“Manhattan Plaza is often called the ‘Miracle on 42nd Street’, and if I did nothing else in my life but be associated with that, my life would be complete. It is the type of place to live that has to be duplicated throughout the major cities of this country.” Irving Fischer
Manhattan Plaza was intended to be luxury apartments, but went bankrupt. The Manhattan Plaza Associates LP, a partnership headed by Richard Ravitch and Irving Fischer took over. Building amenities include a playground, five tennis courts, and gym, a swimming pool, and a 1,000-car garage. Manhattan Plaza also has 50,000 square feet of retail space at its base.
Irving Fischer became involved with developer Richard Ravitch who proposed two buildings for middle-income housing on a square block from 42nd to 43rd streets between 8th and 9th avenues. Using funds from the state’s Mitchell-Lama Housing program, the city loaned Ravitch’s HRH Construction all of the projects’ $95 million cost and tore down several occupied tenement buildings to build the two high-rise apartment buildings. Construction began in 1974.
During construction, New York City fell into a deep economic recession and had to drastically cut its funding of the project. With no market in the area for such high-rent housing, the two 46-story buildings stood as a failure.
The neighborhood residents and housing activists believed subsidized housing should be prioritized for the neighborhood’s existing poor residents. After nearly a year of debate and strong advocacy from performing arts unions, the plan was approved by the city.
Manhattan Plaza for the Performing Arts opened in 1977, with federal rent subsidy for 10 percent low- to middle-income earners, 70 percent performing arts workers (from dancers to wardrobe fitters, to writers and gaffers), and the balance for low-income seniors, the disabled, and local residents. In just over a year, all of its 1,689 apartments were fully rented.
T2C: When did you become involved with Manhattan Plaza?
Irving Fischer: In 1973 I worked with Richard Ravitch, on Manhattan Plaza. Land had been purchased and the apartments were geared to the middle class, but nobody wanted to live there, because of the neighborhood. Thanks to the economic demise, we were lucky to offer the apartments to actors. The evolution of section 8 foundation helped to attract people.
T2C: What were the biggest obstacles?
Irving Fischer: Finding a way to occupy the buildings.
T2C: What were your biggest triumphs?
Irving Fischer: Jerry Schoenfeld presented the idea to offer the building to performers from Off Broadway and Broadway. Their income levels met the criteria for section 8 subsidy. Thus began part of the clean up of 42nd Street. Hell’s Kitchen was called Hell’s Kitchen for a reason. Manhattan Plaza helped in getting rid of the drugs and prostitution.
T2C: Have you created other buildings based on Manhattan Plaza?
Irving Fischer: I’ve been involved in the building of many affordable housing and developments, but nothing like Manhattan Plaza.
T2C: What have been the biggest changes to the neighborhood architecturally?
Irving Fischer: The evolution of the theaters, restaurants and other high rises.
T2C: What else would you like to build?
Irving Fischer: My dream would be to build other apartment buildings like Manhattan Plaza around the country.
T2C: What was your greatest accomplishment?
Irving Fischer: Changing Hell’s Kitchen which was an unprecedented act and miracle. I was also fortunate in being the managing general partner. I oversaw the property and it’s population. I brought on Richard Hunnings and Rodney Kirk and my son Michael to run and manage the operations. That was a huge success. Richard had a way of making us see things as different flowers and all were valuable. He and Rodney created love. The staff showed love that was unconditional. We were all in this together. They asked and showed tremendous respect. That showed in multiple ways everyday and it was communicated in every aspect. So much good and everybody was a collective. 1688 apartments, thousands of people and staff were all a family affair. Everything was kept immaculate, because of love.
T2C: What would you change about Manhattan Plaza?
Irving Fischer: Nothing its perfect, but I wish I was still there.
T2C: What is your fondest memory of New York?
Irving Fischer: i was instrumental in turning Hell’s Kitchen into a viable area.
T2C: What would you like us to know that we haven’t asked you?
Irving Fischer: I put together a very good operational team to make Manhattan Plaza happen. I tamed Hell’s Kitchen. Manhattan Plaza wasn’t a job, it was a part of our lives. It was deeper and bigger than having a job. Manhattan Plaza has a tremendous amount of love, that was bigger than all of us.
The documentary Miracle on 42nd Street, is available on Amazon and will soon be available to stream.