Tag Archives: cast iron


SoHo is (according to New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report) the world’s largest concentration of cast iron facades. The style emphasizes floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows. My personal favorite is the Singer Building on Broadway – an L-shaped building with its second entrance on Prince Street. The row of buildings along the west side of Broadway is predominantly block-through structures with back entrances on Mercer Street.

Most visitors to SoHo (South of Houston – which New Yorkers pronounce How-ston) are more interested in shopping than in architecture: The district has become a designer outlet, missing only a free parking lot. Even Canal Street – once the preserve of scrap, tool, and junk shops – is becoming semi-respectable.

As you tour the area you may notice “A.I.R.” painted on some buildings. That stands for “Artist In Residence” to alert the Fire Department that the lofts may be occupied.

SoHo Historic District as defined by the Landmarks Commission extends from Houston Street south to Canal Street, and from West Broadway east to Crosby Street. This gallery includes some buildings (even-numbered) from the west side of West Broadway and St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church (on Sullivan Street off Houston Street).

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Hugh O’Neill Building

The dazzling white Hugh O’Neill Building on Sixth Avenue is a great example of historic restoration and recycling in New York. Not only did the developers bring an old building back to life, they also magically added two floors without changing the original appearance. While structural problems have appeared, the future looks bright.

Hugh O’Neill, an Irish immigrant, was a very successful retailer. He outgrew his original Sixth Avenue store and replaced it in 1887 with a four-story double-domed emporium. In 1890, he expanded the store at the rear of the West 20th Street wing. In 1895 he added a fifth floor (raising the domes one story in the process).

Alas, after O’Neill died in 1902 the store (and most neighboring retailers) deteriorated and closed. The corner domes were removed in the early 1900s, and the building was converted to lofts.

In 2004 the by-then grey building got a new lease on life: Conversion to condominium apartments. The developer Elad Properties, and architects Cetra/Ruddy Inc. got Landmarks Preservation Commission approval to restore the missing domes – and add two stories of apartments at the same time. The trick was to set back the new floors so that they are not visible from the street.

In December 2012 one of the building’s columns on West 2oth Street collapsed, forcing evacuation. Repairs were made, but scaffolding still covers the West 20th Street facade at this writing (June 2013).

Hugh O’Neill Building Vital Statistics
Hugh O’Neill Building Recommended Reading

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Gilsey House Hotel

Gilsey House Hotel is one of the last reminders that this stretch of Broadway – between Madison Square and Herald Square – was the social center of the city. There were six theaters on the three blocks between 28th and 31st Streets; so many music publishers were on neighboring 28th Street, the sound of their pianos gave rise to the name “Tin Pan Alley.” A block west, meanwhile, was the notorious “Tenderloin” district of brothels and gambling clubs.

The Gilsey House Hotel was among the most luxurious in the city, but a legal battle between the Gilsey family and the hotel operator shut the property down. In 1911 the Gilsey House Hotel became lofts serving the garment industry. In 1980 the building was converted to condominium apartments, and the facade was restored in 1992 – though missing most of the outer set of columns, which had extended over the building line. (See the Wikipedia article for a photo of the original design.)

Gilsey House Hotel Vital Statistics
Gilsey House Hotel Recommended Reading

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