Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Sidewalk View of New York

Perhaps more than any other city in the world, a stroll along the sidewalks of New York offers the chance to gaze endlessly upon a cornucopia of architectural history and style. There are other great cities showcasing a rich heritage in building, among them Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Rome, and to great extent London, and all are cities where anyone with an eye for architectural detail can roam urban streets for days fascinated by the work of great builders. For me, having spent some years living in New York, my mind quickly returns there when architecture is the subject. Could cultural historian Judith Dupré have been right when she said that even those who have physically left New York never leave completely? I certainly feel that way about the architecture of that great city.

In his book One Thousand New York Buildings, photographer Jorg Brockmann wrote about the challenge of compiling the book: ‘…the buildings of New York don’t exist in isolation—they live crowded together in sometimes unlikely juxtapositions just as its people do, presenting endless contrasts of style, size, materials, and function. And out of this visual chaos emerges a kind of harmony. It wasn’t until that harmony was so suddenly and radically disrupted [September 11, 2001] that we paused to contemplate it. I mean this book to celebrate it.’

Brockmann’s One Thousand New York Buildings covers the breadth of New York City’s five boroughs, an area encompassing 320 square miles. The photographs below are a small part of the whole, and include only eleven examples from buildings in the area from Lower Manhattan to Greenwich Village and West 13th Street.

The New York Cocoa Exchange; 82-92 Beaver Street, at Pearl Street; 1904, architects Clinton & Russell. Originally known as the Beaver Building, the architects solved the problem of designing for an angular site by rounding off the corner. Part of the New York Coffee and Sugar Exchange, the Cocoa Exchange moved to the World Trade Center in the 1990s.

Delmonico’s Restaurant and Hotel; 56 Beaver Street at South William Street; 1891, James Brown Lord architect; conversion to condominiums in 1996 done by Mark Kemeny. Delmonico’s is New York’s oldest restaurant, dating from 1825. It has had seven different locations over the years. When the original was destroyed by fire it was replaced by this building, serving as both a restaurant and hotel for men only. The hotel has been converted into condominiums and the restaurant is open to all. The marble columns at the entrance are from the original building and are said to have been excavated at Pompeii.

World Trade Center; Church to West Streets and Liberty to Vesey Streets; 1972-1977, designed by Minoru Yamasaki & Associates with Emery Roth & Sons. The now-destroyed 110-story stainless steel Twin Towers were 1,350 feet tall and for a short time the tallest in the world. More than a pair of monolithic towers, the World Trade Center was seven buildings connected by a vast underground concourse and a wide plaza at ground level. The sixteen-acre site called “Ground Zero” is still under reconstruction, but the first new building called 1WTC reached the 100th floor of its construction in April of this year and is expected to open in late 2013.

Stuyvesant-Fish House; 21 Stuyvesant Street between Second and Third Avenues; 1804, built by Petrus Stuyvesant, great grandson of the Nieuw Amsterdam’s Director General. A large Federal-style townhouse, it was built as a wedding present for Stuyvesant’s daughter Elizabeth when she married Nicholas Fish. The land  was once part of the original estate where the first Stuyvesant spent his last days.

Washington Mews; behind 1-13 Washington Square North, between Fifth Avenue and University Place. The street was originally called “Stable Alley” when it served as an area of carriage houses for the mansions on Washington Square. The carriage houses were converted to private homes in 1939. The residences on the south side were rebuilt in 1939 when when some of the houses on the square were turned into apartments.

MacDougal Alley; off MacDougal Street between West 8th Street and Washington Square North; built in the 1850s as stables for the residents living on 8th Street and Washington Square. A dead-end street of homes remodeled in a variety of styles, it is a charming escape from the city surrounding it.

127-131 MacDougal Street between West 3rd and West 4th Streets. This row of tiny Federal houses was built in 1829 for Aaron Burr. Not visible in the photograph are the iron pineapples at the entrance of No. 129. They are a symbol of hospitality that originated in Nantucket when whaling ships brought pineapples back from the South Seas. People placed the pineapples on newell posts outside the front door to signal that visitors were welcome.

56 West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. This small Federal townhouse was built in 1832 and is one of the oldest and most charming houses on a street of beautiful residential architecture. The fluted Ionic colonettes at the doorway, the leaded windows and the wrought-iron handrails and newell post are typical of the Federal style which arrived in New York about 1800.

Jefferson Market Library: 425 Sixth Avenue at West 10th Street; 1877, architects Vaux & Withers; 1967 restoration by Georgio Cavaglieri. Designed by the same architect who did the buildings and bridges of Central Park, this is a flamboyant Victorian structure which stood empty for twenty-two years before being converted into a branch of the New York Public Library in 1967. Originally the Jefferson Market Courthouse, it stands on the site of a major food market during the early nineteenth century. The original courthouse was adjoined to a large jail that was replaced in 1931 by the massive Art Deco Women’s House of Detention. The detention center was demolished in 1974 and replaced by a neighborhood garden called the Jefferson Market Greening.

4-10 Grove Street between Bedford and Hudson Streets; 1834, designed by James N. Wells; among the last survivors of the early Federal style homes that dominated New York in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The wrought iron work, including the boot scrapers is all original, as are the paneled doorways.

6 St Luke’s Place; Leroy Street between Hudson Street and Seventh Avenue South. One example in an elegant row of brick and brownstone Italianate townhouses built in the 1880s, No. 6 originally had a Leroy Street address until James J. Walker, the city’s mayor between 1926 and 1932 used his power to have the eastern end renamed St Luke’s Place. At the time, only the mayor was allowed a lamppost at the bottom of his stoop, making his house easy to find.


  1. You are correct. Once you spend any amount of time in NYC, it really never leaves you and certainly becomes part of your fiber. Beautiful and interesting architecture

  2. I continue to be amazed at he beauty of the architecture.....a great post. Thank you, Karen

  3. So nice to be reading your post which is now weekly. Very interesting post today about the architecture in NYC.

  4. Such beautiful architecture! I ALMOST want to go to New York to see it. Almost, but not quite. LOL!

  5. The firm increases value of properties by creating customized designs that are well-balanced and tasteful. NYC Residential Architect


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America