Walks in New York and elsewhere

My comments on buildings, shops, restaurants that catch my eye as I wander around New York City and other places.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

On to SoHo

Crossing Crosby Street, we enter the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. You can always tell when you are in a NYC-designated historic district in NYC by the brown street signs. In the picture, you can see the brown Crosby Street sign. If you visit the website of the New York City Landmarks Commission (sorry, the links aren't working) you can see maps of the historic district.

Keep in mind that cast iron is a structural, not a stylistic term. The various styles are the same Victorian revival styles that could be and were executed in other building materials during the same period. Because of the nature of cast iron, larger windows and more open floor plans were possible. Because the parts of the building were fabricated off-site, construction could proceed quickly and efficiently. They were especially popular for retail establishments, warehouses and light industry, which are the original uses for the buildings in SoHo.

In addition to the cast iron buildings (and not all the buildings are cast-iron) distinctive features of this district are granite sidewalks,

paving stone streets,

vault lights,
counter-weighted fire escapes
and heavy steel window shutters. Its mid-19th century commercial character is perhaps even more evident now that it has morphed into a significant retail center than it was when it was the art gallery district. An entire generation came to think of SoHo in connection with art and artists living in lofts there, but the area's connection with art lasted only about 20 years. Many of the current retail establishments still try to allude to that period in their selection of goods and displays. It doesn't feel like midtown. If it did, it would not have been designated as an historic district, which must have a "sense of place."


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