On August 17, 2022 full demolition permits were filed in DOB BIS for 813 and 815 Broadway. These two buildings are in the heart of Village Preservation’s proposed South of Union Square Historic District. While 813 and 815 are some of the smaller buildings on this stretch of Broadway, each contains a unique history that contributes to the sense of place created by the neighborhood’s pivotal role as a true convergence of residential, commercial, and social buildings in one place. The neighborhood South of Union Square can easily be described as a prototype for the “Walkable City,” where one could live, work, and socialize at establishments all within a short walk of each other. 813 and 815 Broadway have played all of these roles within the neighborhood.
813 Broadway is a four-story residential and commercial building constructed around 1850 as an investment property for Peter Goelet, a prominent New York City merchant and real estate entrepreneur. While the building has lost some of its decorative details over the years, it retains the same overall utilitarian architectural character as displayed in the 1899 illustration and the 1913 photo.
This building has strong historic significance in relation to the Civil War via the Hall of the Loyal National League, an organization that advocated for the abolition of slavery nationwide, which was located here. This significance is deepened by the fact that James A. Roosevelt, uncle to President Theodore Roosevelt, was the organization’s secretary. According to an 1863 issue of Vanity Fair, the Loyal National League reading room was open to the public every day except Sunday to spread the abolition message. At the same time, the Citizens’ Association of New York, an organization formed in 1863 by prominent New Yorkers to reform the New York City government to more effectively utilize tax dollars to improve the quality of life in the City. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista and the Libertarian League were located in this building.
813 Broadway is also significant to the art scene in the neighborhood South of Union Square. In 1867, Francis P. Macnabb, who was known as “a leading photographer” in New York City, opened his photography studio at this address. Not only was Macnabb highly sought after for his technical skill, the studio’s “central location” was a draw for sitters. By the mid-20th century, 813 Broadway was a studio and exhibition space for visual artists. In 1951, artists working at 813 like Miles Forst, John Grillo, Lester Johnson, Felix Pasilis, Wolf Kahn, and Jan Müller teamed up with gallerist Dick Bellamy to present a building-wide exhibition of new work. This laid the foundation for what would become Bellamy’s Hansa Gallery in the fall of 1952. By 1955, Robert de Niro, Sr. also kept a studio in this building.
815 Broadway is a two-story neo-Renaissance style galvanized iron commercial building designed and constructed in 1897 by architect John C. Westervelt for the Roosevelt family. This building was one of Westervelt’s first independent architectural commissions. Miraculously, the intricate iron detailing on the second floor is entirely intact.
This building housed De Young’s Photo Studio, advertised as “the largest photographic gallery in the city.” Joseph De Young (1843-1919) was a pioneer of the commercial photography studio offering accessible art to middle-class patrons. De Young’s work was described as “exceptionally fine” and a “well-known worker in oils, pastels, and crayons.”
By 1899, the first floor of 815 Broadway was occupied by a branch of Child’s Restaurant, one of the first restaurant chains in America. Brothers Samuel S. Childs and William Childs’ concept for the restaurant was to provide economical meals to the working class, quickly, with an emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene. Their novel design format included white tiles, white uniforms, and waitresses instead of then-common waiters.
The upcoming demolition of 813 and 815 Broadway illustrates a troubling future for the historic buildings South of Union Square if the neighborhood is left unprotected. Recently, the proposed South of Union Square Historic District was named one of 2022-2023’s “Seven to Save” — the biannual list of the most important endangered historic sites in New York State — by the Preservation League of New York State. This designation shines a spotlight on the incredibly valuable and varied architecture of this neighborhood, and its deep connections to civil rights and social justice history as well as transformative artistic, literary, and musical movements.
We have received a series of extraordinary letters from individuals across the world expressing support for our campaign to create a historic district for the neighborhood South of Union Square. To help protect these incredible historic structures and other buildings in this neighborhood, click here.