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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 21, no. 537: June 29, 1878

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Real Estate Record AND BUILDERS' GUIDE. Vol. XXI. NEW YOBE:, SATURDAY, JUNE 29, 1878. No. 537. Published Weekly by %h %ml (BsMt Setffcb %BBatmiimx. TERMS. • ONE YEAR, in advance.. ..SIO.OO. Communications should be addressed to C. AV. SWEET, Nos. ;i45 AND 347 BnOADWAV. CITY PARKS. It has become the fashion of late with au im¬ pressible public, and a preoccupied press to lay inordinate stress upon the value of our city parks, and to decry as a pubHc outrage au}' attempt to curtail or utilize their dimensions. Behind this uudiscriminatiiig uiul seutimeutal drift of opinion, there is a coterie of very respect¬ able and estimable old gentlemen who were bom in the beginning of the century, and have been accustomed for fifty yeai-s to extol the value aud necessity of these parks. The secret of their pre¬ possession it is not difficult to lind out. Many of them are veteran opei-ators or siieculatoi-s in real estate, and a small number were w-ise enough to retire thirty years ago from the real estate areua with ample fortmies. In the beginning of theii- careei-s, J'ourteenth screet was the uoi-therly limit of civilization on this Lslaud, while the line of building improvements hardly exteuded as far as Houston street. In those days the omnibus was the sole motor of local transit, and the utmost stretch of its capacity was the feat of carrj'ing passeugers to Greenwich and Chelsea iu from two to three hours time. In tliose daj's lands uorth of Fourteenth street wei-e reckoned by the acre, aud seemed destined to be treated us farm lands for au indefinite period iu the abseuce of auy expeditious method of reaching them. The great problem of real estate speculation then was to absorb as much as possible of the vacant laud of the island, aud to take it permaueutly out of the market in order that there might be a well grounded appre- heusiou of a possible scarcity of residence sites. AA''heu we consider the enormous ai-ea of vacant property that then existed, w-e can imderstand how irresistibly and legitimately this great prob¬ lem presented itself. No wiser or surer scheme for reduciug the stock or area of vacant property could be devised than that of laying out innumer¬ able parks. The inventive genius of the real estate speculator had not then acquired the boldness to project a single park of nearly a thousand acres. In fact, the method of detached and scattei-ed small parks was more serviceable in the game of speculation, as it tended to distribute the ideal charms of these city garden plots through the dif¬ ferent sections of the island. It required no great prescience, eveu in those early days, to foresee that New York, as the most prominent and accessible city of tbe continent, would attract representative business men from home and abroad as its ultimate residents. It became but a matter of time when the island should be thickly populated, and the very acme of the real estate speculator's ambition would be fully reached by much as pos¬ sible of the surface of the islaud to these liberally defined parks. In 1807, at the time of the plotting out of the city north of Fourteenth street into streets and avenues, a provision more than liberal was made for park accommodation. In less than twenty years, however, many of these small parks were closed and converted into common lauds by act of the Legislature. As the port of New York at¬ tracted an ever expanding commerce, and the city sprang from its swaddling clothes into the form and stature of a municipal giaut, these re¬ spectable gentlemen, pioneers of city land specu¬ lation, looked on complacently and thought they saw the realization of their prophetic dreams iu theadvance of New York in wealth and import¬ ance, the same being clearly attributable in their opinion to the wise forecast which had led them to suggest, urge and linallj' consummate the plan of providuig city parks. The burden of their constant refrain is that city parks increase population and consequently increase real vabies aud taxable values. The latter condition is indisputablj- the natural product of the former, but the argument is too often inversely stated. It seems to be the conception of some real estate speculators that public improvements, such a.s parks and boule¬ vards, directly enhance the value of property; and that this enhanceiiieut attracts wealthy and desirable population. It has been the privilege of the present genera¬ tion to witness the fullest and loftiest develop¬ ment of the park and boulevard mania, and not a few of us are now sulfering from the reaction which invariably attends the collapse of a great fever. The enormoits growth and wealth of the city that have risen collaterally with the