New York, NY, January 24, 2009 --(PR.com
)-- The Garment Center Historic District has recently been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Known for its pristine collection of 1920’s-era loft buildings as well as the source of recent zoning controversy, the historic district comprises nearly 25 blocks in midtown Manhattan, and roughly spans the area from 34th to 41st Streets, Sixth to Ninth Avenues. The Garment Center Historic District contains a total of 251 buildings, of which 215 are listed as contributing properties. Listing on the Register is an honorary designation that makes contributing property owners eligible for participation in certain federal historic preservation tax incentive programs, but does not impose preservation restrictions on affected properties.
Built almost entirely between World War I and the Great Depression for the garment industry, many of the historic district’s buildings were designed by preeminent architects working during the period, including Ely Jacques Kahn, Emory Roth, Blum & Blum, Schwartz & Gross and Starrett & Van Vleck. These buildings once collectively housed the largest garment-manufacturing workforce in the world.
The Garment Center has been the source of much controversy since the City Planning Commission’s announcement in February of 2007 that it is planning to unveil a still-pending proposal to ease the stringent zoning restrictions of the Special Garment Center District (SGCD), which is situated almost entirely within the new historic district. Enacted in 1987, the SGCD zoning requires the maintenance of approximately 5 million square feet of space for manufacturing and apparel-related uses. Industry groups and the city estimate that approximately 800,000 square feet is currently being used in such a capacity.
Landlords have long complained that the zoning is outdated and artificially depresses rents, while textile unions and manufacturers have fought to preserve affordable production space in Manhattan. Market rents for Class B and C office spaces are currently 2 to 3 times those for comparable spaces restricted for manufacturing use. The new zoning regulations are expected to drastically reduce the amount of square footage reserved for manufacturing use to as little as 350,000 square feet, thereby enabling owners to convert existing manufacturing spaces to office use.
“The federal historic preservation tax incentive programs now available to contributing property owners offer substantial economic assistance in both the maintenance and/or conversion of these important historic properties,” explains Trust for Architectural Easements representative Sean Zalka. The Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Incentive Program provides owners with a tax credit equal to 20% of the costs of a qualified rehabilitation of the historic property. The Federal Historic Preservation Easement Program encourages owners of eligible properties to make historic preservation easement donations to qualified organizations such as the Trust for Architectural Easements. Owners who participate in the Program are eligible to receive federal income tax deductions in exchange for the contractual assurance that they will preserve the building in perpetuity.
The Trust for Architectural Easements is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit organizations dedicated to voluntary preservation through easement donations. The Trust protects more than 800 historic buildings across the United States and approximately 550 historic properties in New York. For more information about the Trust’s local preservation efforts, the Federal Historic Preservation Program and the donation process, contact the Trust at 1-888-831-2107 or visit www.architecturaltrust.org
Garment Center Historic District Boundaries
The historic district occupies a swath of midtown Manhattan roughly bounded by Sixth Avenue on the east, Ninth Avenue on the west, West 35th Street on the south, and West 41st Street on the north. The boundaries, generally speaking, encompass the central core of the Garment Center, out from which radiates a much wider area with related history and uses to the east and south.
Physical Layout and Resulting Vistas
Streetscapes within the district are remarkably uniform, in response to the zoning requirements of 1916 in combination with the street pattern of the 1811 Commissioners’ Plan.
The typically narrow east-west side streets are lined with buildings 12 to 22 stories tall (with the exception of several older, shorter buildings) that rise straight up from the lot line to a series of shallow but dramatic setbacks, creating massive brick and stone street walls with sculpted setback rooflines.
The three major north-south avenues are, from east to west, Seventh Avenue, Broadway and Eighth Avenue. All three have relatively uniform streetscapes of brick- and stone-faced loft buildings rising from 15 to 25 stories (again, with the exception of several older, shorter buildings; on the other hand, nine building rise from 30 to 45 stories), with the setbacks typical of the district. Seventh and Eighth avenues are regular and straight – products of the grid created by the 1811 Commissioners’ Plan – while Broadway, a much older road, curves across the grid from west to east as it runs south from Times Square to Herald Square. The three avenues share a remarkably strong sense of place.
