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
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
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
For more information, visit:
Return to Neighborhoods