Tag Archives: civic

Kingsbridge Armory

Originally known as the Eighth Coastal Artillery Armory, Kingsbridge Armory was built in 1912-17 with what was then the world’s largest drill hall, to accommodate artillery.

According to “Guide to New York City Landmarks,” the armory was designed by Pilcher & Tachau and inspired by a medieval French castle at Pierrefonds.

The main hall has been unused by the military for more than a decade, and New York City now controls the building. (A National Guard unit still uses the north annex, adjacent to the armory.) The Bronx Borough President has endorsed a proposal to turn the armory into an ice skating center with nine rinks.

Kingsbridge Armory Vital Statistics
  • Location: 29 W Kingsbridge Road between Jerome and Reservoir Avenues
  • Year completed: 1917
  • Architect: Pilcher & Tachau
  • Style: Romanesque
  • New York City Landmark: 1974
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1982
Kingsbridge Armory Suggested Reading

Google Map

69th Regiment Armory

The 69th Regiment Armory, aka Lexington Armory, is notable for its design and its events. Unlike earlier armories in New York City, it is built in the Beaux-Arts style instead of mimicking a medieval fortress (though, for Beaux-Arts, the armory has very little ornament). The armory made history as the site of the 1913 Armory Show – where modern art was first publicly presented in the United States.

The armory is located on Lexington Avenue between East 25th and East 26th Streets; it was designed by the firm of Hunt & Hunt and erected in 1904-1906. The armory became a NYC Landmark in 1983, joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996.

Besides the famous art show, the armory has hosted track and field events, roller derby, basketball games (NY Knicks between 1946 and 1960), Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, and Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festivals.

69th Regiment Armory Vital Statistics
  • Location: 68 Lexington Avenue between E 25th and E 26th Streets
  • Year completed: 1906
  • Architect: Richard Howland Hunt and Joseph Howland Hunt
  • Floors: 5
  • Style: Beaux Arts
  • New York City Landmark: 1983
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1994
69th Regiment Armory Suggested Reading

Google Map

Masonic Hall

Masonic Hall and the associated Masonic Building owe their existence to a third building, the Masonic Temple, which was demolished in 1910. The Masonic Temple was designed by by Napoleon LeBrun (himself a Mason) and erected on W 23rd Street in 1870. The Masons built Masonic Hall on adjoining property on W 24th Street as an addition to the Temple, in 1909. Harry P. Knowles, head-draftsman of Napoleon LeBrun & Sons (and also a Mason), designed the addition. The Masons then decided to replace the Masonic Temple with a loft building, to generate income to finance the lodge’s activities. This building, too, was designed by Knowles and erected in 1913.

Both Masonic Hall and Masonic Building are designed on the three-part scheme that treats tall buildings as classical columns: base, shaft and capital. Masonic Hall was designed in Beaux Arts style, Masonic Building in neo-Renaissance style; both are built without setbacks, as they were erected before the 1916 zoning law change. The buildings are interconnected via a pedestrian passage with shops and a restaurant.

Masonic Hall and Masonic Building are included in the Ladies Mile Historic District, designated by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1989.

Harry P. Knowles also designed Mecca Temple on W 55th Street – now known as City Center.

Masonic Hall Vital Statistics
  • Location: 46 W 24th Street at Sixth Avenue
  • Year completed: 1909
  • Architect: Harry P. Knowles
  • Floors: 18
  • Style: Beaux Arts
  • New York City Landmark: 1989
Masonic Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 71 W 23rd Street at Sixth Avenue
  • Year completed: 1913
  • Architect: Harry P. Knowles
  • Floors: 19
  • Style: neo-Renaissance
  • New York City Landmark: 1989
Masonic Hall & Building Suggested Reading

Google Map

Tenderloin Precinct

New York’s “Tenderloin” district, aka “Satan’s Circus,” demanded a police station that “look[s] like a police station” according to then-Police Commissioner William McAdoo. The result was the fortress-like Tenderloin Precinct (officially the 23rd Precinct) Station House. The precinct has been renamed (7th, 14th, Midtown South) and the building’s occupant is now the NYPD Traffic Control Division, but the building is as imposing as ever.