Because Broadway is not parallel to the other north-south avenues, it cuts across the side streets at acute or obtuse angles (never at a right angle). In most cases, where there is an acute (less than 90-degree) angle, architects took advantage of the opportunity to create a chamfered corner – generally no more than one or two bays in width at the most – and often created the effect of a dramatic corner tower. A good example is the Lefcourt-Marlboro Building (George and Edward Blum, 1924) at 1359 Broadway (aka 121-133 West 36th Street), with a two-window-wide chamfered corner that rises to an angled tower 20 stories above Broadway.
Building Types and Architectural Styles
Buildings within the proposed district are for the most part commercial. By far the most common type is the loft building. Most of the district’s buildings were constructed between 1896 and 1931; not quite two dozen survive from earlier decades, another dozen from 1935 to 1957, and half a dozen from the 1960s. In recent years development has picked up, and there are several new buildings and quite a few sites under construction.
A surprising number of buildings that predate the development of the Garment Center survive in the district, and represent earlier architectural styles. These include loft buildings that predate the zoning resolution, as well as a church complex, hotels, a pre-Civil War firehouse, and many tenements. There are also a number of non-commercial buildings that date from the general period of garment center development.
Holy Innocents R.C. Church, 126 West 37th Street, is a mid-19th-century neo-Gothic church whose congregational presence in the neighborhood dates back to the early 1860s, when a Roman Catholic congregation acquired the wooden chapel belonging to a Protestant church of that name on the site. The present building is a stone-faced Gothic building (Patrick Keely, 1868-70) with handsome details including leaded-glass windows with images of saints. Another religious structure is the W.D. Barbour Memorial (Hill & Stout, 1916-17) at 330 West 36th Street, a neo-Gothic settlement house, affiliated with the Brick Presbyterian Church, as was the Christ Church Memorial (Parish & Schroeder, 1904-06) just down the block at 344 West 36th Street. A modern synagogue designed by William Lescaze (1962-64), though apparently altered, stands at 560 Seventh Avenue (entrance on West 40th Street).
Engine Company 26 at 220 West 37th Street is a pre-Civil-War-era fire house, built in 1857-58 for what was still an all-volunteer fire department; its simple three-story brick façade includes a cast-iron first story added no earlier than 1893. The Times Square Station post-office at 223-241 West 38th Street (John T. Dunn, 1922-22) was in fact built by A.E. Lefcourt, one of the principal developers of the Garment Center, and rented to the postal service. It is a long, two-story-tall terra-cotta clad structure with neo-Classical details including fluted pilasters supporting an entablature. The Con Edison substation at 308-312 West 36th Street (William Whitehall, 1925) and its extension at 311 West 35th Street (William Whitehall, 1928-29) is a modest structure with some classically-inspired details including a cast-stone arched entrance.
Only a handful of “dwellings” (so described in Building Department records) survive in the district. Most notable architecturally is No. 557 Eighth Avenue (Stein, Cohen & Roth, 1903) designed by Emery Roth with elaborate Beaux-Arts detailing. An Italianate style brownstone-fronted walkup of c. 1870 at 221 West 38th Street found new use in the 1890s as a rooming house “patronized mostly by theatrical people” (New York Times, 3/8/1898 p.7) during the period when these streets still belonged to the Broadway theater district.
Besides Engine Company 26 and Holy Innocents, the earliest surviving buildings in the district are half-a-dozen five-story tenements from the late 1860s and early 1870s. Tenements continued being built in the district into the early 1890s – there are approximately 20 in all. In style they range from Italianate and neo-Grec to neo-Renaissance.
