February 20, 2019

WHO DREAMED UP TUDOR CITY?

BEFORE FRED FRENCH, Prospect Hill ‒Tudor City's future site ‒
was lined with tenements and boarding houses. 

Who thought up Tudor City? We believe the idea evolved through the efforts of three men. Here is their story.

Leonard Gans
Gans is real estate broker who specializes in assembling multiple properties into large parcels. In 1924, he discovers Prospect Hill, a rundown area flanked by malodorous industry along the East River. Gans pays the slaughterhouses and steam plants no mind. He's transfixed by the view to the west ‒ the booming Grand Central Terminal business district. Within walking distance. He thinks it's the ideal site for a residential community.

He pitches the site to a few prospects, with no takers. Then he arranges a meeting with a business acquaintance who works for Fred French named Paine Edson. Edson has been with the company since 1916, and over time has gained French's ear.

Paine Edson
Gans meets Edson at Prospect Hill and launches his pitch. It's a big idea ‒ five acres of land ‒ which impresses Edson, as does the walk-to-work angle. Gans leads him over to the Prospect Hill Apartments, then under construction on 41st Street. The building is already fully rented ‒ from plans. Edson says he will talk to Fred French.

Fred French
Edson buttonholes French into visiting the site. At first, his boss is aghast. "Look at those slaughterhouses and smokestacks and the rookeries around them, and think of the fumes! Phew!" French reportedly says.

Edson perseveres, extolling the scale of the project, which vastly appeals to French. He adds that the land would be half the cost of what French is paying on Park Avenue. French likes that too. Then Edson takes him by the fully-rented-from-plans Prospect Hill Apartments, and that seems to seal the deal.

And so, French signs on to building the planned community that would ultimately be his legacy. Thereafter, he refers to Paine Edson as "the Daddy of Tudor City." Gans is hired to assemble the land and acquires nearly 100 properties in a record 35 days. Edson eventually takes an apartment in The Manor, an easy walk to his office in the French Building. 

AFTER THE SALE, the future site of Essex House and Hotel Tudor, at left,
and The Woodstock, at right, adorned with 'Tudor City coming soon' signs. 

February 17, 2019

February 13, 2019

CONFIDENTIAL: Tudor City's Most Sensational Crime

This episode of our Confidential series looks at the most sensational crime ever committed in the colony ‒ the notorious 1985 triple slaying in a Tudor Tower studio apartment.


George Senty
Three bodies are discovered in the apartment the morning of January 3, 1985. The victims are George Senty, 62, a freelance photographer and tenant of the apartment; Piroska Lantos, 29, a fashion model with whom Senty was obsessed; and Agnes Gramiss, 37, Piroska's roommate. All three are Hungarian.

Senty, a Budapest native, emigrated to New York in 1957 and opened a photo studio. He readily adapts to American ways, and by the '70s is sporting designer jeans and gold neck chains. He's quite the ladies' man, despite a perpetual cash-flow problem.

When visiting Budapest, he drives a Lincoln Continental and claims to be a famous fashion photographer. Everyone believes him, but in fact, his New York studio is barely scraping by. By 1984, he's decidedly on the downswing, mired in debt, and reduced to selling his cameras.

Piroska Lantos, photographed by Senty

Enter Piroska Lantos, Hungary's top model. For years, Senty has been urging her to come to New York, where he'll make her a star. He's hopelessly infatuated with her. In March 1984, she finally accepts his offer, even agreeing to move in with him. Expecting a chic penthouse, she finds a Tudor City studio apartment instead. Her wannabe boyfriend, truth be told, is a complete fraud. 


She moves out, signs with Legends modeling agency and walks the runway for Ungaro, Carolina Herrera, and Guy LaRoche, among others.

Senty continues to pursue her, growing ever more obsessed. He morosely tells friends "she is a star and I am a nobody," and threatens suicide. He believes that her roommate, Agnes Gramiss, dislikes him and is turning Piroska against him. He's convinced the women are having an affair.

It all finally comes to a head on New Year's Day, 1985. After taking the women out to dinner, he invites them to his apartment for a champagne toast. He serves the champagne, then goes into the bathroom, pulls a chrome-plated 32-caliber snubnose revolver out of the hamper, and shoots both women dead. Then he kills himself with four shots to the chest.