develop¬ ment of the park and boulevard systems, are phenomena eagerly .seized upon by short-sighted and impulsive real estate speculators, and de¬ clared to sustain to eac!i other the relations of elf ect and cause. A candid investigation into the real state of the case will develop an entirely op¬ posite conclusion. The growth of New York has beeu obedient to laws whicii are more or less obvious and defined. Its possible magnitude and volume can be better measured by a calculation of what we have lost of resident population, of the overplus that has flowed into adjoining suburbs, than of what we have actually gained. These suburbs sm-ely.had few or no attractions in tho way of parks and boulevards when they so easily carried away a full half of the population that naturally belonged to New York. So far from being an advantage to the city's development it could easily be proved that the elaboration of numerous and expensive parks and boulevards has really restrained its growth and repressed its population and wealth. Be¬ cause the absorption of so much vacant land has the tendency to unduly enhance the specu¬ lative price of remaining property, while the expense of organizing and maintaining these differ¬ ent parks compels an unwelcome addition to local tax rates. These two forces of high land values and high taxation have been the principal levers used in transferring our great middle class population from this island to Long Island and New Jersey. Next to the folly of imagining that any great amount of territory can be spared for park pur¬ poses on an island of the limited dimensions of New York must rank the absurd infatuation of now resisting any curtailment of these parks or proper utilization of their surfaces. AA''e have at length reached a point in the development of the park sj'stom where over one thousand acres, com¬ prising the area of sixteen thousand city lots, have been thus appropriated, a sequestration and direct loss of real estate which is now being seriouslj' felt. As stoutly as the advocacy of these parks may be maintained, there is uo likelihood, judging from past experience, that sentimental and iRsthetic considerations will entirely overcome the common sense of our people. A review of park history is decidedly instructive in forming an opinion as to the probable future of the exist¬ ing parks. AVe have no record of the number of small parks which were closed and abandoned by the Legislature of 13'27, but it is matter of recent historj' that Observatory Park and a large por¬ tion of Hamilton Park have beeu sold bj- the sinking fund coniinissionei-s, while the remainder of Hamilton Park has been donated to various charitable and protective associations. Manhat¬ tan ,S(iuare ha.s been dedicated to the uses of a natural museum. Citj- Hall Park has been so far encroached upon as to obliterate if not to completelj' destroj- its original outlines, and the Batterj- has been so far shorn of its pristine features as to threaten and almost to in¬ vite its total abandonment as a ]>ublic resort. Its iiartial occupation as an einigi-ant depot and barge oflice, maj' be littinglj- followed bj- its complete surrender to the general government for the uses of the Custom House and Sub- Treasurj-. That most obnoxious development of the park sj-stem, known as the private park, has been so far condemned as to receive but two con¬ spicuous illustrations. One of these, St. John's Park, has beeu taken up bodilj' for busiuess pur¬ poses, while the other, Gramniercj' Park, is only awaiting the iiieviuible extension of Lexington avenue to bisect and secularize it. Reservoir Square was once, and maj- be again, appro¬ priated to iiublic purposes. But recentlj a movement in favor of utilizing what is left of AA''ashington Square was all but successful, imd doubtless the historj' of this famous parade ground is drawing gradually to a close. AA'hatever anticipations maj- have beeu once indtdged of laj'ing out New York as a garden citj-, its i-apid and invincible growth has deter¬ mined conti-ariwise. A sj-stem of public parks and gardens is appropriate to retired inland towns and places abounding in accessible cheap land, but is not at all suitable for a great, ac¬ tive and irrepressible insular seaport like New York. The scarcitj- and value of land render buch appropriation too costlj', and the invidious and exclusive character of any isolated or scattered projections causes them to be objects of di.sdain rather than of envy. It is a noteworthy fact, that the property surrounding the several exist¬ ing parks in this city, is relativelj- the cheapest that can be found on the island, and even our great Central Park has failed to realize its early and vaunted promise of becoming the centre of most fashionable residence. Repre¬ sentative private residences have been erected arotmd that great park since its completion, atthe