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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 45, no. 1151: April 5, 1890

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April 5. 1890 R ecord an( Guid e. 4^1 - At Bi/5»Je5S Mb Themes or QijitnfX. 1;Jt£i\esi PRICE, PER YEAR IN ADTAIVCE, SIX DOLLARS. Published every Saturday. TELEPHONE, - - - JOHN 370. Communications should be addressed to C.W. SWEET, 191 Broadway. J. T. LINDSEY, BuHness Manager. Vol. XLV. APRIL 5, 1890. No. 1,151. It is a pity that it has to be pointed out that the daily press, and with it the good public, are posaeaaed of expectations very much too large regarding the gain which is likely to be made for the cause of good government in this city of ours by the Fassett Investigation Committee. Anyone who thinks that a wholesome, intelligent honest management of municipal affairs is to be procured for the metropolis by a legislative inquiry that was originated without the request of citizens by our most "honorable" representatives in Albany, has not correctly diagnosed the disease with which we are atHicted, Nor does he understand the real nature of the supposed remedy. The Fassett Committee is the creation of '' politics," and the game it is huntiug for is political rather than righteous. So far the " disclosures " that have been made concerning the abuses In the Sheriff's offlce are to be credited to the Herald, and not to the committee; the disinterestedness of whose motives will be best seen when it turns its attention to other city departments, some of which are undoubtedly as "ripe for the harvest "aa the Sheriff's office proved to be. But, if any fact haa been demonstrated by our experience in municipal government, it is that honest aud intelli¬ gent administration is not to be obtained through " investigations," If " investigations " were curative for official corruption and ineffi¬ ciency, then in all conscience New York ought to be a model of a well-governed city. For the last quarter of a century at least, the government of the metropolis has been the subject of " investiga¬ tions " and '' exposures " on tho part of committees, and consequent criticism, denouncement and disgust on the part of decent citizens. That nothing has been achieved is only too apparent after the Boodle Aldermen trials—the ending of which, by the way, is as disagreeable a reflection on our administration of justice as the beginning was upon our Common Council—the fruitless scandals concerning the Public Markets and the Dock Department, and the more recent abomination of the Sheriff's offlce and the prostitution of the Bench in the Flack case. Is not what the commission of 1876 said as true to-day as when it was uttered thirteen years ago: " In truth, the lai-ger part of the city debt represents a vast aggregate of moneys wasted, embezzled or misapplied;" and, "a large number of important offices have come to be filled by meu possessing little, if any, fitness for the important duties they are called upon to dis¬ charge." These men are characterized in the report as " animated by the expectation of unlawful emoltmients;" and, black as the picture of government painted by the commission was, it added: '' Yet this picture fails altogether to convey an adequate notion of the elaborate systems of depredation which, under the name of city government, have from time to time inflicted our principal cities." There is not a circumstance iu the ca&e, nor, so far as can be seen, an example in the past to warrant the assumption that any r«al permanent good will result from the present washing of dirty Unen in public by the Fassett Committee. Changes in the peraomiel of the government may be hiade ; the wrong-doing of individuals may be exposed and perhaps punished ; modiflcations in the machinery of government may be proposed and some of them may be made, but a government of, by and for politicians will contmue, with ita inevitable peculation, maladministration and vulgarity, until there is eonsideraile improvemmt in lhe tone of our public Ufe, in the sentiments and ideas of our people. We cannot too quickly appreciate the fact that the government of this city is a reflection of what the people of this city are as a whole. It corresponds, as all governments do, to the average of the character of our people. It is foolish to lay the flattering unction to our souls that the great majority of our citizens are noble, high-minded, educated men, and that the govern¬ ment is wliolly the product of a miserable few. Nowhere in the world is this true; and there is as Mttle truth in it stated of New as of any city. The fact that we tolerate official iniquity, and remain quiescent while the government of the city is turned over to a very inferior order of men, is a certain indication of a blunted moral sensitiveness. We cannot escape this conclusion. Moral sensitiveness accompanies morality, and the one increases with the other. Hitherto we have always excused ourselves, when charged with the rottenness of oiu" government, by saying that our "best citizens " will not meddle with politics. But this ia not a satisfac¬ tory excuse, nor is it a satisfactory explanation; for it leaves unexplained the reason that lies at the bottom of the fact, as