For today’s Building Broadway post, we thought we’d take a look at the former McCreery’s Dry Goods Store at the corner of Broadway and 11th Street. Featuring this building is particularly timely because it was one of four “calendared” buildings in our neighborhoods that was, until very recently, scheduled to be “de-calendared” by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Thankfully, after a vocal outcry by GVSHP and other preservationists, the plan was dropped just before the scheduled de-calendaring vote. You can read more about that and the preservation community’s response here.
The photo above shows the building as it looks today. See the slender, triangular shadow on the 11th Street side? If you’re familiar with the area, you may recognize it as the steeple of Grace Church across the way! A designated New York City Landmark, the church was a little over 20 years old when the McCreery building was constructed. These two certainly have seen things change over their many decades along Broadway.
From “Broadway Illustrated” drawn in 1899. Source: NYPL.
We’ve already covered a lot of the building’s history in this past post. Built in 1868 to the designs of architect John Kellum, the cast-iron structure was featured in an 1869 issue of Harper’s Weekly. Although McCreery’s originally paid $300,000 to build it, they soon after sold it to the Methodist Book Concern (and then leased the lower floors).
McCreery’s remained in the building until 1902. This 1899 illustration above includes the cast-iron beauty as it looked when it still had its mansard roof. At the turn of the 20th century, they sure loved their big flags and big awnings, didn’t they?
That stunning mansard roof was lost in a fire on July 3, 1909 and replaced by a one story addition. That roof top addition was lost by another fire on October 31, 1971, but the 19th century cast iron structure remained. By that time the building itself had already been calendared by the LPC as a potential landmark. Cast-iron structures not only add so much beauty to the streetscape, they also tell an important chapter in the development of New York City architecture and building technology. Cast iron allowed for larger windows, which was particularly welcoming in the pre-electricity age. It was also said to be able to withstand fires, which was proven on that October day over 40 years ago.
The rooftop addition that now sits atop the structure was built in the 1970s. According to a piece co-written by influential preservation pioneer Margot Gayle, the owner at the time had thought of constructing a new building before deciding to convert McCreery’s to residential use. It’s believed that this was one of the first legal conversions of a cast-iron structure in New York, which ultimately paved the way for the residential conversions of many of SoHo’s cast-iron gems.
Five ornate brackets just below the cornice show where the highest pitch of the mansard roof once was. These same brackets exist on the 11th Street side.
As Gayle writes, the 11th Street facade “presents one of the most stirring views of cast iron in the city. Endless architecture, every part identical — the best use of cast iron.” Despite the loss of the mansard roof, “801 Broadway unquestionably merits designation as a landmark,” adds Gayle.
Like Grace Church, with the shadow of its steeple pressed against the 11th Street facade of the McCreery building, we hope that the Landmarks Commission will choose to designate this significant structure an official landmark of this city.