Special thanks to Tom from nyc-architecture.com
The area first drew attention after Mayor John v. Lindsay succeeded in striking down
the most outrageous of Robert Moses’ notorious urban renewal projects.
A proposal to link the East River bridges and the Holland Tunnel by carving an
east-west expressway through Broome Street. Voters, academics, and politicians
all eventually agreed that tax revenue from the garment industries on Broome
was essential and the Renaissance-style buildings of what many began to call SoHo
were sturdy, handsome, and ultimately habitable.
SoHo’s low rents and spacious studio lofts initially attracted artists searching ample work, and they began discreetly moving into the area. Although residing in a light manufacturing zone was illegal, landlords turned a blind eye. But as more and more “illegal” lofts materialized, legalization became inevitable. A precedent already existed in the form of a 1961 law which had set aside a small number of lofts for “Artists in Residence”, no more than two per building in certain city zones, mostly outside outside of SoHo. But in the area with the greatest number of resident artists, some of whom had lived there for almost ten years, laws slowly changed to accommodate more and more of then legally. Finally, in 1971, a series of legal solutions resulted in SoHo’s designation as the first mixed use zone for artist housing. Concurrently, an Artist Certification Committee was formed to ensure that SoHo housing went only to artists; thus, the reflexive element of the law began to reinforce SoHo’s privileged status.
The Little Singer Building—561 Broadway
wErnest Flagg, a Beaux-Arts trained New York architect designed the “Little Singer Building” in 1902. Its construction began in the spring of 1903, five years before he would create the Singer Tower that for a short time was the world’s tallest building. The tower came down in 1967, but fortunately the Singer Loft Building at 561 Broadway survived.
Since 1979, it has been a co-op with an unusual mixture of residential and commercial uses: 20 offices and 15 live/work units for artists. The co-op, known as the Singer Studio Corporation, has, for many years, had as its president, a savvy architect, named Joseph Levine.
The airy look of the Little Singer derives from its very wide windows together with the lacy strip balconies across each level. These balconies have delicate wrought iron railing, sophisticated in design and varying from floor to floor. Over the years beginning in 1983, the aging one time factory was restored by the co-op. This included repainting the decorative ironwork the same deep green color that Flagg had used in 1903. The spacious ground floor has for the last eight years been occupied by Kate’s Paperie.
The E. V. Haughwout Building—488 Broadway
wThe Haughwout Building was built in 1857, designed by architect John Gaynor. The cast iron was forged at Daniel Badger’s famous foundry.
Its entire facade is comprised of 92 keystone arches crowned by an entablature comprised of several bandsof intricate friezes. The building featured the world’s first Otis passenger elevator, hydraulically powered. It ushered in the city’s first fashionable housewares district around Broome Street. The Haughwout Emporium was world famous in its day as manufacturers and purveyors of cut glass, porcelains, mirrors , chandeliers and more. Their clients included the Lincoln’s, and the Czar of Russia, among others.
We are fortunate that this remarkable building exists today, because if Robert Moses had had his way in the 1960s, it would have been demolished for the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway. Today the building’s ground floor is occupied by Staples, an office supply store.
109 Prince Street
wThe structure was designed in 1882 by a young architect named Jarvis Morgan Slade. How sad that the talented Slade died unexpectedly at the age of 30, before his building was completed. With the opportunity to design for a corner lot, Slade produced a chamfered corner entrance and defined the building with austere banded pilasters, giving it a preeminent presence on the street. Rising five stories high, it has ten bays along Greene Street and five bays along Prince Street. A strong cornice emphasizes each floor level, giving a bold horizontality to the structure.
A plaque on the first pilaster of the Greene Street facade carries the name of the foundry that cast the iron: Architectural Iron Works, Cheyney and Hewlett, New York. It was the successor to D. D. Badger’s historic 1847 foundry, one of the earliest to erect cast iron buildings in the United States.
112 PRINCE STREET and it’s TROMPE L’OEIL MURAL
112 Prince Street was constructed in 1889 by Richard Berger. Architect Berger employed the stylish neo Grec mode for this six story iron front building.
The stories are nearly identical but they diminish in height so that the slender collonettes on the ground floor are considerably taller than those on the top. These collonettes, with stylized capitals, stand on pedestals and support impost blocks topped by cast iron rosettes. Each level is marked by an entablature, terminated at each end by a decorative block, supported by paired consoles.
By 1975, the upper floors had become work/live lofts for artists, including Maya Lin, the noted sculptor of the Viet Nam memorial in Washington, D. C.
In the early 1970s, the famous artist Richard Haas and a friend proposed using the building’s crude brick east wall as a “canvas” for a trompe l’oeil mural imitating the design of the building’s iron facade. Haas completed the mural in April 1975 with a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. The work of a St. Petersburg artist, a 16 foot bronze statue, Cybelle, the goddess of fertility, stands on the sidewalk outside the gallery.
110 Greene Street
New York’s oddest subway map isn’t in a station: it is on Greene Street in SoHo, in front of the SoHo Building (at 110 Greene Street, between Spring and Prince). In 1986, Francoise Schein, a Belgian artist, created “Subway Map Floating on a New York Sidewalk”, an 87ft long-work consisting of concrete rods embedded in the sidewalk.