This month in real estate history

A look back at some of New York City's biggest real estate stories

1985: Record financing announced for Rock Center

An investment group owned by members of the Rockefeller family announced plans 27 years ago this month to refinance Rockefeller Center — a move that ultimately raised a record-breaking $1.3 billion.

The Rockefeller Group, a company owned by descendants of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., said in July 1985 that it would create a publicly traded real estate investment trust called Rockefeller Center Properties Inc. and raise $1.1 billion through a stock offering. That fall, the REIT, which was headed by David Rockefeller until 1992, ultimately raised $1.3 billion, making it the largest real estate financing to date, according to a Goldman Sachs executive quoted in the New York Times.

The trust spent $400 million to repay debt that the family had used to buy the land under Rockefeller Center a few months earlier from owner Columbia University. It spent another $400 million to pay Rockefeller family members, while the balance was retained for future acquisitions.
The Rockefeller REIT, which held the mortgage to Rockefeller Center, sold a controlling interest in the property in 1996 to a group led by Goldman Sachs and Tishman Speyer Properties.


Former MetLife president Frederick Ecker

1949: NY high court backs segregation at Stuy Town

The state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, ruled 63 years ago this month that the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company could ban black applicants from living in its newly opened complex, Stuyvesant Town. The judges voted four to three to uphold lower court decisions that threw out a lawsuit brought by three black war veterans who wanted to live in the complex. The suit was supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Jewish Congress. The president of MetLife at the time, Frederick Ecker, was quoted saying, “Negroes and whites do not mix.”

The insurance company received government help through partial tax exemptions and assistance through eminent domain to acquire the properties used in the massive 110-unit complex, which first opened in 1947.

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At the time, it was not illegal for private developers in New York to discriminate against applicants based on race — but it was illegal in public housing. In June 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, but the City Council passed a law in 1951 barring discrimination. That opened the path toward integration in the complex in the following years, although slowly.


Tenements on the LES

1901: State law bans prostitution in tenements

A law aimed at curbing prostitution in residential apartment buildings in Manhattan took effect 111 years ago this month, giving authorities the power to install a government-appointed receiver if even one illegal incident was discovered.

The sanctions were part of the sweeping Tenement House Law, a landmark piece of progressive-era legislation that sought to improve living conditions for the working class and poor living in tenement buildings.

The portion related to prostitution levied fines of up to $1,000 against landlords if they were aware of the prostitution. The fine was recorded as a lien, and the law allowed the state to install a receiver to manage a building’s rent if $1,000 or more in liens was filed against a property.

The chief proponent of the law was a group called the Committee of Fifteen, which was created in 1900 to weed out prostitution and gambling in the city. In 1901, the committee reported that prostitution was taking place in 290 apartment units within 237 tenement Manhattan buildings.

The committee focused on the borough’s poorer regions, such as the Lower East Side, Yorkville, East Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen. While the law’s supporters conceded that it would be difficult to eliminate prostitution in the city, they wanted to remove it from the apartment buildings where families lived.