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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 21, no. 534: June 8, 1878

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Real Estate Record AND BUILDERS' GUIDE. Vol. XXL NEW YOEK, SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 1878. No. 534. Published Weekly by %h Seal EstateSecarbi^ssonatmn. TERJIS. ONE YEAR, in advance....SlO.OU. Coiuniunications should be addressed to C. W. SWEET, Nos. 345 AND 347 Broadway. THE PROSPECTS OF THE BUILDING TRADE. Every well-wisher of this city must take a lively interest in the condition and prospects of the building trade. Activitj- in building denotes vigor and growth of the metropolis, whereas stagnation just as surelj' iudicates decadence and retrogression. Indications abound on every hand that the loug wave of adversity which has rolled over this interest has become thoroughly exhausted, and that from the present j-ear we maj- look for more propitious signs if not for sub¬ stantial encouragement for embarkations iu this line. The conditions which preseut themselves today bear a marked coutrast to those out of which Avas germinated the wild aud reckless activity of the last great speculative era. The recuperative forces, which ai-e now at work and which promise to reinvigorate aud reinspiro this noble calling, are all of the legitimate kind. The next great era of building activitj' promises to take its origin in a plane of low values, relatively if not actually the lowest that the city has known since it has taken on the dignity of a metropolis. In all but the most exclusivelj- fashionable locali¬ ties and along the most prosperous busiuess thoroughfares, the price of land has fallen to nearly as low a level a.s that which prevailed twenty years ago. The establishment of rapid transit aud the pros¬ pect of an early resumption of specie paj-meuts are the potential factors of the new order of things which is likely .soon to be inaugurated. The steadying and pacif j-ing effects of a specie basis afford a meet reciprocal for the great pros¬ pective demand for dwellings which is likely to grow out of the successful establishment of rapid transit. We have exhausted the benefits and tasted the bitterest dregs of a scale of high values, and we come now to test the virtue and efficacy of low prices. In familiar words high prices invite com¬ petition, and, we may add, destruction; but low prices defy competition as well as invite a liberal demand. An important element iu the calculations of the building trade must necessarily be the prospective results of mercantile operations. The fact, how¬ ever, that a moderate degree ot building activity has been kept up during the past five years of un¬ paralleled mercantile depression, would seem to indicate that the vigor of building activity is not strictly or entirely dependent upon commercial results. There is a forceful vitality in the growth of our metropolis, which finds its root in sources which either cannot be traced out or which are not apparent to the ordinary observer. It is say¬ ing nothing new to aver that the latent wealth of New York—that which is ordinarily dissociated from and independent of mercantile revulsions— is the true gerniiuating force behind mauj' lead¬ ing building improvements. Although the pre¬ dominant sentiment and tone of business circles are those of gloom, uncertainty and trepidation, it may be easilj' determined that there are bi^anches of business in this citj', which are enjoj-iiig and have been partakers of a large Share of success. The superlative advantage of a great financial and mercantile metropolis is that its impulses of pros¬ perity are derived from a multitude of sources, and while some maj' be stagnant and unfruitful, others aro sure to be glowing with warmth, and bristling with a healthful activitj-. If a discrimin¬ ating and periodical census could be taken of the occupants of our most fa.shiouable mansions, in probably no waj-could the waves of business pros¬ peritj- und adversitj' be better delineated. "While unfortunate niembei-s of our New York societj' withdraw to secluded abodes, the representatives of business success quickly step for%vard and take their places in the front ranks. The two most seriou-s problems which preseut themselves in connection with the revival of build¬ ing are those of labor and taxes. The gi-eatest hardship that was ever inflicted on the building trade of this city was the enact¬ ment of the eight hour law, which so seriously disturbed the relations of employer and employed and which led directly and swiftly to a reaction in the condition of the mechanical classes, from the effects of which they are just beginning to re¬ cover. "Wages hke capital must ever be left under the controlling influence of the law of supply and demand. Probably no human device, and cer¬ tainly no legal enactment can be framed for regu¬ lating the value of wages, or for establishing them upon anj- arbitrary level. During the dulness of the past few j'ears, wages have become unduly depressed, sinking even in the case of first-class skilled mechanics to levels lower than those that prevailed before the war. Mason's and car¬ penter's wages at one dollar and seventy-five cents per day of ten houi-s, and laborers wages of from sixty cents to one dollar per daj', cannot be taken as representing any normal standard. Al¬ ready slight reactions have set in which have en¬ abled mechanics to obtain a small increase of wages. "Whether wisely or not, we would hardly venture to say, the leading mechanics have iaaug erated a strike during the present season for a still greater advance, masons and carpentere claiming two dollars and a half, and other skilled mechanics claiming a proportionate ad¬ vance. This movement is undoubtedly responsive to the outcropping of an enlarged demand for such sei-vices. The steadying influence of the gold standard is no where more required for the interest of all parties than in the regulation of wages. A fluc¬ tuating standard of currency, and consequently of wages, introduces the element of tmcertainty into all the calculations of the master builder. Unexpected and excessive advances in wages work a serious hardship to a contractor, as an im- duly depressed standard of wages does to a me- cha^c. The interest and well being of the two classes (employer and employee) are so directly connected that it becomes most desirable that a fixed and uniform level of wages, at least for a given J-ear or sejison, should be established. There is a possibility that the agitation of this question of wages may deter timid capitalists from embark¬ ing in building enterprises, aud the forcing of anj- such condition would be certain to react upon the mechanic by lessening the demand for his ser¬ vices. As the disposition seems to exist among employ¬ ers to concede the rate of wages now demanded, to wit—two dollars and a half per day for the highest grade of mechanics, it is more than likelj- that this will be adopted as the prevailing stand¬ ard for the coming season, and]contracts will be gauged according to it. With the adjustment -of the labor (luestion, there remains a solitary obstacle to a full and healthy revival of building, to wit—the mat; er of taxation. If one-half or two-thirds of the present taxation could be removed from real estate, bj- a reduction of citj- expenditures and bj' a distribu¬ tion of some such share of it upon other objects, we would venture to prophesj' a startling revival in the building trade that would extend promis- cuouslj' from the Battery to Harlem River, em¬ bracing the substitution of new and imposing edifices for old and dilapidated ones, and the cov¬ ering of the immense area of vacant land that now disfigures the upper end of the island with new and comfortable homes. As it is, the im- equal and oppressive burden of taxation that now rests on real estate acts as a powerfid deterrent in the revival of this interest. The building trade naturally divides itself into two branches, and we propose to consider the prospect of each of these separatelj*. Legitimate Builders.—The rank and file of the legitimate builders, those who execute work upou contract, have been lying in enforced idle¬ ness for manj' months awaiting the revival of business and a renewed demand for their services. This vast bodj- of master and minor mechanics resembles a great army marshaled and equipped for duty and awaiting the word of command to advance into active service. There is no lack of mechanical genius in this city for executing the most varied and dillicult tasks. That ability, however, waits patiently to be called into action by the inspiring invitation of the capitalist. Aside from the rumore which are floating about, of tho projection of elaborate and costly private works, and aside from the numerous outcroppings of private orders which are already in course of execution,there are certain conditions which favor the hope of widespread and early employment for legitimate builders. The cheapness and plethora of money, which have become the chronic symptoms of this great money centre, cannot fail in time to have an effect in inducing capitalists to seek permanent investments in real estate. As the hope recedes of procuring high rates for monej' ou call, or of obtaining solid se¬ curities that will pay a satisfactory rate of in¬ terest, the capitalist will be driven through sheer desperation to seek investments in real estate which will pay him a reasonable annual interest. The scarcity of good mortgages and the dis¬ couraging prospect that this class of investment may be made the object of invidious and blight¬ ing legislation mtist in time have an effect in de¬ termining capitalists to give their preference to investments in improved property as the best