When the 23rd Precinct Station House was built, the neighborhood was known as the city’s most corrupt red light district. The “Tenderloin” name was coined by police Captain Alexander “Clubber” Williams, who bragged after being transferred to the precinct in 1876 that after living off of chuck steak, he would now get some of the tenderloin [graft]. Williams was forced out of the department in 1895 – reputedly a millionaire.

The original building plans, wrote Commissioner McAdoo, “…looked like a second-class apartment-house. It gave no suggestion of its official character, and the internal arrangements were more fanciful than practical.” The architect, R. Thomas Short, was in fact better known as a designer of apartment buildings. But Short redesigned the station house with guidance from McAdoo and a committee of veteran police officers.

The building got mixed reviews – some critics considered it a model station, others thought it overly dramatic. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission gave the building landmark status Dec. 15, 1998.

R. Thomas Short was prolific, with many notable buildings to his credit, including Red House, Alwyn Court Apartments, and the Studio Building.

Tenderloin Precinct Vital Statistics
  • Location: 134 W 30th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
  • Year completed: 1908
  • Architect: R. Thomas Short
  • Floors: 5
  • Style: Medieval Revival
  • New York City Landmark: 1998
Tenderloin Precinct Suggested Reading

Google Map

Gouverneur Court

Gouverneur Court is the old Gouverneur Hospital, erected in 1897 to serve immigrants on the Lower East Side. It has been modified several times, including the addition of a fifth floor in 1930. In the 1960s the hospital was converted to a school for special needs children. A botched restoration in the 1980s was repaired in 1992-93. Gouverneur Court is now assisted living housing for low income and special needs residents.

(Gouverneur Court was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, with an estimated $150,000 in damage.)

The building has been wrapped in a cocoon of regulations and financing agreements to prevent conversion to condos.

The property seems well maintained – even the ubiquitous cell phone transmitters have been painted brick red, to blend in better. But the south wing seems to have been restored (or originally built?) with less terra cotta detailing than the north wing. Compare the way that the windows are arched and trimmed.

The building’s South Street facade is the most picturesque, with two wings of tiered, curved, iron rail-enclosed verandahs.

Gouverneur Court Vital Statistics
  • Location: 621 Water Street at Gouverneur Street
  • Year completed: 1897
  • Architect: John Rochester Thomas
  • Floors: 6
  • Style: Renaissance
  • National Register of Historic Places: Oct. 29, 1982
Gouverneur Court Suggested Reading

Google Map

Municipal Building

When the well-respected McKim, Mead and White entered the design competition for the Municipal Building as a favor to then-Mayor George B. McClellan, the firm had never designed a skyscraper. Yet their William Mitchell Kendall came up with a plan that not only won the competition, it served as a model for at least ten other buildings in the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

The design inspired Cleveland’s Terminal Tower (1930), Chicago’s Wrigley Building (1920) and Moscow’s “Seven Sisters” – seven Stalin-era structures designed at the end of World War II (an eighth was designed but never built).

The Municipal Building, in turn, was inspired by the 1196 Giralda Tower in Seville – originally a mosque’s minaret, then annexed by the cathedral that replaced the mosque. An earlier minaret – Koutoubia, in Morocco – may have inspired Giralda tower. (See the New York Architecture – Giralda Towers article.)

The Municipal Building also borrowed its central arch from Rome’s Arch of Constantine, and the colonnade from Bernini’s at St. Peter’s. (Chambers Street used to pass under the Municipal Building, through the arch.)

The building is the first building in New York to incorporate a subway station in its base. (The 4, 5 and 6 Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall and J, M and Z Chambers Street stops have a common entry via the building’s southern arcade.)

“Civic Fame,” the 25-foot-tall gilded statue atop the Municipal Building, is New York’s third-tallest statue, after the Statue of Liberty and “Bellerophon Taming Pegasus” at the Columbia Law School. Like the Statue of Liberty, “Civic Fame” is a hollow copper shell on an iron frame. The statue’s left arm fell off in 1936, crashing through a 26th-floor skylight into what was then a cafeteria.

Municipal Building is among the world’s largest governmental buildings, built to accommodate the agencies governing the five boroughs, consolidated in 1898. The 40-story monument houses more than 2,000 employees in nearly 1 million square feet of space.

The Municipal Building has appeared in several films (including 1984’s Ghostbusters), television shows and video games. The building was designated a NYC landmark in 1966 – only 52 years after completion. (And the Landmarks Preservation Commission itself moved into the building in 2001.)

