June 22, 2016

The TUDOR CITY Land Grab

By 1900, Prospect Hill had fallen on hard times. The smelly factories along the East River and the sooty 2nd Ave El to the west had reduced the once middle-class neighborhood into a motley mix of tenements and boarding houses. Still, Fred French saw potential there, particularly since the various lots could be bought cheaply. He hired Leonard Gans, a real estate broker, as chief assembler of the property.
Before Fred French showed up:  Prospect Place (now Tudor City Place), 1925
Speed and subterfuge are of the essence when buying contiguous properties, and Gans's team managed to secure much of the parcel before word got out. When it did, rumors swept the hill --  oil had been discovered there, various Vanderbilts and Rockefellers were the secret buyers, the New York and New Haven Railroads were planning a rail station, and so on.

In the end, Gans assembled the five-acre parcel it in a record 35 days, acquiring 96 buildings for $7,500,000. There were some holdouts: three rowhouses on 43rd Street, and one on 41st Street, which remain in place today as part of the Tudor City Historic District.

But then there was 8 Prospect Place, a dilapidated, 4-story relic at the southern end of the street. Its owner bought the property in 1925 for $27,000, then steadfastly refused offers from Fred French that started at $50,000 and escalated to $185,000. Finally, the French Company acquired it in 1945, and the entire lot, united at last, was opened as Tudor Gardens (2 Tudor City Place) in 1956.
Holdout 8 Prospect Place (arrows) kept the large lot opposite Windsor Tower undeveloped for over 25 years.
View looking east from 40th St. and Second Ave.
The good news for locals was that the vacant lot housed tennis courts in the 1930s and 1940s, a much-publicized Tudor City amenity. View looks east toward No. 5, Windsor Tower.

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