May 16, 2016

FRED F. FRENCH, Our Founder

His motto: "You can't overbuild New York"
This blog will be talking a lot about Fred F. French, the visionary real-estate developer who planned and built Tudor City. Here's a bullet-point bio:
  • Fred Fillmore French born in Manhattan on October 14, 1883, son of a cigar maker
  • Grows up in poverty in the Bronx; hawks newspapers, mows lawns, washes windows as a child to help support the family.
  • Wins a Pulitzer scholarship to Horace Mann prep school, then attends Princeton (for a year) and Columbia (ditto); never earns a college degree
  • Works a variety of temporary jobs as a young man before deciding on real estate development; buys his childhood home, renovates it, resells it at a profit, and never looks back.
  • Marries Cordelia Williams; they have four children
  • Announces his plans for Tudor City on December 13, 1925. The complex is financed by the French Plan, a way for small investors to own equity in the complex, a cutting-edge idea for its time.
  • Builds a Mesopotamian-influenced art deco office tower at 551 5th Ave in 1927, the Fred F. French building; in 2004, it's added to the National Register of Historic Places.
  • In 1934, constructs Knickerbocker Village, a low-income residential enclave between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges near Chinatown; problems with the construction following its opening lead to rent strikes by the tenants, and eventually results in NYC rent-control laws.
  • French dies at his Pawling, NY summer home on August 30, 1936, aged 52. The Times reports he dies unexpectedly in his sleep, but a trusted source of this blog says it was a suicide.



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