This month in real estate history

Ed Koch

Mayor Edward Koch reversed his position on an unpopular land-swap deal involving two private parks owned by developer Harry Helmsley and partner Alvin Schwartz in the East Side apartment complex Tudor City 29 years ago this month. The decision ultimately contributed to the partners’ sale of the buildings.

Koch reversed course and announced he was opposed to a plan to swap the parks in Tudor City for a city parcel at 51st Street at First Avenue.

Helmsley, president of Helmsley-Spear, led a group of investors that bought most of the 2,500-unit complex in 1970 for $36 million, and quickly announced plans to develop apartments on two private parks that were part of the complex. The plan drew immediate protests from residents and elected officials.

The bucolic enclave was built by Fred French in the late 1920s and early 1930s between 40th and 43rd streets and First and Second avenues.

After several more years of fighting to build on the park land, Helmsley and Schwartz sold the apartment buildings in 1987 to developer Francis Greenburger of Time Equities and Philip Pilevsky, who converted the apartments in the late 1980s to co-ops.


Chester Rapkin

The City Planning Commission released a controversial study of housing conditions in a blighted 20-block neighborhood on the Upper West Side 52 years ago this month, providing the basis for a contentious city-driven redevelopment plan.

The West Side Urban Renewal Area started in 1957 and lasted for four decades, replacing low-quality housing with modern apartments. The final project in the area, an 18-story apartment building developed by the Related Companies at 189 West 89th Street on Amsterdam Avenue called the Sagamore, was completed in 1997.

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The 150-page study was carried out by University of Pennsylvania city planner and economist Chester Rapkin, who interviewed more than 100 property owners and managers, mortgage brokers and bankers. The paper recommended that the government provide incentives for property owners to rehabilitate their buildings and impose stricter enforcement of city housing codes. The redevelopment ultimately created more than 6,000 units of housing.

City officials said the urban renewal project was a “first attempt to rescue a neighborhood from blight by applying a full range of renewal techniques.” The city targeted the area between Central Park West and Amsterdam Avenue, and between 87th and 97th streets, saying housing conditions were worsening because of overcrowding and a lack of credit for new construction.


Astor Theater

Scores of properties in the Times Square area comprising the estate of the reclusive Henry Astor sold for a record $5.1 million at auction 90 years ago this month, topping the previous auction high mark by nearly $200,000.

It was the first time a large number of parcels held by the Astor family had ever been disposed of at a public auction.

The 141 properties, which sold on March 9, included theaters such as the Astor and the Bijou; 60 three- and four-story buildings; 38 apartment buildings; 33 private homes under ground leases; seven factory buildings; and six vacant parcels. The proceeds were divided among at least 20 heirs.

The previous record auction price was for the estate of Elizabeth Aldrich, which included prominent holdings on lower Broadway. It went for $4.9 million in 1905.

The plots were auctioned following the death in 1918 of 87-year-old Astor, who had lived on a farm south of Albany and had no children. He was the reclusive grandson of the legendary John Jacob Astor, and was ostracized from the family after marrying a farmer’s daughter in 1871 (the marriage was seen as an offense to the prominent Astor name).

John Jacob Astor bought the Times Square area property, known as the Eden farm, in 1803 as part of a foreclosure. The land extended in a diagonal path from approximately 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue to 51st Street and 12th Avenue.

Compiled by Adam Pincus