The earliest surviving hotel in the district is the Hotel Evans at 273 West 38th Street (Thom & Wilson, 1885-86), a modest Italianate five-story brick-faced building. The Hotel York at 488 Seventh Avenue (Harry B. Mulliken, 1902-03) is a 12-story tall Beaux-Arts building with elaborate stone ornament. The Mills Hotel No. 3 (Copeland & Dole, 1906-07), at 485 Seventh Avenue, was the third in a chain of modestly-priced residences for working men. On a completely different scale is the New Yorker Hotel (Sugarman & Berger, 1928-29) at 481 Eighth Avenue, built by Mack Kanner, one of the chief developers of the Garment Center. Once the largest hotel in the city, it is a 43-story tower with Art Deco detailing. The latest hotel constructed in the district is the new Wingate Inn, 2005-07, at 235 West 35th street; another is planned for 339-345 West 36th Street.
In the first decade of the 20th century, just before the garment district began moving into these streets, the publishing industry established a presence, particularly in the northwestern part of the district, in general following the trail blazed by the New York Times Building of 1904. Though most of these date to between 1902 and 1914, several were constructed as late as the early 1920s. Among the publications and publishers represented here were the New York Tribune (later the Herald Tribune) at 239 West 41st Street (Schwartz & Gross, 1923, extended in 1929); McCall’s magazine at 240 West 37th Street (Radcliffe & Kelley, 1904-06); and McGraw (later to become McGraw-Hill) at 231 West 39th Street (Radcliffe & Kelley, 1906-08). The American Press Association had its headquarters at 225 West 39th Street (Mulliken & Moeller, 1910). Many of these publishing buildings were elaborately designed in the latest styles. The best-known of them all, the Pictorial Review Building formerly located at 530 Seventh Avenue (Renwick, Aspinwall & Guard, 1919-1920) was considered, according to the New York Times, “one of the finest and most beautiful twelve-story buildings on Seventh Avenue” (NYT, 9/16/28 p.169). Its demolition just nine years after its construction to make way for a much larger garment industry building caused much comment and criticism (see below, 530 Seventh Avenue); related buildings for the Pictorial Review still stand at 214 West 39th Street (see below).
All these buildings contribute to the visual quality and historic character of the area. The district’s chief character, however, is formed overwhelmingly by the garment center loft buildings.
The district’s loft buildings housed various aspects of the garment industry, including offices, production facilities and showrooms. Almost all were built to a height of approximately 12 to 30 stories, most rising straight up from the lot line to a series of setbacks at the top; a few rise into tall slender towers, but the majority suggest the form of a ziggurat.
Early loft buildings:
The early loft buildings, predating the 1916 zoning resolution (see Significance section) are generally narrow – occupying a typical 20’ or 25’ x 100’ lot on the 1811 grid initially intended for a row house – and rise straight up, without setbacks, as high as 12 or 13 stories. Typically, their design is a late variant on the 19th-century “base-shaft-capital” early skyscraper design modeled on the analogy to a classical column. Typical is 131 West 35th Street (Neville & Bagge, 1913-14), with a three-story stone-faced base with a very wide central bay of show windows set in a metal frame, a brick-faced shaft rising above, and the top two stories, or “capital,” set off from the rest by an ornamental band of geometrically patterned brick. Similarly designed is 142 West 37th Street (George and Edward Blum, 1914-15), the first building in the district by A.E. Lefcourt, soon to be one of its major developers. It has a three-story stone-faced base with ornamental cast-stone piers, a plain brick-faced shaft organized into bays by wide brick piers rising to ornamental stone caps, and an attic story set off from the rest by a projecting cast-stone course and capped by an ornamental band course. No. 141 West 36th Street (Buchman & Fox, 1911-12) is one of several loft buildings faced in ornamental terra-cotta with elaborate patterning including shields and rosettes.
1920s and 1930s loft buildings:
The great majority of loft and showroom buildings, however, reflect the architectural trends of the 1920s and early 1930s. Many show the preference for eclectic designs drawing on various historic styles, while others show the influence of the newly popular Art Deco. Though these buildings are often considered “vernacular,” they often demonstrate more of a flair for ornamental detail than might be expected.
