This month in real estate history

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


1971: Urstadt Law gives rent regulation powers to state


Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed the controversial Urstadt Law 38 years ago this month. The law limited the city’s ability to regulate rents and rolled back some restrictions on rental apartments that were implemented because of the severe housing shortages of World War II.

The law, named for Charles Urstadt, the governor’s commissioner of Housing and Community Renewal, put the power to regulate rents in the state’s hands and gave property owners the right to remove apartments from rent restrictions when the tenant vacated the unit — a phenomenon known as vacancy decontrol. Prior to the law being signed in 1971, the 1.3 million rent-controlled and 400,000 rent-stabilized apartments in the five boroughs were regulated by the city.

Rockefeller said the rent restrictions were limiting housing construction, and that he signed the law to “deal with housing problems severely worsened by rent control itself,” the New York Times reported. The bill was passed by a GOP-controlled legislature.

Vacancy decontrol was fiercely debated at the time and remains hotly contested. This year, with the legislature and governor’s office held by Democrats, real estate experts believe the laws could be overturned or altered. Today there are about 1 million rent-stabilized units and about 40,000 rent-controlled units. The Assembly passed a package of pro-tenant proposals in February that included a measure to repeal the 1971 law. But as of last month, the bill was in committee in the Senate.

1938: Queens leads nation in building permits
The dollar value of construction permits filed in Queens County 71 years ago this month was the highest in the nation. Developers filed building plans in Queens County worth more than in any other borough in New York City, any other city in the nation, and any state other than New York and California.

New building permits for Queens projects were valued at $10.3 million in June 1938, representing 7.3 percent of the $140.4 million in plans filed nationwide that month.

Queens was undergoing a sharp rise in population, which grew from 469,042 in 1920 to 1,297,634 in 1940, U.S. Census figures show.

For all of 1938, Queens led all boroughs with $145 million in new construction, more than half the entire $281 million in new construction permitted for the entire city.

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The number of building plans filed in Queens was up 23 percent to 12,359 in 1938, while citywide the dollar figure for plans was up 19 percent from 235 million in 1937. In Manhattan, builders filed plans for 233 new buildings worth $42 million in 1938, down from $60 million the year before.

Most of the new construction in Queens was for new housing, but some building was for the development of the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows.

1890: Second Madison Square Garden opens
The second building to carry the name Madison Square Garden opened 119 years ago this month at the northeast corner of Madison Square Park in what is now Midtown South.

The building, with a seating capacity of 8,000, was designed by renowned architect Stanford White and hosted events such as horse, automobile and dog shows, as well as the Democratic National Convention in 1924.

J. Pierpont Morgan was one of several stockholders in the company that built the arena that replaced the original Madison Square Garden, a track for bicycle racing that was previously on the site.

Despite being the premier indoor venue in New York City, the new arena was not profitable, and by 1908 the owners offered to sell the site bounded by Madison Avenue and Park Avenue South on the west and east, and 26th and 27th streets on the north and south.

The real estate firm F&D Company bought the building in 1911 for $3.5 million, but lost it in a foreclosure auction in 1916 for $2 million to the New York Life Insurance Company.

The insurance company demolished it in 1925 to build its 40-story New York Life Building, which was completed in 1928. A new Madison Square Garden, the city’s third, opened in 1925 at Eighth Avenue and 50th Street, and was demolished in 1968. The fourth stadium bearing the name was opened in 1968 above Pennsylvania Station at Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street.

By Adam Pincus