Tax Day History in the West Village

The Archive Building from the Hudson River. Photo by Ivan Montoya.

The Archive Building from the Hudson River. Photo by Ivan Montoya.

Tax Day may not be our favorite day of the year.  But it bears an important connection to one of our favorite Far West Village landmarks.

Before the U.S. Income Tax was enacted in 1913, the majority of the Federal budget drew its support from custom duties, largely on tariffs from goods imported through U.S. harbors. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the busiest port in the country, New York Harbor, handled importing, shipping and processing tariffs on recently-arrived goods.

The tariffs’ process required added work space, time, and customs agents. This demand led Congress to build a large warehouse one block from the Hudson River on Christopher Street, Greenwich Street, Barrow Street and Washington Street. Trinity Church owned the majority of the original lot and sold the land to the government for $4 per square foot. The chief architect of the U.S. Treasury Willoughby J. Edbrooke, and William Martin Aiken and James Knox Taylor designed the building as a 10-story Romanesque Revival structure. After eight years of construction, the U.S. Appraisers’ Warehouse was finally completed in 1899. You can read more about the architectural details of the building here.

The Archive Building. Photo by CityReality.

The Archive Building. Photo by CityReality.

When the warehouse opened, Custom Agents examined, tested and appraised imported commodities to determine the duty collected. The newly-arrived goods were temporarily stowed away in the building’s 10 acres of open storage space until they were appraised and shipped. By 1913, the federal income tax was enacted so the emphasis on custom appraisals decreased over the following few years.

The warehouse was soon renamed The United States Federal Building and remodeled for office space for government agencies largely including the National Archives Record Center and a post office. In 1988, after years of government agencies moving out, the building was renovated to house 479 rental apartments and retail space. Today this historical structure, now known as the Archive Building, continues to generate tax revenue, not for the federal government, but for the City of New York and funding historic preservation activities.

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