Only Seven Landmarks in One of New York’s Most Historically Rich Areas?
Seven late 19th and early 20th century buildings are now under consideration for landmarking by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. They are all located along Broadway south of Union Square, in an area rich in architectural and cultural significance, and also increasingly endangered. So in looking around the area, it begs the question: why only these seven?
Following are the seven which are proposed for New York City Individual Landmark designation:
817 Broadway: Built-in 1895-98 in the Renaissance Revival style, this 14 story structure was designed by the prominent architect George B. Post at the southwest corner of East 12th Street and Broadway. It was commissioned by William Weld, a Boston-based real estate developer, and was initially occupied by Meyer Jonasson & Company, then known as “the world’s largest manufacturer of ladies garments.”
826 Broadway: Also built in the Renaissance Revival style, this 11 story building was constructed in 1902 and designed by William Birkmire. It is located on the northeast corner of Broadway and East 12th Street, and today is well known as home to The Strand bookstore, a GVSHP Village Awards winner and beloved New York institution. The architect, William Harvey Birkmire (1860-1924) began his career in the steel industry in Philadelphia and was an authority on modern steel construction. By 1895 Birkmire established his architectural firm in New York, applying his steel construction techniques to the design of large store and loft buildings. The brick and stone commercial store and loft building at 826 Broadway was occupied by garment industry businesses in its earlier years and various commercial interests since including a medical device company during the 1930s.
830 Broadway: This eleven-story brick building was constructed in 1897 for owner Ferdinand H. Mela, and designed by the architectural firm of Cleverdon & Putzel in the Renaissance Revival style. On January 1, 1898, the Real Estate Record and Guide noted that “Builder F.H. Mela has just completed a new 11-story mercantile building at no. 830 Broadway which contains several features that are likely to be imitated, notably the arrangement of stairs and elevators. Mr. Mella reports a good demand for lofts, and the fact that more than half of his new building is already rented testifies forcibly that the inquirers have meant business.” During the 20th century, a number of businesses were located at No. 830, largely within the clothing industry. Beginning in the 1970’s, artists occupied the building for studio and living space.
832 Broadway: The ten-story Renaissance Revival style building at 832-834 Broadway was constructed in 1896 for the Commercial Realty Improvement Company, and designed by architect Ralph S. Townsend. The commercial loft building primarily housed clothing manufacturers in its early years, but by the early 1900’s it housed a more diverse group of tenants. Around 1913, the National Free Labor Association, which lobbied for states use of free convict labor, used offices in the building as their headquarters, and around 1956 some offices were used for a communist publishing house which printed The Daily Worker.
836 Broadway: 836-838 Broadway was originally the site of the home of Judge James J. Roosevelt, a Supreme Court Justice, Congressman, and United States Attorney. While this area of Broadway quickly changed from a residential community into a commercial hub following the Civil War, Roosevelt remained in his home until his death in 1875. Soon after in 1876, the Estate of James J. Roosevelt razed the Roosevelt home and commissioned prominent New York architect Stephen D. Hatch to construct a six-story, L-shaped loft building to be leased to the Mitchell, Vance & Company, manufacturers and designers of light fixtures, clocks, and bronzes, and ornamental metal work. In 1921, the Roosevelt Estate sold the building to a cotton merchant, and it continued to house garment firms until the 1930’s when the garment industry had moved up Broadway.
840 Broadway: This building was constructed in 1900 for commercial and office use by owner Henry Com, and designed by Robert Maynicke in the Renaissance Revival style. From the time of its construction through the middle of the 20th century, the building was occupied by men’s clothing manufacturers. By the 1970’s artists began to move into the building taking advantage of the large loft spaces as their studios and homes.
841 Broadway: Known as the Roosevelt building, this building was built in 1893 on land that once was the property and home of Cornelius Van Schaak Roosevelt. It was designed by Stephen Hatch and owned by a corporation formed by Roosevelt’s heirs. It too had tenants associated with the clothing industry, but from 1896-1906 was the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company was also located here, which was one of America’s first film studios and a technological innovator in the field. Their first studios were on the roof of No. 841.
And while these buildings are certainly historically significant, looking around the area south of Union Square between Third Avenue and Fifth Avenue, its difficult to understand why proposed designation has been limited to just these seven building, and why a historic district isn’t more appropriate. Here is just a sampling of other buildings in the area that GVSHP urged the Commission to consider as part of a historic district:
806-816 Broadway: Here is a magnificent cross-section showing the development of Broadway. On the block north of Grace Church at No. 816 is a Greek Revival style row house built in the mid-19th century when this was a prominent residential area. No. 814 just to the south indicates changes coming to the area. Built in 1854-55 as the neighborhood changed from residential to commercial, this is one of the area’s earliest loft buildings. No. 812 was built in 1868-70 and designed by Griffith Thomas, the same architect responsible for 827-831 Broadway (home to a number of mid-century artists including Willem de Kooning), which thanks to the efforts of GVSHP was landmarked in 2017. Just to the south of that is the striking no. 810, a single bay loft building. This building type adapted to the traditional 25 foot wide New York City lot and offered uninterrupted floor plans since the floor joists could span the width without the need for columns, providing an abundance of light and ventilation through its wide front windows. Finally, in 1887 No. 806-808 Broadway was constructed in the Gothic Revival style by the architectural firm of Renwick, Aspinall, and Russell, founded by James Renwick, Jr. who was responsible for Grace Church and the St. Denis.
54-64 East 11th Street: Along East 11th Street between University Place and Broadway are a number of architectural gems. Nos. 54 and 58 were built in 1900 and 1898 respectively for manufacturing purposes. Nos. 60 and 64 were designed by prominent architect Louis Korn in 1895 and 1897 and are highly intact Renaissance Revival style with elaborate detail both built as manufactories with showrooms.
There are also numerous buildings in the area associated with some of the greatest artists of the mid-20th century when this was the center of that world. Additionally, there are apartment buildings and converted old hotels which housed leading literary figures and publishers in this area. Based on the architectural, cultural and artistic heritage of this area, GVSHP recently sent a letter to the LPC strongly urging them to reconsider and expand landmarking beyond the seven buildings currently proposed. For further information on this and the opportunity to send a letter to the LPC in support of further landmarks designation, click HERE.