Interesting fact: the Astor’s were the original slum tenement landlords.
German immigrant John Jacob Astor made his original fortune as a fur trader in beaver pelts (the decorative tiles in the Astor Place subway station attest to this history). However, it was his foresight in buying large chunks of lower Manhattan and the Village before the industrial age caused a boom in NYC’s population – the subsequently its land and rent prices – that made Astor the richest man in America, worth at least $20 million, by the time of his death.
Interesting fact: The building which now houses the Public Theater headquarters (this company puts on Shakespeare in the Park every summer), at 425 Lafayette Street, was originally the Astor Library. This institution founded with $400,000 allocated to the project in John Jacob Astor’s will, was built in 1854 and closed down in 1895 selling its entire stock of books to the New York Public Library.
These facts and more can be read about in the short, but informative book by Justin Kaplan, When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age. This book is vastly interesting for anyone wanting to learn about NYC history. Its funny that I never stopped to think about why so many things buildings, streets, neighborhoods, etc. are named after the Astors until now.