Municipal Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 1 Centre Street at Chambers Street
  • Year completed: 1914
  • Architect: William M. Kendall (McKim, Mead and White)
  • Floors: 40
  • Style: Renaissance
  • New York City Landmark: 1966
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1972
Municipal Building Suggested Reading

Google Map

Engine Company 31

Engine Company 31 is the most elaborate of Napoleon LeBrun’s firehouse designs, and was derided as “a manifestly extravagant absurdity.” Extravagant or not, it’s certainly impressive.

Engine Company 31 moved in during 1895 after New York City sold the unit’s old home to New York Life Insurance Company. The Fire Department left the building in 1970 and Engine Company 31 was ultimately disbanded in 1972. The Downtown Community Television Center now uses the building as a studio and production center.

Engine Company 31 Vital Statistics
  • Location: 87 Lafayette Street at White Street
  • Year completed: 1895
  • Architect: Napoleon LeBrun & Sons
  • Floors: 3
  • Style: Loire Valley Chateau
  • New York City Landmark: 1966
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1972
Engine Company 31 Suggested Reading

Google Map

Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation Building

The Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation Building (formerly NYC Department of Health Building) overlooks Thomas Paine Park and Foley Square, surrounded by the federal, state and city courts of Manhattan’s Civic Center. It’s a restrained Art Deco granite cube, 10 stories high, pierced on the Leonard Street side by a light court above the third floor.

The principal decorations are bronze grillwork and torcheres, and health-themed medallions on the sides of the building by Oscar Bach, whose work also adorns Radio City Music Hall, the Woolworth, Chrysler, and Empire State Buildings – among other landmarks.

The joy is in the details.

Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 125 Worth Street, between Lafayette and Centre Streets
  • Year completed: 1935
  • Architect: Charles B. Meyers
  • Floors: 10
  • Style: Art Deco
Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation Building Suggested Reading
  • Department of Citywide Administrative Services listing
  • Emporis database
  • Ephemeral New York blog
  • Eating in Translation blog

Google Map

Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse

The Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse (originally United States Courthouse, Foley Square) was the last building designed by the famed Cass Gilbert, who died before the project’s completion. His son, Cass Gilbert, Jr., supervised the structure’s completion.

The 37-story skyscraper design marked a significant departure from other federal government buildings, which until then were all horizontal. The sprawling six-story base, however, blends in with surrounding landmarks.

The base and tower are faced in granite from Gilbert’s home state of Minnesota; the pyramidal roof is clad in gilded terra cotta.

The building was renamed Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in August 2001, honoring the first African American Supreme Court Justice, who had worked at the courthouse from 1961 to 1965 as a judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The building completed a modernization project in 1992; at this writing (December 2012) it is going through a renovation/restoration that was supposed to have been completed in 2009, but seems to be never-ending.

Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse Vital Statistics
  • Location: 40 Centre Street at Foley Square
  • Year completed: 1936
  • Architect: Cass Gilbert
  • Floors: 37
  • Style: Classic Revival
  • New York City Landmark: 1975
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1987
Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse Suggested Reading

Google Map

Brooklyn Public Library

Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library was 35 years in the making – a case of municipal overreaching. Brooklyn’s pride was on the line – former Brooklyn Mayor David A. Boody was the library president. The grandiose plan began in 1906 with sending the chief architect, the consulting architect and the chief librarian to Europe for a 19-city tour to study 24 libraries. The following year, architect Raymond F. Almirall proposed a Beaux Arts design. The library’s board and the city’s Municipal Art Commission approved the plans, but construction didn’t begin until 1911.

Financial support soon became a political issue, and as early as 1914 city administrations were balking at paying the library’s enormous cost. In October 1930 – 19 years after groundbreaking – the library was only one third complete.

A new library administration in 1933 abandoned the grandiose four-story Beaux Arts design in favor of a less expensive three-story modern plan. In 1935 the directors chose new architects: Alfred Morton Githens and Francis Keally. They unveiled new plans in 1937; the city approved the plans in 1938, and construction resumed in 1939. Githens and Keally used the foundations and first three floors of the steel frame, but scrapped most of the existing masonry and ornament. In just under two years, they completed the project.

Brooklyn Public Library Vital Statistics
Brooklyn Public Library Recommended Reading

Google Map