Ten Years Ago Today — Fighting for the Federals!
Ten years ago today, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held hearings on three Federal-era (1790-1835) houses GVSHP had proposed for landmark designation — 94, 94 1/2, and 96 Greenwich Street, located just below Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. These houses were built in 1798, making them among the oldest extant structures in Manhattan. That same day, the LPC voted to ‘calendar’ (begin the official process of considering for landmark designation) two more Federal houses at 486 and 488 Greenwich Street, just north of Canal Street, in Hudson Square. These houses were built in 1820, making them among the oldest surviving buildings in this rapidly changing area.
All five houses were part of a proposal for landmark designation of thirteen federal houses submitted to the City by the GVSHP and the NY Landmarks Conservancy in 2003. Five of the houses identified in the report had already been designated by 2007 — 127, 129, and 131 MacDougal Street near Washington Square Park, 4 St. Mark’s Place in the East Village, and 67 Greenwich Street in the Financial District.
Landmarks protections for extant Federal row houses has long been part of GVSHP’s advocacy efforts, including those outside of our neighborhoods, and in 1997 we received a grant from the New York State Preservation League to document these highly significant historic and architectural resources.
Federal row houses were built between the 1790s and the early 1830s, and embodied a newly created “American” architectural style, meant to visually reflect the identity of the young, emerging independent democracy. Remarkably, about 300 of these houses survive in Lower Manhattan, some in pristine condition, some altered almost beyond recognition. And while many are protected by individual landmark designation or as part of historic districts, many of these houses have no protection at all, and these unique historic structures could be lost at any time.
The three Federal style town houses at Nos. 94, 94-1/2, and 96 Greenwich Street in Lower Manhattan were constructed c.1798-99, right after Greenwich Street had been laid out, when this was the most fashionable neighborhood for New York’s social elite and wealthy merchant class. The owner was Augustus Hicks Lawrence, head of the Wall Street firm of Augustus H. Lawrence & Co., who later served as director of a number of other companies, as well as an assistant alderman and alderman c. 1809-17. As constructed, the houses were 3-1/2 stories with high peaked roofs with dormers. Nos. 94 and 94-1/2 were raised one full story (with flat stone lintels) in the 19th century – the outline of the original gambrel roofline of No. 94 is still visible on the Rector Street facade. The houses are recognizably intact as Federal style town houses, featuring Flemish bond brickwork and splayed stone lintels on the second and third stories. No. 94 has lintels with keystones on the Rector Street facade.
What makes these houses highly significant is that they are among only five surviving houses of Manhattan’s most elite neighborhood of the post-Revolutionary War era, the others being the Watson House (1793, 1806), located at 7 State Street, and the Dickey House (1809-10), located at 67 Greenwich Street, both designated New York City Landmarks. These were three of only seven pre-1810 houses located south of Chambers Street, the oldest section of New York City, of which they were the only surviving row. In spite of this, the LPC only designated No. 94, citing integrity issues of the other two houses, leaving them in jeopardy of demolition. Click HERE for the designation report for No 94 Greenwich Street.
The modest pair of rowhouses at Nos. 486 and 488 Greenwich Street are also among the relatively rare extant Manhattan houses of the Federal period, style, and 2-1/2-story dormered peaked-roof type. They were built c. 1820 for John G. Rohr, a German-born tailor, as part of a group of five houses at the northwest corner of Greenwich and Canal Streets. Rohr’s business was located in No. 482 Greenwich Street. In 1826, he developed another five houses on the south side of Canal Street, of which Nos. 506 and 508 Canal Street (designated New York City Landmarks) survive (Rohr lived in No. 506 from 1830 to 1853). In the early 19th century, the vicinity of Canal and Greenwich Streets developed as a mixed-use district in which tradesmen lived near their businesses. Despite ground-story and other alterations, Nos. 486 and 488 are recognizably intact as three-bay Federal style row houses, with brick cladding, rectangular stone lintels and stone sills, and peaked roofs with single dormers. Their survival is particularly noticeable in a neighborhood that was redeveloped with industrial and loft buildings in the late-19th and 20th centuries. In 2007 these houses were designated as landmarks by the LPC. Click HERE for the designation report for No. 486 and HERE for the designation report for No. 488.
To learn more about our efforts towards protecting, please see our report, Making the Case, which documents the nearly one hundred fifty federal houses in Lower Manhattan for which GVSHP has secured landmark designation. And for the latest news and other information about our federal houses preservation effort, see our Federals webpage including the recent designation of 57 Sullivan Street.