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L-Shape Construction and the Power of Hold Outs: South of Union Square

We have spent a good deal of time highlighting the cultural history of the area South of Union Square, including its critical role in the African American, LGBTQ+, and women’s rights movements, as well as in the history of the arts, writers, publishing, and music. But the architecture of the area is equally significant and unique. A particularly interesting phenomenon you can spot in the area South of Union Square is the preponderance of “L-Shaped” buildings. This building footprint gave developers and investors more square footage while still having a facade on their desired blockfront. “Holdout” buildings in the area, which still stand today, were the reason behind this irregular shape being imposed upon the developers and architects.

74-76 Fifth Avenue (second building from left), ca. 1940, Municipal Archives.
74-76 Fifth Avenue 13th Street side, ca. 1940, Municipal Archives.

74-76 Fifth Avenue is a prime example of this phenomenon. Henry Corn was a major developer who was also responsible for the construction of 840 Broadway and other lofts on Lower Fifth Avenue. This 12-story loft building was designed in 1910 by Maynicke & Frank with secessionist style motifs. This building was the last to be constructed on the blockfront between 13th and 14th Streets on Fifth Avenue. Building on 74-76 Fifth Avenue and connecting to the lot front on East 13th Street gave Corn the square footage he needed for his lofts while also allowing for a place on Fifth Avenue which he was planning to develop. 

70 Fifth Avenue, view down East 13th Street.

70 Fifth Avenue, one block down from 74-76 Fifth Avenue and a NYC landmark, was constructed in 1912 by publisher George Plimpton. This striking 12-story Beaux Arts-style office building was designed by Charles Alonzo Rich. The desired square footage of the building was blocked from becoming a wider building on Fifth Avenue due to two hold-outs which still stand today. Number 68 Fifth Avenue was constructed between 1838-1840 and number 64-66 Fifth Avenue was constructed in three stages in 1892. To complete its desired size Plimpton bought the lot behind 64 Fifth Avenue which was previously a stable as well as numbers 2, 4, and 6 East 13th Street which were 3 story brick structures this created the L Shaped building we see today. 

88 University Place (the tall building on the right), ca. 1940, Municipal Archives.

88 University Place was constructed in 1906 for Middleboro Realty Co. Architect Samuel Sass designed the 10-story L-shaped building in the Beaux-Arts style. Similar to the others on Fifth Avenue, this building was constructed in this footprint to navigate around existing buildings. The facade on East 12th Street sits between the still extant firehouse constructed in 1898 at 22 East 12th Street (now Cinema Village), and a four-story building constructed between 1851-52 at 28-30 East 12th Street. The University Place facade sits between a still extant three-story building built as a stable at 90 University Place (1851-52) and a five-story building constructed in 1840 with its fifth story added in 1880 at 86 University Place.

24-26 East 12th Street facade of 88 University Place (left of image) and firehouse (now Cinema Village) at 22 East 12th Street, ca. 1940, Municipal Archives.

This pattern actually continued well into the 20th century. 825 Broadway, built in 1961, took over a pre-existing L-shaped footprint from the original building on its lot. 825 Broadway was originally the St. George Hotel, which consisted of two 19th century buildings that were connected to form an L between East 12th Street and Broadway. Then in 1961, at 825 Broadway and 49 East 12th Street, Max M. Simon designed a modernist play on a brick L-shaped apartment building for Jack Sobel.

Old St. George Hotel, C. 1900. Courtesy of Digital Culture of Metropolitan New york.

These L-shaped buildings offered developers the ability to construct their desired size of building in between new construction or existing buildings, historic even 100 years ago! Today, they still stand having facades on two streets, giving us multiple views of these magnificent constructions by Architects like Maynicke & Frank, Samuel Sass, Max M. Simon, and Charles Alonzo Rich. 

Explore the south of Union Square

We hope you’ll enjoy, explore, and advocate for saving this amazing neighborhood as we continue to add new layers of history to our interactive South of Union Square map.

To send a letter supporting landmark designation of these and other historic buildings south of Union Square, click here.

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