By Alan Cohen
Clement Clarke Moore acquired the land along 23rd and 24th Streets, between 9th and 10th Avenues, when his family estate—known as ‘Chelsea’—was divided among the separate clan members. By 1845, Moore built a row of Greek-style, individual town houses on the land. It was made to look like a single complex of structures with ornate front gardens that resembled a large terrace. Thus, he named the buildings ‘London Terrace.’
By October 1929, just weeks before the onset of the Great Depression, tenement builder and landlord, Henry Mandel acquired the property from Moore. Mandel was tired of developing tenement buildings, and wanted to create a unified structure that spanned a long city block and was completely self-sustaining. It would have a grocery store, a pharmacy, and all of the amenities one needed within close proximity.
The Depression did not slow down the progress of Mandel’s vision. He was fond of the Tuscan-style designs of the Farrar and Watmough firm and hired them for the construction. Mandel tore down Moore’s small strip of town houses and began building London Terrace.
The project was completed in 1931, with a beautiful facade of alternating red and tan bricks. Each entrance was slightly different, yet the entirety looked unified. On May 1, 1933, The Tattler wrote,
“London Terrace is on historic ground, but, in its own way, it is establishing its own history and its own traditions. To those of us who have lived with it and in it from the first days of its construction, it is the place we had always hoped to find in a crowded metropolis. There is nothing else quite like it.”
By 1932, however, Mandel was $14 million in debt, and could not pay alimony to his ex-wife. Because of this, he was jailed. Court papers showed that he was making only $60 per week at the time. Mandel died not long after, in 1942.
The legend of London Terrace is still writing itself. The building continues to stand, and maintains Mandel’s vision of a unified complex of 1,700 separate apartments, some rental and some owned, all within a single structure. Through the years, refurbishments have kept the building looking just like it did in 1931. (Note: The information provided in this article was sourced from the Daytonian in Manhattan blog.)