Downtown Manhattan, Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
The Tribeca West Historic District, encompassing some 220 buildings, extends northward from James Bogardus Triangle to Hudson Square with Hudson Street serving as the spine of the district and Duane Park acting as a focal point. West Broadway and Varick Street, historically a major transportation route, form the eastern boundary. Greenwich Street forms a regular edge at the western boundary. Portions of Reade Street where corner buildings intersect Hudson and Greenwich Streets form the southern boundary, while Hubert Street and Ericsson Place, fronting onto the site of Hudson Square, form the northern boundaries. Within this area much of the street grid is set askew from and intersects with the grid of streets running off Broadway, a factor which reinforces the special character of the area.
The Tribeca West Historic District takes its name from the acronym TriBeCa, for Triangle Below Canal Street. Coined in the mid-1970s as the result of City Planning studies and the adoption of a Special Lower Manhattan Mixed Use District, the Tribeca name came to be applied to the area south of Canal Street, between Broadway and West Street, extending south to Vesey Street, which is larger than the zoning district. The area of the Tribeca West Historic District has a distinct and special character within the larger Tribeca community which is defined by the district’s historical development as reflected in the plan of its streets and the architectural qualities of its buildings.
Early in the nineteenth century as the area was initially developed, it was a prime residential neighborhood concentrated around Duane Park and Hudson Square . The basic residential development pattern did much to define the later architectural character of the area as it established the street grid at right angles to Greenwich Street intersecting with the street grid off Broadway, and fixed lot sizes for houses that were later reflected in the lot sizes for commercial buildings. A number of Federal-era houses, subsequently converted for commercial uses, remain in the district.
By the mid-nineteenth century, with produce and other goods arriving at the Washington Market, southwest of the area of the historic district, and the transfer of goods facilitated by extensive ship and railroad service, the area of the Tribeca West Historic District began to develop its dominant architectural character. Houses were replaced by buildings constructed to meet the changing needs and growing complexity of commerce, particularly businesses associated with the food industry.
Today the district is defined and dominated by commercial buildings of the store and loft and warehouse types, which provide a consistent architectural character although one that developed over a span of some fifty years, roughly 1860 through 1910. This is the result of a functional, yet decorative, approach to commercial architecture which produced substantial and attractive buildings whose form and appearance — generated largely by the uses of the buildings — tended to transcend the changing fashions of architectural style. Still, the buildings
encompass a range of treatments: some are utilitarian and influenced by longstanding vernacular traditions; others are influenced by popular architectural styles and ornament, consciously designed to be decorative in appearance; and, late in the century, are those warehouses reflecting contemporary high-style architecture whose architects self-consciously sought to devise an appropriate American architectural expression for the warehouse as a discrete building type. Within the district these buildings are unified by a similar scale; similar building materials, largely masonry in shades of red, brown, and tan; and similar use-generated base treatments consisting of cast-iron piers rising above stepped vaults and loading platforms and sheltered by awnings.
Folding iron shutters and wood doors historically filled the loading bay openings, and many of these elements still survive. Granite-slab sidewalks and Belgian block street pavers are other unifying elements which give the district much of its historic and architectural character.
While businesses dealing in eggs, butter, and cheese predominated, clients as diverse as flour wholesalers, fancygoods merchants, tobacconists, and produce merchants commissioned and occupied store and loft buildings in the district. Architects for this building type ranged from such architect/builders as Bloodgood & Bloodgood to architects who specialized in commercial architecture such as John B. Snook and his sons, Berger & Baylies, Thomas R. Jackson, and William Graul.
Warehouse construction, which reached its peak in numbers in the late 1880s and continued through the first decade of the twentieth century, reflected the greater scale of commerce not only for merchants of perishables but also for merchants requiring large amounts of storage space such as grocery wholesalers. Cold storage warehouses, many of them constructed for the Merchants’ Refrigerating Company, are an important variation of this building type within the district.
Some of the city’s most prominent architects constructed warehouse buildings in the area of the historic district, among them, Stephen D. Hatch, Charles C. Haight, Babb & Cook, and Edward H. Kendall. The importance of the food industry in the history of Tribeca is exemplified by the construction in 1885 of the New York Mercantile Exchange, 2-6 Harrison Street, designed by Thomas R. Jackson. Founded in 1872 as the Butter and Cheese Exchange, reflecting the concentration of these businesses in the area, it expanded by 1882 to include dealers in groceries, dried fruits, poultry, and canned goods.
The exchange building, a specialized commercial building type, incorporates arcades containing the double-height windows of the trading room, and its prominence in the area is further emphasized by the picturesque entrance tower and hipped roof.
