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NYCityMap: The Right Tool, With the Wrong Dates

New York City publishes a very useful map-based website with one very big flaw. NYCityMap offers users a tremendous amount of information on all properties in New York City. Some of the information that may be seen for each property includes zoning, owner, block and lot, lot size and lot frontage. Overlays may be added identifying landmarks, city service centers, and capital projects, to name a few.

But for all of the information that may be gained from this map, where this tool falls short is in its accuracy of identifying many of the buildings’ construction dates.

In fairness, typically I have found that buildings built post-World War I have accurate dates on this map. However, buildings built prior to World War I are usually dated as 1900 by the NYC map, regardless of when they were built — whether it was 1700 or 1910. To illustrate, the following are some well-known historic buildings in our area, along with the dates of construction according to the NYC Map, and their actual dates of construction (per the landmark designation reports written and published by the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission):

St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, 165 Second Avenue:
Actual date of construction: 1799
Date listed on NYC Map: 1900

Jefferson Market Library, 425 Sixth Avenue:
Actual date of construction: 1874-77
Date listed on NYC Map: 1930

LaGrange Terrace, Nos. 428, 430, 432, & 434 Lafayette Sreet:
Actual date of construction: 1832-33
Date listed on NYC Map: 1900

LaGrange Terrace c. 1965 from the GVSHP Photo Archive

Old Merchant’s House, 29 East 4th Street:
Actual date of construction: 1831-32
Date listed on NYC Map: 1900

Image of the Merchant’s House is from the GVSHP Image Archive

Grace Church, 788 Broadway:
Actual date of construction: 1843-46
Date listed on NYC Map: 1900

I found one exception to this rule of consistent inaccuracy: the Cooper Union building at 7 East 7th Street. It was built 1853-59, and NYC Maps lists the date of construction as 1857. Unfortunately, this is an anomaly. To further illustrate my point, if you look at the north side of Charles Street between West 4th Street and Bleecker Street, according to the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report this row of houses was built in the 1860’s. And yet, according to the NYC map, their construction dates are either 1905 or 1910.

65-55 Charles Street

And you may ask why it is important that the dates are either accurate or, at the very least, the build dates be listed as ‘unknown’ if that is the case.  Whether we are the owners, the realtors, the architects or the advocates, we are all the stewards of our historic structures and we cannot protect them successfully without accurate information. Building methods, building technology, construction practices, and municipal oversight developed dramatically over the course of the 19th century and on into the 20th century both in New York City and beyond. Consequently and by way of example, the care and approach for an 1822 Federal-style row house differs dramatically from that of a 1903 New Law tenement, and therefore accurate build dates should be accessible.

GVSHP and others have asked the City to correct this information.  But to date, that has not occurred. So how does one find an accurate date for their building? Well if the building in question was landmarked by New York City, either individually or as part of a district, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has a map on their website which identifies landmarks, offers the correct build date and provides a link to the appropriate designation report (click HERE to see).  If the building in question is not a landmark, then a bit of research is involved. GVSHP had a program which gave wonderful instruction and pointers to research a building in New York City — click HERE for the video. We also offer this guide to researching in the Village, click HERE. Finally, you can also reach out to me at info@gvshp.org and I’ll be happy to help.

One response to “NYCityMap: The Right Tool, With the Wrong Dates

  1. Excellent article. Often, in researching a post for my blog, which is about everything and anything New York, I have found real estate listings for old New York buildings with the construction date that of the last renovation, rather than the original construction date. And yes, those dates do matter.

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