Why Did an Early Auction of Chester Park Lots Fail in 1891?
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In 1891, William T. Standen, an actuary with the United States Life Insurance Company, and his wife, Elizabeth G. Standen, owned much of the land we know today as Chester Park in the Village of Pelham. At the time, the land was located just north of an unincorporated section of the Town of Pelham known as Pelhamville.
Though Standen worked in the headquarters of United States Life Insurance Company located at 261 Broadway in New York City, he and his wife had a residence on the lands they owned in the Town of Pelham. They called their residence "The Homestead." The Homestead was located north of today’s Pine Avenue between Maple Avenue and Pelhamdale Avenue. By May of 1891, the Standens had decided to subdivide their land and develop it as “Chester Park”. In May and June of that year, the lands were surveyed for the purpose of creating a subdivision map for development purposes.
Standen worked hard to prepare the area for an initial auction of 85 lots to be held on August 11, 1891. Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog tells the story of that first auction sale of Chester Park lands.
By July, 1891, Standen was ready to move forward. He arranged an energetic New York City auctioneer to peddle eighty five lots. The auctioneer was John B. F. Smyth who had an office at 69 Liberty Street in New York City, next to the "Real Estate Auction and Sales Room" located at 59 to 65 Liberty Street, usually referenced as "the Exchange." The auction was scheduled to take place at the Exchange on Tuesday, August 11, 1891 at 12:00 noon.
Beginning as early as July 21, 1891, a host of notices advertising the upcoming auction began to appear in nearly all New York City and nearby regional newspapers. There were three basic forms of notices, examples of each appearing below.
The advertisements touted the new development as the new location of "magnificent Villa Sites" in a new settlement with "[m]acadamized roads, streets lighted by electricity, water laid free on every lot, a splendidly ornamented Public Green of about two acres for the pleasure and recreation of residents of Chester Park." The advertisements further emphasized that Chester Park was only "half an hour of the Grand Central Depot."
The newspaper advertisements appeared repeatedly in many of the same newspapers for the next three weeks, with several published in New York City newspapers the day before the auction.
Prior to the auction, maps of the new development and "further particulars" were available either from the auctioneer or from the "Manager" of the new development, Thomas G. Brotherton, a brother of local Pelhamville grocer Loftus Brotherton. Anyone who wished to visit the development prior to the auction was offered free stagecoach transportation from the Pelhamville station on the New Haven Main Line to Chester Park and back.
On the day of the auction, it was brutally hot in New York City. The temperature reached 95 degrees. Disappointingly, only a dozen or so prospective purchasers showed up for the auction at the Exchange. At the appointed time, auctioneer John B. F. Smyth began his energetic efforts to sell 85 lots in Chester Park, each roughly a quarter-acre.
Within a short time, the auction was ended, an abject failure. After trying to sell about twenty of the eighty-five lots, the auction ended with only six of the lots actually sold. The remaining 79 lots remained unsold. Completion of the auction would have to wait until later.
New York City newspapers reported the failure. One said:
"An effort that was made to force the sale of some very desirable property last week resulted in such a flat failure that it is not likely to be repeated at once. The property -- known as the Chester Park -- near Pelhamville, would at any other time have been snapped up at prices which would at least have paid the advertising bills in addition to the cost of the plot. It was offered in quarter-acre lots, and had been well advertised, but there were not above a dozen would-be purchasers present, and of about a score of lots knocked down under the hammer, only six or so were actual sales."
The same New York City newspapers conducted autopsies and analyses of precisely why such "desirable" properties failed to sell. The newspapers, however, could not agree. One argued that properties such as those in the new Chester Park development in Pelhamville typically were purchased by real estate investors who hoped to resell the properties at a profit. However, during the hot month of August, many of those same investors were on their Summer vacations and, thus, unavailable. As The New York Times noted:
"The cause was perfectly apparent. There is no present demand for property for investment purposes. The class of people who might with reason be relied upon to buy property of the kind offered last Thursday are now for the most part absent on their Summer vacations, and are paying precious little attention to real estate trading."
A rival newspaper, the New York Herald, had an entirely different explanation for the failure. According to the Herald, the lots were sold pursuant to restrictions that required buyers to build a home or cottage on the land worth at least $4,000, considered an "expensive" home at the time (roughly $132,000 in today's dollars). As the Herald put it:
"What really put a stop to that sale was the restrictions compelling wage earners and citizens to put on the plots they were asked to buy cottages and houses of no less value than $4,000 each."