stated, that our " best citizens " do not interest themselves in politics. Either they know that their influence would be ineffec¬ tual if they did meddle in politics as it would be overcome by the stronger influence of others, or their moral sensitiveness is too blunt to be stung to action by evils with which there is scarcely any effort at concealment. Nothing new has been disclosed concerning the Sheriff's office. All that the Fassett Committee has " discovered" has been common knowledge, just as people know to-day that the hundreds of beer saloons that do buainess on Sunday in defiance of the law could not be open without the connivance "of the poUce, The lawyers of this city no doubt consider themselves, as a class, a body of respectable, high-minded men, and would resent any imputation that they are responsible for the misdoings in th© Sheriff's office, exactly as our " best citizens " would repel an accu¬ sation that they are responsible for the bad government of the city. Yet, for years the lawyers of New York have tolerated the system of blackmail and extortion in the Sheriff's office, have charged and probably recommended, beforehand, their clients to pay these illegal " expenses" to Deputy Sheriffs and others, and not one has raised his voice against the iniquity, as a lawyer, of all others, could so easily have done. Is this the action of morally sensitive men ? No, the Fassett Committee can do httle for us; investiga¬ tions and changes in our municipal machinery can do little for us. Not until there is a vigorous public opinion, keenly sensitive to vulgarity, immorality and the low tone generally of pot-house and ward poUtics shall we have a government in New York Cityj of which decent men need not be ashamed. Unfavorable Symptoms. It IS, necessary that a word or two of caution should be uttered concerning the present condition of the building market. Last fall when The Record and Guide published a review of the previous twelve months' operations on the west side it was shown that of 334 buildings completed 331, or 64 per cent., were unsold, As the average cost of buildings in that section of the city is about |22,000 the capital lying idle in these unmarketed houses, and devouring interest, amounted to nearly $5,000,000, Since April, 1889—the end of the period considered in the review—building on the west side has been most energetically carried on, and there can be scarcely any doubt that an inspection of the situation would show a ■much more unsatisfactory condition of affairs now than last fall. Upon the top of this, scores of plans have been filed at the Building Department in the last few months for structures, the first brick of which has not yet been laid. On the east side, north of 59th street, a somewhat similar condition prevails, and in Brooklyn, in the newer wards, the unsold houses can be counted by blocks. To add to the gravity of the situation houses are not only unsold but apparently they cannot be rented. It may be asked why, if the supply of buildings is so much greater, manifestly so much greater than the demand, the work of construction is still carried on by a class of men who are not lacking in business shrewdness ? The answer is an easy one to make. In the first place, so far as the west side is con¬ cerned, a considerable amount of new work was started in anticipation of the World's Fair; but this is only a secondary reason. As is well known a very large part of the building done in the districts under discussion is carried on by speculative builders upon borrowed capital, and unless this class sell their buildings within a reasonable time after completion, they must start at once upon other work to save themselves from "going imder." As the saying is, one hand has to be made to wash the other, and part of the money received for work under way is often used to carry work previously completed. It is plain, however, that the process of meeting obHgations due to Peter with the money of Paul cannot be carried on indefinitely. Sooner or later the builder's indebtedness must overtake his borrowed resources. More than once lately we have had to record the failiu-e of some speculative builder. Most often the failure is a silent one. The casual observer would pass it over without notice, as it takes the form of a foreclosure or a transfer of property to creditors or the operators that made the building loan. A part of the operations now under way are of this forced character. They are not due to the necessities of the market; they are not business ventures entered into by the operator because of previous success, or upon the warrant of the condition of the market. On the con¬ trary, they are due to the force of unhealthy financial circum¬ stances. The manner in which these operations are carried on is well illustrated by the case of a speculative builder who recently hecame financially involved. His first purchase embraced a num¬ ber of lots on the upper west side, on which he erected several flats, none of which were sold. He went right on, took title to a plot on the upper east side, on which the same kind of buildings were erected. He met as poor success with these, bufc was not deterred from going in ou a etili larger ecale. H© bought an entire