William Zeckendorf stands looking at an aerial photographic of New York City.

William Zeckendorf Sr. was a real estate titan. He entered the School of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance—now the Stern School of Business—in 1922, before going to work at his uncle’s firm. By the time the photo above was taken in 1963, Zeckendorf had owned the land on which the UN was built; bought and sold and bought and sold again the Hotel Astor in Times Square; purchased the Chrysler Building before flipping it four years later for a nearly $250 million profit in today’s money; developed Los Angeles’ Century City; helped create Chicago’s Magnificent Mile; and worked with star architects including I. M. Pei and Le Corbusier.

But a notable failure was his proposed Manhattan Airport, unveiled in 1945. Below runways elevated 200 feet above street level would hum a transit hub as well as offices, restaurants, and stores. The project required 990 acres spanning from 24th to 71st Streets and Ninth Avenue to the Hudson River. Absurd? Perhaps, although no one thought platforming over the West Side railyards to build Hudson Yards was doable not too long ago.

Black and white concept image of a Manhattan Airport with runways elevated 200 feet above street level would hum a transit hub as well as offices, restaurants, and stores

Zeckendorf's concept for a Manhattan Airport


The Inspiration Behind the Art on Our Cover and Corresponding Feature Story

In Never Built New York, Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell spotlight failed Big Apple projects across two centuries of history; architect Daniel Libeskind wrote the foreword. The New York Times deemed the book “a catalog of dashed dreams,” audacious ideas described by MoMA’s senior curator of architecture and design as “imaginative, opinionated attempts to compete for New York’s attention and shape its future, knowing that a mark left on this city will be forever felt around the world.” An exhibition of the same name, curated by the authors, was mounted at the Queens Museum in 2017.

Book cover features a concept of a futuristic skyscraper