59 Bleecker Street – Art Deco in NoHo
Part of my job at GVSHP as the Director of Research and Preservation is to review all certificate of appropriateness applications for proposed changes to the landmarked buildings in our area (click HERE for the GVSHP Landmarks webpage). Consequently, I am presented with a continuous stream of architectural resources that vary in type, style and period of construction. For me, it is usually the more pedestrian and modest buildings that I find interesting and, at times, beautiful. One such building just came across my desk, 59 Bleecker Street in the NoHo Historic District and next to the Bayard Condict Building, and so today we will look into the history and architecture of this structure beyond the description in the designation report.
What is now the NoHo Historic District was once farmland belonging to many of New York’s prominent early families prior to the Revolutionary War through the early 19th century. By the first decade of the 19th century, a few houses had been built along the then existing streets, with the greatest concentration standing on the west side of Broadway between Bleecker Street and Astor Place. From the 1820s to the 1840s, the area around Broadway between Houston Street and Astor Place developed as a fashionable residential district lined with lavish Federal and Greek Revival style residences. Property values across the city and in this area began to rise in the 1820’s, driven in part by the opening of the Erie Canal connecting the Great Lakes with the Hudson River and the subsequent increase in commerce in the northeast, particularly in New York City.
By the mid-19th century, commerce pushed its way north of Houston Street and the area developed into a primarily commercial one, particularly after the Civil War. An economic boom beginning in the 1880s, along with improvements in freight and passenger transportation, hastened commercial development in the NoHo area. This building development would reach its peak during the 1890’s. A significant change to the area’s street pattern came with the construction of Lafayette Street. The construction of this new thoroughfare began in 1897, incorporating Elm Street and Lafayette Place and resulted in the total or partial demolition of many buildings located on the three blocks between East Houston Street and Great Jones Street. The plan also included the construction of New York’s first subway line along Elm Street and Lafayette Place. The project was completed with the opening of the subway line after the turn of the century. The evidence of this street project is still seen today in the exposed party-walls and oddly-shaped sliver lots found on Lafayette Street, south of Great Jones Street.
After the turn-of-the century, commercial areas south of 14th Street began to face increasing competition for tenants from newly-developing districts uptown, and this slide continued after World War I. The economic boom of the 1920’s somewhat improved the occupancy rate in the district, but the quality of the tenants remained below that of previous decades. Construction in the area during the 1920’s was far less ambitious than the multi-story loft and commercial structures of previous decades. Typically during this time one-story commercial buildings were constructed that are often referred to as “taxpayers.” Many of these “taxpayers” replaced deteriorated early-19th century houses, which had been long converted to commercial use and which contained the area’s least rentable spaces. Automobile related businesses gained a foothold along Lafayette Street, where older commercial buildings were replaced by gas stations and garages, and the ground stories of a number of store and loft buildings were converted to automobile showrooms and repair shops.
Located at the corner of Bleecker and Lafayette Streets, 59 Bleecker Street was built in 1929 as an automobile service station and “taxpayer,” in the Art Deco style. It was designed by Frederick Henry Klie for Philip Wolf following the trend when many of the area’s early residential buildings were being demolished for parking lots and gas stations servicing the increasing number of privately-owned automobiles. This building replaced several three- and four-story brick houses.
The architect for this building was Frederick Henry Klie. Klie was born in New York City in 1888 to German-born parents. He attended Cornell University and began his professional career drafting in the design office of Edward Burnett. He opened his own office in the early 1920s, and continued to practice until at least 1940. Klie was responsible for another New York City landmark, 41-67 Greenpoint Avenue (part of the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company Historic District).
As originally built, 59 Bleecker Street was “L” shaped in its footprint with a storefront along the Bleecker Street facade and along the Lafayette side, with the facade stepped back to allow for automobiles to access the garage and gasoline pumps. The most decorative feature of this utilitarian one story structure were the Art Deco terracotta tiles with a repetitive decorative motif that adorn the parapet above the storefront. By the 1960’s the garage portion of the structure was re-built, but the original storefront along Bleecker and at the corner are still intact, as is the parapet capping this section of the building.
The current plan for this 1929 building calls for the restoration of the original section of the building along Bleecker Street and the demolition and reconstruction of the non-historic section along Lafayette converting it from a garage to retail space. For further information on this application including upcoming hearings, click HERE and to see the proposal, click HERE.