park Avenue South, built for the American Woolen Company, which had an original construction price of $1.8 million. And just to the south is the 20-story building at 215 Park Avenue South, which had an original price of $900,000.

Compiled by Adam Pincus