How Harvard, The Vanderbilts, and yes, Tiffany’s & Co Heirs Benefited from A Bronx Land Sale

Via Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “1492 Bronx Lots At Your Own Price” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1920-07-13.

On Tuesday, July 13, 1920, one thousand four hundred and ninety-two vacant lots in what would eventually become Allerton and Pelham Gardens in The East Bronx went to auction starting at just $20 or $50 bucks depending on the lot.

But how would the sale of these lots bisected by streets like Pearsall, Throop, and Allerton Avenues and bounded by Eastchester Road and Burke Avenue would fill the coffers of Harvard University, Vanderbilt heirs and even the heirs of one of the original owners of Tiffany’s?

Lawrence E. Sexton, who was one of the owners of the Eastchester Company that owned the estate and vacant lots had willed his holdings to Harvard University and upon his passing, so did his interests including the land.

Same thing with heirs of Alfred G. Vanderbilt and as for Tiffany and Co? The heirs of Charles T. Cook, one of the original owners of Tiffany and Company as well as one of its presidents also was part owner of the land which even had its own railroad stop within its boundaries at what is now the Gun Hill Road Station on the 5 Dyre Avenue IRT subway line (which was then NY Westchester, & Boston Railroad).

The advertisement for the auction spoke of how these lands were ripe for development due to the rapid pace at which the city was expanding population-wise and that it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to have these lots, “double, triple, and quadruple in value…”.

One thing that should be noted is that this is how many Bronx families and families in general were able to build up wealth in the form of real estate holdings and it was something that people of color, particularly Black Americans, didn’t have access to due to systemic racist policies like redlining prevented them from obtaining a mortgage so you had to have the money not to mention that there weren’t any fair housing laws then so if you happened to be a Black family you could be denied even entry into the auction.

At any rate, many already wealthy families and institutions got wealthier off of sales of land sales in The Bronx and when you look at what’s going on today in the South Bronx developer rush, nothing has changed and that wealth continues to stay within a select and small group of families.

Check out the rest of the auction ad:

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.