The reasons for the failure of the first auction of Chester Park land, of course, may have been a combination of factors including the oppressive heat, the timing of the auction during the peak Summer vacation period, and restrictions that might make it difficult for land speculators simply to buy and flip lots. Nevertheless, it quickly became clear to Elizabeth and William Standen that their dreams of accumulating wealth from subdividing and selling their land might take quite some time.
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On line of New Haven Railroad, near Pelhamville Station, within half an hour of the Grand Central Depot.
AUCTION SALE of magnificent Villa Sites in this Park will be held at The Real Estate Auction and Sales Room,
59 to 65 Liberty Street, New York City,
Tuesday, August 11th, 1891,
AT NOON, BY JOHN B. F. SMYTH, Auctioneer.
Visitors purposing to inspect this Park will be supplied with a vehicle free of charge to them by the Station Agent at Pelhamville. Macadamized roads, streets lighted by electricity, water laid free on every lot, a splendidly ornamented Public Green of about two acres for the pleasure and recreation of residents of Chester Park, are among its many special attractions which can only be thoroughly appreciated by a personal inspection, which is earnestly invited.
For maps and further particulars, address John B. F. Smyth, Auctioneer, 69 Liberty street, New York city, or Thomas G. Brotherton, Manager, Chester Park, Pelhamville, Westchester County, N. Y."
"JOHN F. B. SMYTH, Auctioneer,
Will sell at the Real-Estate Exchange, 50 Liberty Street, at 12 o'clock noon,
TUESDAY, Aug. 11, 1891,
The handsomest residence park in Westchester Co.
85 magnificent villa sites, situated on beautiful wide avenues and streets in
CHESTER PARK, N.Y.,
In the towns of
PELHAMVILLE AND NEW ROCHELLE.
Only 30 minutes from Grand Central Depot via the New Haven Railroad.
SPECIAL COMMUTATION RATES,
VERY LIBERAL TERMS.
TITLES GUARANTEED TO PURCHASERS.
Stages will convey visitors from Pelhamville station over the Park free of charge.
Send for maps and particulars to
JOHN F. B. SMYTH, 69 Liberty St., New York."
"A. -- A. -- A. --
THE HANDSOMEST RESIDENCE PARK IN WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N. Y.
JOHN F. B. SMYTH, Auctioneer,
WILL SELL AT THE REAL ESTATE EXCHANGE,
50 Liberty st., at 12 o'clock noon.
TUESDAY, August 11, 1891,
85 magnificent VILLA SITES, beautifully located on fine wide avenues and streets, at
CHESTER PARK, N. Y.,
In the towns of Pelhamville and New Rochelle, only 30 minutes from Grand Central Depot, via New Haven Railroad.
Special commutation rates.
Very liberal terms.
Titles guaranteed to purchasers.
Commodious stages will meet visitors at Pelhamville Station and convey them over and around the Park free of charge.
Send for maps and particulars to
JOHN F. B. SMYTH, 69 Liberty st., New York."
"VERY BRISK FOR SUMMER IS THE REALTY MARKET. . . .
Chester Park will be offered for sale to-morrow by John F. B. Smyth at the Exchange. This sale will determine the status of the suburban realty market, now so attractive to investors. Over eighty villa sites in large avenues are to be sold in the towns of Pelhamville and New Rochelle. According to announcement in yesterday's HERALD the terms of sale will be liberal. . . ."
Source: VERY BRISK FOR SUMMER IS THE REALTY MARKET, New York Herald, Aug. 10, 1891, p. 7, col. 5.
"LYING ON THEIR OARS.
REAL ESTATE MEN WAITING FOR THE DULL PERIOD TO CHASE.
A significant feature of the real estate market for more than two months past is that nearly all the foreclosure sales have resulted in the property being bought in by the mortgagee, where the sale was not postponed for want of a purchaser or because the mortgagee did not feel like taking his chances in such a desperate market. Owners and operators alike seem to be lying on their oars, waiting for the advent of a long-expected break in the period of dullness. Owners who are able to hold their property -- and there appear to be but few in the city now who are unable to hold on -- have given up looking for purchasers in the prevailing condition of the market.
An effort that was made to force the sale of some very desirable property last week resulted in such a flat failure that it is not likely to be repeated at once. The property -- known as the Chester Park -- near Pelhamville, would at any other time have been snapped up at prices which would at least have paid the advertising bills in addition to the cost of the plot. It was offered in quarter-acre lots, and had been well advertised, but there were not above a dozen would-be purchasers present, and of about a score of lots knocked down under the hammer, only six or so were actual sales.
