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The Oldest Building South of Union Square

Village Preservation’s proposed South of Union Square Historic District was named one of the “Seven to Save” by the Preservation League of NY State for 2022-2023. The area is full of striking late 19th and early 20th century loft buildings, late 19th century hotels, early 20th century apartment buildings, and mid-19th century institutional buildings. Some buildings are even older, dating to the early 19th century. This raises the question — when does the oldest building south of Union Square date to?

Is it 1847?

Grace Church, 2018
Grace Church, 1905

Churches, often constructed just outside of developing neighborhoods, can mark the incoming wave of development which will soon envelop it. Grace Church was built between 1846 and 1847, and designed by famed architect James Renwick, Jr. It was designated an individual NYC landmark in 1966. This striking gothic landmark sits on the corner of East 10th Street and Broadway, and has witnessed castiron department stores, terracotta lofts, stone apartment buildings, and brick rowhouses rise around it. However, while clearly one of the most noteworthy and historic, this is not the oldest building in the proposed historic district.

How about 1844?

In the 1840s, this area saw a massive wave of Irish and German immigration, increasing the need for housing. The Spingler-Van Bueren family came to own much of the land in this area on or near 14th Street via Charles Spingler in 1788. Spingler was a German immigrant who held many jobs as a shopkeeper, butcher, and farmhand, which gave him access to the money needed to purchase a large piece of land formerly owned by a leather dresser and Loyalist to the crown during the American Revolution named John Smith. When the Van Beuren’s acquired this land, they began to build the first permanent urban structures here, including a grand mansion, almost none of which survive to this day. But the small two-story brick structure at 15 East 13th Street does remain from this first building wave in this area. But amazingly this is not the oldest building in the proposed historic district. 

1839?

The four-story rowhouse at 64 Third Avenue was likely built for John B. Corlier in 1838-39. This striking building, constructed as a single-family home, stands well preserved at the southwest corner of 11th Street. Its brick facade, stone lintels, and detailed stone cornice make this corner building appear perhaps grander and more substantial than it is. The building illustrates the wealth moving northward through the city and into this area during the 1830s. Though over 190 years old, this building is nevertheless still not the oldest building in the proposed district. 

1837? 

105-107 Third Avenue (l. to r.) with the original pear tree in front, courtesy of New York Public Library.
105 Third Avenue, 2021

109 Third Avenue, a beloved building to many who pass by it, has strong connections with Peter Stuyvesant, Keihl’s, and the area’s development. The now highly-altered building was originally constructed in 1837 for William Stone as a Federal-style rowhouse. The building features a granite storefront, a brick facade, and a Juliet balcony. The building stands on what was the last Dutch colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant’s land, with a pear tree from Stuyvesant’s bowery growing outside until 1867. Combined with the building next door, it has housed the flagship store for Kiehl’s Since 1851, founded by first-generation German-American John Kiehl.

Despite this deep and rich history, this is not the oldest building in the proposed historic district.

1835-1836?

88-90 Third Avenue is a three-story building consisting of two consolidated lots constructed simultaneously between 1835 and 1836 in the Federal Style for John Coddington. This simple structure, along with its neighbors directly north, are some of the oldest in the area, and represent the earliest wave of urban development here. They are quite old — but not quite the oldest in the district.

It’s 1830!

822-808 Broadway (l. to r.) and Grace Church on the right. 816 Broadway is shown as the fourth building from left, with its stoop, 1899 NYPL
816 Broadway, 2021

This four-story rowhouse with a raised basement was built c. 1830, and retains a few of its 19th-century details. The current Greek Revival configuration likely dates to an 1851 alteration for Thomas Sturges. This building is sandwiched between two larger buildings, one a post-war apartment building and the other a five-story loft building constructed in 1868. 

Development in this area began in the 1830s following the Harlem Rail opening its line up Broadway as far as 14th Street in 1832. However, there was only a handful of new construction in the 1830s, though residential constructions took off in the 1840s up until the Civil War, with many speculative loft buildings and department stores being constructed after the war. This was likely built as a single family residence with possibly some sort of commercial activity or store in the ground or lower floor.

To explore more south of Union Square, head to our interactive map!

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