This month in real estate history: New York City’s first official subway opens, the Hotel Majestic is demolished … & more

The old City Hall station
The old City Hall station

From the October issue: 1904: New York City’s first official subway line opens

The Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) opened New York City’s first official subway line 113 years ago this month, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Then-mayor George McClellan operated the inaugural train from the now-shuttered City Hall station to the Brooklyn Bridge stop, but when asked if he wanted to hand off the controls to the train’s engineer, he shouted, “No sir! I’m running this train!” the New York Times reported at the time. The train line stretched 9.1 miles, from City Hall to 145th Street, and the IRT soon expanded its services to the outer boroughs. Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) began servicing the city in 1915, and the city opened its own subway line in 1932. By 1940, the city had purchased both and consolidated them into the system that exists today. There are still hints of the old subways in today’s system: The former IRT lines are designated by numbers and carry narrower and lighter trains, while the old BRT and city-run lines are designated by letters and carry heavier and wider trains.

Hotel Majestic

1929: Hotel Majestic demolished on Central Park West

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Workers began demolishing the Gilded Age-era Hotel Majestic on Central Park West, the New York Times reported 88 years ago this month. The then 34 year-old hotel, between West 71st and 72nd streets, was “one of the most popular hostelries” north of 59th Street and hosted celebrities such as composer Gustav Mahler and writer Edna Ferber. The hotel was designed by Alfred Zucker — the architect behind more than 30 other buildings in the city around the turn of the 20th century, many of which have since been demolished. The property’s new owners had planned a 45-story Art Deco hotel at the cost of $10 million, or around $143 million today, but the stock market crashed two weeks after the start of demolition, ushering in the Great Depression. The investors tempered their expectations and instead built a 31-story apartment building, the Majestic, which still stands today.

1962: Former Vanderbilt mansion on Sutton Place sells at auction

A secret buyer paid $436,00 (more than $3.5 million today) for a Georgian-style mansion at 1 Sutton Place, the New York Times reported 55 years ago this month. The four-story mansion was built in 1921 for Anne Harriman Vanderbilt, wife of William K. Vanderbilt (a grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt). At the time, Sutton Place was populated with low-income tenement buildings, but Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bold move east of Fifth Avenue prompted many in New York’s high society to follow and build their own mansions, making the neighborhood one of the most exclusive in the city. Although the mansion was built in the Georgian style, the house’s interior was modern, and it had an elevator, steam heating and refrigerators. The auction for the Vanderbilt mansion drew 200 people and 14 bids, including a $300,000 bid from actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. The home’s interior furnishings, valued at $200,000 alone, or more than $1.6 million today, were auctioned separately.