A stroll down west 14th street commerce and industry – gvshp preservation off the grid electricity jokes riddles


By 1881 the Sixth Avenue Elevated Railroad had a stop at West 14th Street which further increased the thoroughfare’s commercial traffic. The elevated train was a very popular means of transportation. Its height above the ground (approximately fifteen feet) allowed for uninterrupted pedestrian traffic on the streets and sidewalks, but caused pollution and drastically affected the way buildings were viewed. One building on our tour was designed in response to the Sixth Avenue El. 527 Sixth Avenue, at the southwest corner of West 14th Street, is a purpose-built commercial building commissioned by Albert Wyckoff and built in 1896. It was designed by Theo Thompson in the Romanesque Revival style. Responding to the massive amounts of noise and vibration created by the El, this building, meant for stores and offices, rests on a heavily reinforced foundation. Architect Theo Thomson designed the building’s two street facades to be viewed both from the ground and from the elevated train. From the ground level, pedestrians would see the main entry surrounded by Corinthian columns, and the heavily ornamented doors and windows capped by the first-level stringcourse. From the Elevated tracks, viewers could look up and see the corner tower with its turret, rising above the second level stringcourse and solidly articulated in buff-colored brick and heavily rusticated details.

Bank buildings have a large presence on West 14th Street and reflect the heavy presence of industry and commerce on this major crosstown artery by the late 19th and into the 20th centuries. Three monumental bank buildings dominate the intersection of West 14th Street and Eighth Avenue and illustrate the evolution of bank architecture at the beginning of the 20th century. The New York Savings Bank at 81 Eighth Avenue was built in two sections in 1896-97, was designed by R.H. Robertson employing Academic Classicism popularized by the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893). The Neo-Classical two-story classical temple front design is meant to convey wealth and security and was almost universal in savings bank design at this time.

The New York Savings Bank was formed in 1854 and moved to 81 Eighth Avenue in 1857. It prospered at this location, particularly after the Civil War, as 14th Street became a significant commercial thoroughfare. It demolished its first building in 1896-97 to make way for a new and more conspicuous headquarters on the same location. This building is a New York City landmark, a New York City interior landmark, and is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Arguably the most spectacular industrial loft building on the tour is at 154-160 West 14th Street. This steel-frame, 12-story loft building was constructed in 1912 by architect Herman Lee Meader for developer Leslie R. Palmer. The building’s terra cotta was manufactured by the New York Architectural Terra Cotta Co., the city’s only major producer of architectural terra cotta, of which Palmer was a long-time director, and the building is a virtual advertisement for the material’s exterior use and, specifically, for the products of the firm. Employing the latest technology in loft construction, the building was designed for maximum light to the loft spaces, as well as for automotive delivery. It housed a variety of manufacturing companies including manufacturers and distributors of paper, soap dispensers, and electrical equipment, and is one of the few buildings in New York which incorporates Secessionist, Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts, and Mission Revival style motifs. The building is also a designated New York City landmark.