GVSHP’s recently-released East Village Building Blocks online web tool provides invaluable information about over 2,200 properties in the East Village, including each building’s date of construction, original architect, original use, and more. This resource was over ten years in the making, and with so many of the structures having been built before New York City had a Department of Buildings and issued permits for construction, you may be wondering how we conducted our research. New York City has a bevy of resources for building research, and we used them all:
If you look at the 1853 Perris map, you can see that much of the East Village was developed by that year, largely with row houses, many of which survive until this day. New York City started to require permits for new buildings in 1866, so determining the date of construction for buildings constructed prior to that date means relying on old property tax records (there may not have been building permits then, but there were always taxes). These records are available on microfilm at the New York City Municipal Archives; the process of finding these records for specific properties is quite tedious and time-consuming, but provides invaluable information about dating buildings which might otherwise be impossible.
A good example of this research may be seen at 271 East 7th Street (Block 377, Lot 52). This row house was originally built in 1843 in the Greek Revival style, with the later addition of its mansard roof. Here it is on the 1853 map:
The property tax record from 1842 indicates a vacant lot at this location and an assessed value of $600. The following year, the tax record shows a lot and a house at this location and an assessed value of $2,800. So you can see that through this resource, we can determine its building date along with the original owner, William Wells.
We scanned copies of these records, and in most cases they appear linked in on the Building Blocks page for each individual structure.
For every building in the East Village, we also requested the block and lot folder from the NYC Municipal Archives. These folders contain hard copies of all permits that DOB has on file for the buildings. Unfortunately, many old permits have gone missing over the years, but many times you can find the original New Building permits for those buildings built after 1866 in these files. Additionally, there are typically alteration permits and certificates of occupancy permits which can provide further information on the building over time.
If the new building permit was missing from the block and lot file, we would turn again to the historic maps; an online collection of the historic maps of New York City is housed with the New York Public Library (NYPL). Take for example 244 East Houston Street. Here is its footprint (exterior outline in plan) on today’s map:
And here the property is on the 1891 map:
Clearly, these are two different buildings. We then looked at the next map available via NYPL which is the 1897 map:
Here it looks as though we have not just one new building at No. 244 but also its three neighbors to the east. With this range of years in mind, 1891-1897, the next source to confer is the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide. This weekly publication began in 1868 and showed all conveyances, liens, mortgages, and permits in New York City and its environs. Issues between 1868 and 1923 are available online via Columbia Unversity’s Digital Collection. New Buildings were indexed by street at six-month intervals starting in 1878. So in the case of 244 East Houston Street, we were able to track down this entry in January of 1892:
So with this resource, we have the building date, materials, cost, owner, and architect, just like on the building permit if it was available. By the way, here is how No. 244 looked c. 1940, thanks to the 1940’s tax photos now available online.
Having a base knowledge on the history of the development of the area as well as a history of the area’s building styles and types is very helpful before taking on this type of research. To that end, we have also published an in-depth report on the East Village by architectural historian, Francis Morrone, click HERE. It is also available in print for purchase, click HERE.