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Historic Photo Mysteries from a Newly Donated Collection (and a reminder of what’s at stake with the SoHo/NoHo upzoning proposal)

Village Preservation recently shared an incredible new addition to our historic image archive of donated photos of cast-iron New York City landmarks, some destroyed during the late 60s, others threatened but saved, the last time that SoHo and Tribeca faced a threat of widespread demolition. At the time, historic cast-iron buildings were being razed to make way for the Washington Street Urban Renewal Project, and SoHo was slated for wholesale demolition by Robert Moses for the Lower Manhattan Expressway. The plans for Moses’ expressway were opposed by activists and ultimately defeated. Currently, Village Preservation is leading a campaign to address the threat posed by a SoHo/NoHo upzoning plan promoted by the Mayor under the false pretext of affordable housing creation (you can read more about the plan here and about the community alternative proposal here). To help support our efforts, Village Preservation is offering prints of these images for sale. Read more here
Greene Street, 1969, from the collection

As has frequently occurred in the past, the photos arrived to us without documentation of the location of their subjects, and it was up to our sleuthing department to follow often barely visible clues–street signs, business names, architectural features, distant landmarks–to arrive at proper identifications. Even the best bloodhounds, however, occasionally fail to catch a scent. Consequently, the content of several of our beautiful new photos remains a mystery. In the past, Village Preservation has benefited from the sharp eyes, knowledge, and resourcefulness of supporters like you to solve these mysteries (Hereare a fewpastexamples). We are appealing once more for your help! If you have any information concerning any of the photos below, please email us at info@gvshp.org

By way of background, the photos were taken in 1969 by Edward LaGrassa, an architecture student, for a school project. They include cast iron buildings and structures largely in SoHo and Tribeca, as well as in Harlem and Upper Manhattan. At the time of LaGrassa’s project, appreciation of cast iron architecture and of the neighborhood of SoHo was at a turning point. Long seen as outdated relics, cast iron buildings were attracting renewed interest for both their technological innovation and their elaborate but mass-produced architectural detail. Nonetheless, dozens were being demolished in Lower Manhattan during this period and even more demolitions were on tap. When LaGrassa took these pictures, the Washington Street Urban Renewal plan was well underway. He documented buildings such as the revered Bogardus Building at Washington and Murray Streets in mid-demolition. SoHo, with the largest concentration of cast iron architecture in the world, had been granted a reprieve the year before, when the Lower Manhattan Expressway plan was finally laid to rest. Meanwhile, empty and abandoned buildings in the neighborhood, also captured by LaGrassa, were being furtively repurposed by artists, turning industrial spaces into live/work lofts. 

LaGrassa documented this moment of transition as it was happening. SoHo, Tribeca, and their cast iron masterpieces were targeted for destruction, while preservationists, artists, and urban pioneers were reimagining new lives for them.

You can find all the photos here, including some unidentified ones not highlighted below. Some of the images that stumped our team, feature beautiful architectural details; do you know where they are?

A sidewalk in SoHo/Tribeca labelled “Patented Nov 12, 1845”:

a building entrance:

a corinthian colonette:

Other unidentified images show building facades:

… and streetscapes:

Yet others show the process of demolition or collapse, such as a corinthian colonette standing amidst structural remains:

… and building debris:

So if you think you know any of the locations or have any tips, please email us at info@gvshp.org. We thank you for your help and your support.

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