Part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation, but somehow aren’t landmarked.
The area south of Union Square is rich in architectural and social history which needs and deserves historic district (landmark) protections, which we have been fighting for but the City has resisted granting. The classically-inspired loft building at 114-118 13th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue was built by and for a company what was a major player in the piano industry which, as few remember today, was centered in this area. No. 114-118 East 13th Street later housed several printers and bookbinders, industries that became prominent in the area in the early to mid-twentieth century, and which were so important to New York’s rise as a commercial and cultural capital. Reflecting the arc of the area’s development, the building was converted to residences in the 1980s.
Architects Knight & Collins designed this eleven-story building in 1906 for the American Felt Company as their main headquarters. This company was founded in Newburgh, New York in 1899, and was formed from smaller companies from several different states. As early as 1903, the company occupied the neighboring 110 East 13th Street, where they would also remain even after the construction of their headquarters here in 1906. Uniquely, the American Felt Company produced every type of felt including that which was used for piano strikers. It’s no coincidence that this
location was chosen by the company given its proximity to the number of piano manufacturers in this area towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, including Steinway on the north side of 14th Street. The American Felt Company was the primary felt producer for Steinway, one of the largest and most prestigious piano manufacturers in the world.
The building is symmetrical in its horizontal arrangement and classical in its ornament. The stone two-story base features sheep’s heads above the second floor centered on the two outer bays, an homage to the animals which provided the raw material for felt production. The upper stories are clad in tan brick and the center bay is capped at the top stories by a pedimented temple front.
Later tenants of the building during the 1920s included printers and book binders as the area emerged as a center for those industries. This included Hal Marchbanks of Marchbanks Press, “one of the greatest printers and publishers of his time” according to a 1919 issue of American Printer and Lithographer, and Hoffman Type & Eng. Company. The building was converted to condominiums in 1984, at which time the balconies were added to the building’s exposed east wall, preserving the integrity of the façade on Thirteenth Street. The building has been the home of several celebrities, including actor Tom Cruise.
Currently lacking landmark protections, this and many surrounding buildings in the area south of Union Square could altered or torn down at any time. If you would like to change that, please send a letter to city officials urging landmark designation for this and surrounding buildings here or here. And to find out more about the rich history of the area, see www.gvshp.org/research, and about our efforts to save it, go to www.gvshp.org/savemyneighborhood.