The story was so shocking that it even made the front page of the New York Times. Over at the Daily News, Piroska's face held page one for two days running, above. [The Goetz headline refers to Bernie Goetz, the infamous subway vigilante who had shot four teenagers the preceding week.]



The community was stunned. The News ran a how-could-it-happen-here story, above.





For the definitive, in-depth account of the crime, check out Patricia
 Morrisroe's excellent New York magazine piece, "Obsession," here.


February 10, 2019

PICTURE OF THE DAY

A 1940 view of what was then called the East River Drive, today known as the FDR. Top center, the meatpacking district, along with the two mega-smokestacks of Con Edison's steam plant. Tudor City, upper right corner.

February 6, 2019

Tudor City on Film: HERE AND NOW

This episode of Tudor City on Film looks at Here and Now, a 2018 drama starring Sarah Jessica Parker as Vivienne Carala, jazz singer. Vivienne learns she has a brain tumor in the first scene, and for the rest of the movie she wanders around Manhattan in a daze.

Her walking is mostly confined to the city's concrete-and-glass canyons, so the Tudor City sequence ‒ which opens in the verdant South Park ‒ provides some respite. The action then moves to the Tudor City Bridge.

See our earlier post on the filming of this sequence, here, when the picture was titled Best Day of My Life.

Above and below, Vivienne visits the South Park, looking very lush.

She goes to the bridge and ponders the East River. A woman passes by.

The woman speaks to her. "I saw a whale here once," she says enigmatically, gesturing toward the river. "Right there. Swimming. Big as a truck." Vivienne doesn't respond. "You don't believe me, do you?" the woman asks.
Vivienne remains silent, and the woman edges away. Vivienne crosses the street, phones her manager and arranges a meeting downtown. Cut to next scene.

❃  ❃  ❃  ❃  ❃

The downbeat subject matter was not an easy sell, and Here and Now was a flop, earning a dismal 23 rating on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing $13,892 after a one-week run in 51 theaters. It was pulled from theaters, and is now available on DVD and streaming platforms.

February 3, 2019

NEW YORK NERVES Ad Campaign, 1933

Herewith, a series of ads from a November, 1933 campaign touting the restful side of Tudor City. (What was then called New York nerves is today more commonly referred to as stress.) We've appended each ad with select copy highlights.


"Does gulping your coffee morning after morning 
put your nerves on edge? Are you becoming a victim 
of rush and roar ‒ scurry and scramble? Then 
move to Tudor City and give your nerves a rest." 

"Does your heart lose a beat when your alarm clock
 shows 8:30 instead of 7:30?" In Tudor City, "you 
sleep until well after sunrise ‒ enjoy a leisurely
 breakfast ‒ and still have time to walk to your office."

"Give your nerves a permanent vacation" from 
commuting in Tudor City, where "two blocks of 
private parks put you far away from city noises. 
Here you can add an hour a day for recreation."

January 30, 2019

The French Plan

Newspaper ad detail, September 1928

Book given to prospective buyers
The French Plan, an innovative stock-issue concept that partly financed Tudor City, was created by Fred French in 1921. In brief, the French Company received no profits on a building until the investors had been paid back in full, along with a six percent cumulative dividend. After that, all profits were equally divided between investors and the company in perpetuity. Fred French's philosophy: "We prefer a small percentage of profit on a large business rather than a large percentage of profit on a small business."

Further sweetening the deal was the fact that the French Company was made up of many subsidiaries ‒ architecture, building, underwriting and management arms ‒ that lowered costs and streamlined the operation. 

By 1926, the French Company had over 10,000 stockholders and a combined capital of nearly $100 million. For the ambitious Tudor City project, each building was separately incorporated and financed with a mortgage and public stock.

The Ninth Unit is now known as Windsor Tower, No. 5
Stock certificate of six shares issued to one Henry P. Kirkham.

Although the French Plan stock repaid its investors' principle along with a six percent dividend, it ultimately proved to be no financial windfall. Tudor City was never wildly profitable. Occupancy shortfalls during the Depression depressed profits, and then, in 1943, the entire complex was placed under rent control, with mandated minimal rent increases. For decades thereafter, the colony's apartments rented at far below market value.