West Broadway, which defines the eastern edge of the district, was a major transportation route into the 1930s, a factor which helped to set off the blocks to the west. Today the street is lined largely by store and loft buildings, including No. 138 West Broadway, one of the rare cast-iron fronted buildings in the district, and several prominent warehouse buildings, including No. 110-116 and No. 220-224 . At the south end of the district West Broadway begins at James Bogardus Triangle, historically a transportation hub. West Broadway leads into Varick Street which assumed its present character when the street was widened in 1918. This street widening also resulted in the creation of
Finn Square at the intersection of West Broadway, Varick, and Franklin Streets. Varick Street contains two distinguished civic structures, the Hook and Ladder Company No. 8 at the intersection of North Moore Street and the former Fourth Police Precinct Station House at the intersection of Ericsson Place, as well as the prominent windowless cold storage warehouse for the Merchants1 Refrigerating Co. .
Greenwich Street, originally on land owned by Trinity Church, was historically the main north-south thoroughfare along the western side of the island, and the blocks both to the east and west were developed beginning in the mid-nineteenth century with commercial buildings of the store and loft and warehouse types. Today the area of the historic district is divorced from the Hudson River by modern development west of Greenwich Street, leaving the east side of Greenwich as a regular western edge for the historic district. Greenwich Street is characterized by its store and loft buildings, many of them dating from fairly early in the area!s commercial development, several Federal-era houses later converted for commercial use, and several prominent warehouse buildings including No. 371-375 .
Hudson Street, the spine of the district, begins at James Bogardus Triangle, formed by the convergence of Hudson and West Broadway, which acts as a gateway at the southern end of the historic district. As befits the role Hudson Street plays in the district, it contains some of the district’s most impressive as well as most characteristic buildings. These include the two warehouses which begin the district, No. 19 and No. 16 ; the Schepp Building , which also fronts onto Duane Park; the American Express Building ; the Pierce Building, later the Powell Building , an early office building; the Mercantile Exchange , and New York Hospital’s House of Relief or Emergency Hospital . At the northern end of the district, Hudson Street fronts what was once Hudson Square.
Ericsson Place, one of the northern boundaries of the district, also fronts onto Hudson Square. It is dominated by the former Fourth Police Precinct Station House and warehouses which form the complex of buildings developed by the Merchants’ Refrigerating Company. The roadbed itself contains some of the district’s most intact Belgian block street paving.
Hubert Street, the other northern boundary of the district, can be seen as a divider marking the transition between the smaller warehouses and store and loft buildings within the district and the larger, later warehouses outside the district to the north which in their development pattern relate more directly to the Hudson River Railroad Terminal.
The district’s side streets — Duane, Thomas, Jay, Worth, Harrison, Leonard, Franklin, North Moore, and Beach — have a consistent development pattern and architectural character defined by store and loft buildings, many of which were built in groups, and larger warehouse buildings. The scale, forms, materials, and use-generated base treatments unify the streetscapes and enhance the district’s sense of place.
Duane Park is another major element which by its presence reinforces the district’s special sense of place. The park is formed as Duane Street splits to encompass this small triangular park whose spatial quality is further enhanced by the uniform street walls of the warehouse and store and loft buildings surrounding it.
Further reinforcing the district’s special sense of place are two small alley-like streets — Staple Street and Collister Street. Staple Street, extending northward for two blocks from Duane Park and providing a striking vista from the park, is fronted by the side or rear elevations of buildings oriented to Hudson Street, Duane Street, Jay Street, or Harrison Street. No. 171 Duane Street is of special interest because its Staple Street elevation reveals the evidence of two early nineteenth-century building campaigns. North of Jay Street, Staple Street is spanned by a picturesque overhead bridge linking New York Hospital’s two buildings. Within the district Collister Street extends for one block between Beach and Hubert Streets and also provides a striking vista.
Architects and Builders
The architecture of the Tribeca West Historic District was the work of a diverse group of architects and builders who are identifiable since most of the buildings post-date the establishment of the Department of Buildings in the mid-1860s. The architects of record for the more utilitarian buildings in the district are, for the most part, not among the roster of prominent architects working in the city. They include architects based in New Jersey, working for clients who were fellow New Jersey residents, and architects, such as J. Morgan Slade, who subsequently and simultaneously designed more high-style buildings. Architect/builders working in the district included Matthew A. Ryan who designed and built 17 Hubert Street and 185 Franklin Street and the firm of Bloodgood & Bloodgood responsible for 177 and 179 Duane Street, as well as those based in the area like Havilah M. Smith whose carpenter shop was located at 35 North Moore Street. Some buildings were designed by the property owners, such as William Livingston who is the architect of record for his building at 387-391 Greenwich Street.
Store and loft buildings in the district were largely the work of architects who specialized in commercial architecture, as well as well-known architects for whom commercial work was a portion of their practice. The former group includes those responsible for multiple buildings in the district, such as John B. Snook and his sons, J. Morgan Slade, Berger & Baylies, and William Graul.
Within the district is a substantial body of work of Thomas R. Jackson, who specialized in commercial architecture in the late nineteenth century. His work includes store and loft buildings, warehouses, and the notable Mercantile Exchange Building. Many of them incorporate arcading as a design scheme. Charles C. Haight, most often associated with his institutional work, designed several warehouses in the district around the turn of the century which are studies in abstracted arcaded forms and Renaissance-inspired ornament.
– From the 1991 NYCLPC Historic District Designation Report
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