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In the world of real estate, "Zeckendorf" refers generally to the Zeckendorf Family who have created many famous commercial and residential buildings in the New York Metropolitan area. The family includes three generations:

  • William Zeckendorf Sr.
  • William Zeckendorf Jr.
  • William Lie Zeckendorf and brother, Authur William Zeckendorf

As described by "New York Observer", "to be born a Zeckendorf is to try to avoid the fate of your father". [1]

William Zeckendorf Sr. assembled the parcel on which the United Nations rose in 1947 and also built the Roosevelt Field shopping center on Long Island. However, his greatest fault lay in being years ahead of his time, and he eventually went bankrupt.

William Zeckendorf Jr. vowed to take fewer risks, and so he did, for a while, but then he too, fell upon difficult times.

Nonetheless, the third generation of the Zeckendorf family, William Lie Zeckendorf and Authur William Zeckendorf have become very successful in developing new condominium projects in New York City in recent years.


William Zeckendorf Sr.

William Zeckendorf Sr.

William Zeckendorf Sr. (1905 - September 30, 1976) was a prominent American real estate developer. William Zeckendorf Sr. began working in the development company Webb and Knapp in 1938 and purchased it in 1949, through which he developed a significant portion of the New York City urban landscape. Holding the Nickname of “Big Bill”, William Zeckendorf Sr. liked transformative projects that forever altered the land around them.

The most notable acquisition and potential development by William Zeckendorf Sr. was the plan to develop a "dream city" rivaling Rockefeller Center. He acquired a 17 acre site along the East River between 42nd Street and 48th Street. Then, in a celebrated transaction in December 1946, the prominent architect Wallace Harrison and Nelson Rockefeller bought the site from him for $8.5 million and Nelson's father John D. Rockefeller, Jr. subsequently donated this land for the building of the United Nations Headquarters.[2]

William Zeckendorf Jr.

William Zeckendorf Jr.

William Zeckendorf Jr. (Bill Zeckendorf - b. 1929) worked for his father at the comeback firm, which he eventually took over. Bill Jr. is known for his unassuming character and he had early success by reviving undervalued properties like the Delmonico and the Barbizon 63.

He then made a much bigger gamble as part of the Union Square redevelopment, building a massive condominium complex at the southeast corner of the park and naming it Zeckendorf Towers, after his father, and he did Worldwide Plaza in the late 1980s.

However, both properties did not fare well in the 1990s slump, and William Jr. eventually lost majority control of both. He retired in 1992 and now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.[3]

William Lie Zeckendorf and Authur William Zeckendorf

Author William Zeckendorf (left), Robert A. M. Stern (middle), and William Lie Zeckendorf (right)

The third generation of the Zeckendorf family, William Lie Zeckendorf and Authur William Zeckendorf are now at the helm of the family business.

They both serve as co-chairman for Terra Holdings, LLC (he parent company of Brown Harris Stevens), one of America's largest privately held real estate services companies.

For real estate development, the Zeckendorf bothers have completed several high profile projects under Zeckendorf Company, Inc. or Zeckendorf Development, Inc, such as 515 Park Avenue and 15 Central Park West.[4]

Representative Buildings by the Zeckendorf Family

Few families have had so dramatic an impact on the New York City landscape as have the Zeckendorfs in their three generations of entrepreneurship in real estate.

Some famous buildings by the Zeckendorf Family include:

15 Central Park West, New York City, NY

Known affectionately as "15 CPW", 15 Central Park West is a postmodern full-block development of 202 private residences built on the site of the dilapidated Mayflower Hotel and what was one of Central Park's last remaining vacant lots.

It sold out shortly after opening for sales in September of 2007 for a total estimated at over two billion dollars. Select suites in 15 Central Park West have sold for over $10,000 per square foot, making this building not only one of Central Park's newest, but without a doubt, one of its most opulent and exclusive residential towers.

515 Park Avenue, New York City, NY

515 Park Avenue was designed on grand scale. Over sized ceilings, numerous two story apartments, and the tallest residence on Park Avenue. It is a postmodern building designed by Frank Williams and Associates utilizing limestone from France, cast stone, and beige brick. Intricately inlaid marble within the lobby greets residents and visitors alike.

Detailed craftsmanship include Mahogany paneled libraries, coffered ceilings, marble, and herring bone wood floors. Even though 515 Park Avenue is close to the business district of Mid-Town, this part of Park Avenue is relatively quiet. However, many famous stores, boutiques and restaurants are nearby along with excellent public transportation.

Zeckendorf Towers, 1 Irving Place, New York City, NY

To build the city's only four towered condominium complex at 14th Street overlooking Union Square in the 80s was considered by some to be a major act of courage. Union Square in the 1980s was heavily crime ridden and a haven for drug trafficking. However, the importance of this achievement cannot be understated.

The development of Zenckendorf Towers housing its 670 apartments, led the way for the revitalization of Union Square and the surrounding area, leading to the emergence of Park Avenue South and the Flatiron District as a chic neighborhood to live in. Its real importance may be its demonstration of how one major project can turn a neighborhood around and for that, Zeckendorf Towers is considered the most important project William Zeckendorf Jr. may have undertaken.

Worldwide Plaza, 350 West 50th Street, New York City, NY

Built on the site formally occupied by Madison Square Garden, Worldwide Plaza played an integral role to the revitalization of the neighborhood of Clinton. In 1968, Madison Square Garden closed its doors and moved downtown to its current location on West 34th Street.

For years, the abandoned site was used as a parking lot and West Midtown devolved into one of New York City’s sketchiest districts, mostly known for the abundance of porn stores and peep shows up and down Eighth Avenue. In November of 1985, developer William Zeckendorf announced plans for a massive commercial and residential development on the site, with construction beginning the following year.

Kips Bay Towers, 330 East 33rd Street, New York City, NY

Developed by Webb and Knapp, Kips Bay Towers occupies the site where the first of the famous Phipps Houses once stood. Henry Phipps made his fortune as the second largest shareholder of the Carnegie Company in the late 19th century.

In 1901, he sold his stake in the company and began building low income rental buildings in New York City, the first of which was a three tenement building complex at 321-337 East 31st Street that were completed in 1906.

By the 1950s, Phipps allowed the buildings to fall into condemnation proceedings, thereby allowing the takeover that would eventually give birth to the Kips Bay Towers.

Other Buildings by the Zeckendorf Family


  1. The Zeckendorf Family, New York Observer
  2. William Zeckendorf Sr., Wikipedia
  3. Zeckendorfs, Steve Culter Writer
  4. William Lie Zeckendorf and Authur William Zeckendorf, Terra Holdings

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