Designated!

SoHo Cast Iron Historic District Extension


In 1973 twenty-six blocks of SoHo were designated as a New York City historic district. Its official name, SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District, reflects the fact that the area has the highest concentration of cast iron architecture anywhere in the world. Over thirty years later, many of the buildings have been carefully restored, and the district is today one of the city’s most architecturally renowned neighborhoods.

The city designated historic district, however, does not include a number of worthy buildings on the fringes, nor does it reflect the borders of the 19th-centruy commercial district that gave rise to its cast iron and other characteristic architecture. Important structures on the east side of Crosby Street, the west side of West Broadway, and parts of Howard, Broome, and Grand Streets east of Crosby Street remain unprotected. These areas of the proposed extension are all part of the SoHo National Historic District designated in 1978.

The buildings in the present district and the proposed extension share similar styles, architects, owners, materials, dates of construction, and commercial history. A pair of identical buildings, 29 and 34 Howard Street, stand across the street from one another, one in the city historic district and one out. Both were built in 1868 and designed by Renwick & Sands for owner Edward Mathews. The facades each have an unusual two-story cast-iron storefront and three upper floors of finely carved marble. Robert Mook designed seven buildings along both sides of West Broadway for real estate owner Amos R. Enos, four on the eastern, designated side of the street and the other three on the west side. D. & J. Jardine, Detlef Lienau, Renwick & Sands, and Samuel A. Warner also designed buildings in both areas.

Originally farmland, SoHo became a quiet, residential neighborhood at the end of the 18th century. It grew quickly, and by 1825 the area was the most densely populated part of the city. Some of the city’s wealthiest residents lived here in Federal and Greek Revival town houses. Mid-century, stores like Lord and Taylor and Tiffany move into the highly fashionable area. As commerce and industry grew, people moved to more residential locales. Between 1860 and 1865 the population decline by one quarter.

By the 1870s, SoHo was firmly a commercial district. New buildings were constructed and old ones revamped to highlight the many goods for sale. The timing coincided perfectly with advances in cast iron and the rise of the Italianate and Second Empire styles. Cast iron mimicked the look of carved stone, but at a much cheaper price. Pieces were easily prefabricated from molds and could be used interchangeably on many buildings. Facades could be quickly erected, and damaged pieces could easily be replaced. Ground floors featured large, column-framed windows highlighting vast interiors. Upper floors were used for offices, storage, and manufacturing. SoHo remained a thriving commercial center until around 1890, when fashionable businesses again moved uptown, this time along 5th Avenue.

The shared history and design of these buildings along the edges of the SoHo-Cast Iron historic district warrant their inclusion. Landmarking both sides of the streets ensures a cohesiveness to the area. With development regulated within the district, buildings on the fringe are most likely to fall to inappropriate redevelopment. Amazingly so far, significant architectural features still remain intact, but there are no guarantees. An extension to the SoHo-Cast Iron historic district is proposed so that all the important architectural examples of the neighborhood’s past may also be protected

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