The cause was perfectly apparent. There is no present demand for property for investment purposes. The class of people who might with reason be relied upon to buy property of the kind offered last Thursday are now for the most part absent on their Summer vacations, and are paying precious little attention to real estate trading. The sale is postponed for three weeks, when it is proposed to try it again. . . ."
Source: LYING ON THEIR OARS -- REAL ESTATE MEN WAITING FOR THE DULL PERIOD TO CHASE, N.Y. Times, Aug. 16, 1891, p. 20, col. 2 (Note: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
"REAL ESTATE SALES DULL IN HOT WEATHER.
Few People Are Buying Property as an Investment Unless They Actually Need It.
Wage Earners Reluctant to Make Purchases Which Bind Them to Build Costly Houses.
A commodity like real estate, which is not subject to daily fluctuations like commodities on other markets, cannot be active in a season like the present. Hence last week's operations in the real estate market were of little account. A few sales were made up town to those eager to take advantage of the prevailing dull season, but the market in general showed no animation whatever.
The absence of activity was most noticeable on the Exchange throughout the week. Some excellent parcels were offered under decrees of foreclosure, when a shrewd speculator could have found a chance to make a good turn; yet in almost every instance property of this kind went to the plaintiff in the action. At this season of the year no one desires to purchase property unless he actually needs it.
Another very instructive lesson was given during the past week. Auctioneers generally will take note of it. In fact, some have already done so. Aside from the fact that the thermometer on the Real Estate Exchange marked 95 degrees when the Chester Park lots were being sold energetically by Auctioneer John F. B. Smyth, nevertheless there was another reason that led to the withdrawal of over fifty plots from Chester Park, near Pelhamville.
What really put a stop to that sale was the restrictions compelling wage earners and citizens to put on the plots they were asked to buy cottages and houses of no less value than $4,000 each.
RESTRICTIONS IN SUBURBAN SALES.
The experiences of the Dobbs' Ferry sale a month ago, which was a pronounced failure and where sharp restrictions were the conditions of sales, ought to have been of value to the managers of the Chester Park property.
The fact of the matter is that in selling suburban properties there should be no restrictions. The leading buyers at such sales are wage earners anxious to secure good lots at auction prices. They will not buy when they are told that they must build an expensive cottage or home.
It is right that in settled localities on Manhattan Island proper such restrictions should be imposed, but no suburban property, however eligible, can as yet claim that prerogative and expect even market values for its plots and lots. . . ."
Source: REAL ESTATE SALES DULL IN HOT WEATHER -- Few People Are Buying Property as an Investment Uness They Actually Need It -- SUBURBAN RESTRICTIONS -- Wage Earners Reluctant to Make Purchases Which Bind Them to Build Costly Houses, New York Herald, Aug. 17, 1891, p. 9, col. 2.
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I have written about the history of Chester Park on numerous occasions. For more, see:
Bell, Blake A., History of Chester Park in the Village of Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 46, Nov. 19, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.
Thu., Sep. 29, 2016: Famed Broadway and Silent Film Actress Elita Proctor Otis Lived In Chester Park, Pelham.
Wed., Jun. 08, 2016: Attack on Son of Chester Park Founder William T. Standen in 1894.
Tue., Mar. 22, 2016: Auction of Chester Park Lands in Pelhamville in 1892.
Thu., Jul. 23, 2015: The Home at 45 Maple in Chester Park Built to Serve as a Church.
Tue., Mar. 24, 2015: An Early Description of Efforts to Open Chester Park Published in 1891.
Wed., Jul. 16, 2014: Final Auction of Remaining Lands of the Pelhamville Land and Homestead Association in 1898.
Mon., Jun. 19, 2006: Court Decision Issued in 1894 Sheds Light on Finances Behind the Development of Chester Park in the Early 1890s.
Tue., Jun. 6, 2006: More Early Photographs of Chester Park Recently Donated to The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham.
Mon., Jun. 5, 2006: More Early Photographs of Chester Park Recently Donated to The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham.
Fri., Jun. 2, 2006: Several of the Early Photographs of Chester Park Recently Donated to The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham.
Thu., Jun. 01, 2006: Early Photographs of Chester Park Among Materials Donated to The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham.
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