These buildings tend to be more uniform in design on the side streets. A typical 1920s side-street loft building has a three- or four-story base, often stone-faced, with entrance and storefronts on the first story and bays of wide show windows above; a brick-faced shaft, with narrow square-headed windows – its bays defined by uninterrupted brick piers – rises to a series of shallow setbacks, often marked by ornament in brick or cast-stone. Generally, setbacks begin higher up either over the center bays – creating the effect of a projecting central tower – or over the end bays – creating the effect of projecting corner towers; occasionally they are organized in such a way to create an asymmetrically placed tower. Some of the grander such buildings, generally with avenue frontage, have elaborate brick and cast-stone ornament.
No. 315 W. 36th Street (George and Edward Blum, 1926) is a 16-story loft and showroom building occupying most of its site, with the typical setbacks of the building type of its period. The Blums designed 19 loft buildings within the district. In this example, they varied the building’s setbacks to create a pavilion-like arrangement. The three-story entrance area is adorned with wide sections of decorative metal spandrels with abstract floral patterns. In the area directly above the arched entry there are Art Deco style stone reliefs – including both the sills and spandrels of the upper windows, and stone rosettes above the arches. Ornament more typical of the architects’ other work appears in the upper stories: geometric patterns in light and dark brick at every setback, topped by an abstract cast-stone molding; decorative stone panels with an eight-pointed star superimposed over a diamond form, with abstract floral forms; rectangular stone panels with carefully carved swags of fruit and floral forms; and other panels with circular forms set within decorative surrounds.
Among the most elaborate such loft buildings is 135 West 36th Street (“Fashion Tower,” Emery Roth, 1925), whose façade has cast-stone Romanesque or Byzantine-inspired ornament with spiral rope moldings around the windows and decorative lion-heads, friezes of angels holding a large piece of drapery inscribed “Fashion Tower,” and polychromatic friezes of peacocks over a freight entrance. Another building with elaborate ornament is 257 West 39th Street (George F. Pelham, 1925-26), which has classical columns and arches with ornamental carved sheep heads (suggesting the wool trade) in the keystones.
The larger such buildings on the avenue, besides their greater size, generally have facades on both the avenue and on the adjoining side street. Often they have taller brick- or stone-faced bases, perhaps five stories’ worth, and more elaborate ornament at the setbacks. A good example of this type is the Arsenal Building at 463 Seventh Avenue (Buchman & Kahn, 1924-25), 20 stories tall with medieval-inspired ornament, including elaborate cast-stone ornament in floral patterns and squat piers at the fifth story with alternating geometric patterns and human figures. Another example would be the American Union Bank Building at 265 West 37th (aka 550 Eighth Avenue, Schwartz & Gross, 1925), with a stone-faced base, complex setbacks, and stone colonnades at the upper corners.
These last two years of development before the hiatus caused by the Depression saw some of the most sophisticated designs in the district by Ely Jacques Kahn.
The Bricken Textile Building at 1441 Broadway (Buchman & Kahn, 1929-30) received an unusually sophisticated architectural treatment. Kahn designed 14 loft buildings within the historic district, both in his partnership of Buchman & Kahn, then on his own, and later in the partnership of Kahn & Jacobs. No. 1410 Broadway is notable for its geometric brick patterning, in white and black brick, especially in the window spandrels; for the typical, finely detailed abstract ornamental patterns in the second-story windows, and the dramatic, geometric tower with projecting modernistic corners. Other examples of Kahn’s work in these years are the Bricken Casino Building at 1410 Broadway (1930-31) and the Continental Building at 1450 Broadway (1930-31).
Post-World War II Modernism:
Several garment center buildings of the immediate post-World War II era show the influence of post-War modernism. Emery Roth & Sons designed the Lowenstein Building at 1430 Broadway (1953-55) as a 22-story office block organized as a series of horizontal window bands separated by horizontal bands of white brick. The most notable such building, however, is 1407 Broadway (Kahn & Jacobs, 1948-50), described at the time as “a marked departure from the usual treatment of skyscrapers.”
- For a Map of the Historic District or a Copy of the Complete Nomination Report, Call 888-831-2107 .