440 West 14th Street: Then & Now

440 West 14th Street: Then & Now

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Near the southern end of the High Line, the Meatpacking District bustles with designer clothing stores, outdoor cafes, and trendy hotels. Tourists in particular flock to this area, and it can often be a source of amusement to watch club-goers navigate the bumpy Belgian block (aka cobblestone) streets in their fashionable stilettos.

Many New Yorkers, however, remember a very different Meatpacking District of not too long ago. Historically known as Gansevoort Market, that story has been well documented already, so instead we thought we would focus on the story of a particular building: 440 West 14th Street at the southwest corner of Washington Street.

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Corner of Washington and 14th Street in 2003. Photo by GVSHP.

Built on land owned by the Astors from 1819 to 1946, this Queen Anne style building has stood on this corner since 1887. Architect James W. Cole designed no. 440 as French Flats with a ground floor store. The Gansevoort Market Historic District Designation Report describes it as “an indication that quality residential buildings were still being constructed on West 14th Street until the turn of the century, despite the inroads of commerce all around the district.”

The report is a valuable resource for discovering just who rented out the ground floor store over the course of its history. The earliest was John H. Rohde, a saloon and liquor dealer, who occupied the space from 1887 to 1906. Future tenants also included those selling produce; butter, cheese, and eggs; poultry; provisions; and, beginning in 1946, meat. By 1935, the upper apartments were converted to office space. At the time the report was written in 2003, Gachot & Gachot, Inc (which had changed names several times over the years), had been supplying meat in this space since 1980.

In the above 2003 photo a sign reading “Gachot Inc. Quality Meats since 1903” can be found at the building’s corner. This quiet scene, with not a person in sight, stands in stark contrast to the area today. Most of the windows of the upper floors had been bricked up, the canopy had rusted, and brick infill had closed off much of the storefront.

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Fast forward a mere ten years later: the windows of the Diane von Furstenberg Studio have been re-opened with single-pane glass (perhaps not the best contextual choice), a perforated glass canopy running the length of three buildings has been installed, the storefront’s brick infill has been replaced with large plate glass, and the brick and pressed metal cornice has been cleaned.

Look closely again at the 2003 photo and you will notice that the cast iron pilasters (square columns) at the ground level are there and were thankfully retained and restored in the façade renovation.

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Located just one block from the popular High Line, pedestrian traffic in this area has also increased. It’s also hard to ignore the soaring and out-of-context glass buildings in the background, including the Standard Hotel directly behind no. 440.

Back on street level, no. 440’s charming two-story neighbor on Washington Street, visible in the 2003 photo, is nowhere to be found in 2013.

There’s a lot happening this week in the Meatpacking District. Learn about a DOT proposal for Ninth Avenue that is going through the Landmarks review process (to be presented at CB2 tonight and the LPC tomorrow) and a BSA bulk increase variance case for 40-56 Tenth Avenue (scheduled for tomorrow as well).

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Amanda
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Amanda was GVSHP's Director of Preservation & Research from January 2012 to July 2015.

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