May 4, 2016

Everything You Need to Know About Tudor City in 1,032 Words

Manhattan's Tudor City is a Historic District set in East Midtown, opposite the United Nations. A planned community constructed in the 1920s by real estate developer Fred F. French, it was the largest single residential project ever seen in Manhattan up to that time: twelve apartment buildings and a transient hotel, arranged around two private parks. These buildings are:

The Cloister, 321 E. 43rd St., opened Oct 1, 1928

Essex House, 325 E. 41st St., opened  Oct 6, 1929
Haddon Hall, 324 E. 41st St., opened Jan 1, 1929
Hardwicke Hall, 314 E. 41st St.opened Jan 1, 1929
Hatfield House, 304 E. 41st St., opened Jan 1, 1929
The Hermitage, 330 E. 43rd St., opened Oct 1, 1928
Hotel Tudor (nka Westgate New York City), 304 E. 42nd St., opened Oct 1, 1930
The Manor, 333 E. 43rd St., opened Sept 30, 1927
Prospect Tower, 45 Tudor City Pl., opened Sept 30, 1927
Tudor Gardens, 2 Tudor City Pl., opened 1956
Tudor Tower, 25 Tudor City Pl., opened summer, 1928
Windsor Tower, 5 Tudor City Pl., opened Jan 1, 1930
Woodstock Tower, 320 E. 42nd St., opened May 1, 1929

Neighborhood map, circa 1930

The Tudor City Historic District also includes six landmarked buildings preceding the arrival of Fred French: the 1871 Church of the Covenant, four 19th-century rowhouses, and a 1926 apartment building, the Prospect Hill Apartments.


Tudor City’s site, a granite bluff later known as Prospect Hill, has an up-and-down history over the years. In 1636, it is a tobacco plantation on Turtle Bay Farm, a marshy, 40-acre parcel of land granted to two Englishmen by the Dutch governor of New Amsterdam. Following the American Revolution, it's sold to Francis Bayard Winthrop, whose family continues to farm the land into the 1800s. The NY Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 – which proposes laying out a street grid and leveling the island’s hilly terrain – essentially puts an end to farming in Manhattan. It does not lead to improvement on Prospect Hill, however.

For reasons unknown, this granite cliff is never leveled, and thus remains undeveloped. By the time of the Civil War, it's one of sketchiest neighborhoods in the city, a shantytown that's home to penniless squatters, flimsy shacks and free-roaming goats. More ominously, it is the lair of James “Paddy” Corcoran, an Irish thug who's the leader of the Rag Gang, one of the murderous mobs wreaking havoc along the East River. Prospect Hill soon becomes known as Corcoran’s Roost.

Looking north up Second Avenue from 42nd Street in 1861.
Post-war prosperity helps clean up the area, and by the 1870s, middle-class rowhouses appear on Prospect Place, its three-block-long street (later renamed Tudor City Place). This neighborhood uptick is short-lived, however. The construction of the Second Avenue Elevated train to the west – belching soot and cinders into the air – and the growing industrialization along the East River to the east (including a slaughterhouse, glue factory and gas works) sends the area back into decline.

Then, in 1925, real estate developer Fred Fillmore French changes the neighborhood forever. French’s plan is ambitious: nothing less than the largest apartment complex Manhattan has ever seen, “a city within a city,” built on a five-acre, horseshoe-shaped plot of land. The crowning touches are two private parks that lend a unique suburban feel to the otherwise very urban enterprise.

The complex is designed in the pseudo-Tudor style that's having a vogue in the 1920s. This style of architecture – an homage to sixteenth-century English homes – is associated with the comforts of country living, and targeted to the middle-class types who had begun to abandon the city for the suburbs. To heighten its idyllic feel, the community is constructed to face west, turning its back on the industrial mess along the East River. The first phase of construction commences in 1927 and is completed by 1930, with 2,800 apartments and 600 hotel rooms.  

Tudor City arrives during the birth of modern advertising, and is heavily promoted via magazine and newspaper ads, as well as two mammoth rooftop neon signs. It even has its own slogan: Live in Tudor City and Walk to Business – it is a mere seven-minute stroll to the Grand Central business district. 

Within the self-contained community is a restaurant, coffee shop, kindergarten, grocery, laundry, florist and book shop, among other businesses. Other amenities (really public relations gimmicks) include a ski slide, tennis courts and an 18-hole miniature golf course, along with a resident nurse, private police force and on-call radio repairmen.

Prospect Place (today Tudor City Place) in 1928
The complex is a success from the start, and close to fully rented throughout the tough years of the Depression, and beyond. Though most of the apartments are modest in size, the rents are reasonable (starting at $50 per month for a studio), and the neighborhood quiet and charming.

After World War II, the construction of the United Nations on the former East River slaughterhouse sites brings significant changes to the community. 42nd Street is widened and the narrow tunnel beneath Tudor City Place remade into a broader expanse. Service roads leading up to Tudor City Place from 42nd Street are replaced with stone staircases. As before, there is no through traffic to First Avenue, but now the traffic flow is further reduced, with only one way in (41st Street), and one way out (43rd Street) after the service roads are demolished.

In 1956, the French Company erects Tudor Gardens (at 2 Tudor City Place) on the site of the former tennis courts. The final apartment house in the Tudor City complex, it is the only one not embellished with Tudor-esque ornament.

A group of investors led by real estate mogul Harry Helmsley buys most of Tudor City for $36 million in 1970. Shortly thereafter, he announces plans to replace the parks with a pair of skyscraping apartment houses, which ignite a slew of lawsuits that become mired in the courts for nearly a decade. Helmsley finally abandons his plans in 1985, after the courts rule that the parks are an “essential service” to the community. In 1988, the entire complex – parks included – is officially landmarked as a New York City Historic District. Around the same time, all of the apartment houses are converted into co-ops, save for the Hermitage, which remains an all-rental building to this day.

Prospect Tower in a scene from Spider-Man 3
The area’s unique urban-suburban beauty makes it a natural movie location, and films like Scarface and the Spider-man trilogy give the enclave some national renown. The millennium sees the arrival of two critically acclaimed Italian restaurants, L’Impero and Convivio, in Prospect Tower. Launching the careers of two celebrity chefs, Scott Conant and Michael White, they become destination restaurants, introducing Tudor City to a whole new generation of New Yorkers.

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