This month in real estate history

Transportation Building rises, costs of Bellevue plan escalate, and city zones below ground

The Transportation Building rises in 1926.
The Transportation Building rises in 1926.

1926: Skyscraper to rise on site of legendary hotel

The remnants of one of the city’s most famous hotels, the Astor House, were raised to make way for a new skyscraper 90 years ago this month. Once built, the 42-story structure — eventually known as the Transportation Building — would be the fifth tallest building in the world. The neighboring Woolworth Building was the world’s tallest at the time. With a price tag of $10 million, the Transportation would cost 29 times more to build than the block-wide Astor House, which had opened in 1836 and was billed as the “world’s finest hotel,” the New York Times reported. Abraham Lincoln was among the U.S. presidents and world dignitaries who frequented the five-story, granite hotel. Part of the hotel had already been demolished and a new office building built over it when Major John Jacob Astor signed the deed handing the rest of the property over to Bricken Construction Company for $2.5 million. Bricken’s Transportation Building, with its bank, stores and offices, opened in 1927.

1949: Price tag of Bellevue Medical Center doubles

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It would cost more than twice as much to build the New York University-Bellevue Medical Center than originally estimated, the center’s director announced 67 years ago this month. Director Edwin Salmon said the expansion of the center’s program and rising building costs were to blame for the increased price tag of $32.7 million — up from $15.5 million. During a conference attended by Mayor William O’Dwyer and city planner Robert Moses, Salmon showed off new and revised plans for the four-block, riverside campus, which was to include two medical schools, a rehabilitation center and a 600-bed university hospital, among other structures, according to the New York Times. O’Dwyer called the First Avenue campus a “physical improvement for the entire neighborhood.” Moses added that to the “west of this area a great deal remains to be done” and that a state housing development planned across the street from Bellevue would be a start in “cleaning up.” Components of the 30-acre medical center opened over the next 15 years, and the new 1,200-bed Bellevue Hospital was opened in 1975.

An uptown subway train in the early 1980s.

An uptown subway train in the early 1980s.

1974: City given the power to zone underground

The city’s zoning power was extended underground for the first time 42 years ago this month, after the now-obsolete Board of Estimate passed legislation designed to control development around stations on the still-unrealized Second Avenue subway line. The legislation required subway access in some new buildings along Second Avenue to help reduce foot traffic on crowded mid-sidewalk stairways that were the only means of exiting most subway stations at the time. The plan required private developers to relinquish a certain amount of space in their buildings for subway plazas, underground concourses or lobby entrances that could be used to access the subway, the New York Times reported. Raquel Ramati, a City Planning Commission architect, envisioned “underground places full of light and good commercial use,” with shops and public spaces “where people want to be.” Ramati warned that the legislation was urgent, as an uptick in development was making the chances of a comprehensive subway access plan “slimmer and slimmer.” The legislation came out of an ongoing study looking into the Second Avenue subway, which was expected to lead to a rapid increase in construction along the corridor. Stations at 56th, 86th and 125th streets were the focus of the study. Mayor Abraham Beame scrapped the Second Avenue plan in the mid-1970s as the city experienced a crippling fiscal crisis. The line was first conceived in 1919. The project was restarted in 2007. The first phase is expected to be completed at the end of 2016.