This month in real estate history

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

1968: Parkchester Largest Property Sale in NYC

A syndicate led by real estate developer Harry Helmsley agreed to pay a record $90 million for a single property 42 years ago this month when it acquired the 12,271-unit apartment complex in the Bronx known as Parkchester.

The group of buyers headed by Helmsley, president of Helmsley-Spear, bought the sprawling complex of 171 apartment buildings from Metropolitan Life Insurance, which at the time was facing charges of racial discrimination.

MetLife built the 129-acre development, located between Tremont and McGraw avenues, and White Plains Road and Purdy Street, for $50 million. It opened in 1940.

Helmsley began a condo conversion program in 1972, but sales lagged, and in 1998 he sold more than 6,000 units and several commercial portions of the site for just $4.5 million.

Parkchester was not the only housing development in New York City built by MetLife. The insurance giant developed three other significant apartment projects: Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village on Manhattan’s East Side, and Riverton Square in Harlem.

MetLife was the seller in the largest single-asset sale once again, when Tishman Speyer Properties and BlackRock Realty paid $5.4 billion for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village in 2006. Last month a group bought the mezzanine debt hoping to convert the 11,232-unit complex to condos.

1942: Dollar value of Manhattan foreclosures lowest since Great Depression

In an indication of the economic improvement generated by World War II, the dollar value of foreclosures in the first nine months of 1942 was $40 million, the lowest the borough had seen since the peaks brought by the Great Depression.

“While the Manhattan market still is in an uncertain state, the recent figures indicated that the bulk of the most troublesome obligations has been cleared away,” the New York Times reported as the situation improved.

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Although still high, it was far below what was seen a decade earlier, following the stock market crash in October 1929. In September 1932 alone, for example, there were 154 transfers, with an assessed value of $15 million.

During the war, the number of foreclosures fluctuated for a few years before declining sharply. By 1949 there were just 167 foreclosure sales in the first nine months of the year, with a lien value of $17 million.

For the first three quarters of 2009, real estate data firm showed there were 203 foreclosure auctions scheduled in Manhattan, with a lien value of at least $97 million.

1911: Proposal to cover tracks in Riverside Park first pitched

Tracks under Riverside Park

The powerful New York Central Railroad proposed a far-reaching plan to bury a major rail line running through Riverside Park, as well as construct an elevated track south of 34th Street, 99 years ago this month.

The plan to cover four miles of tracks through Riverside Park took years to finalize and was not completed until 1941.

In 1911, the New York Central, which owned the tracks leading to Grand Central Terminal and a second major line running down the West Side to Soho, laid out its $64 million plan to improve rail traffic in the city before the city’s Board of Estimate. Along with the plans for Riverside Park, the dangerous surface track that ran down 10th Avenue from the 34th Street rail yard, dubbed Death Avenue, was to be replaced by an elevated line.

The complex railroad plan, which came to be known as the West Side Improvement Project, faced major delays, and the city and railroad did not formally agree to terms until July 1929. The railroad’s proposal for an elevated track at the edge of the Hudson River ultimately was altered, and instead the High Line opened in 1934.

Compiled by Adam Pincus