Off the Grid: A View South on Nassau Street

Off the Grid: A View South on Nassau Street

The easily navigated, Cartesian street grid covers most, but not all of Manhattan. The origin of The Grid lies in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811. Up to that date, Lower Manhattan was were all the streets were; the rest of the island consisted of isolated patches of farmland. Lower Manhattan was "a knot of short streets, some dating back to the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. They were shaped by local conditions, built piecemeal, and lacked a unifying order."

Many of these off-The-Grid streets still run in their old locations, and being non-rectilinear and unlike the majority of arrow-straight streets and avenues in NYC, they can be interesting. 

One of these ancient thoroughfares is Nassau Street, which runs from Wall Street in a general northwest direction to Spruce Street, just next to the approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge. Unlike your normal ruler-straight Manhattan street, Nassau has two distinct kinks on its way from Wall Street to Spruce. Being an older street, there is some interesting older architecture along Nassau Street, and that's the subject of this post, with the accompanying photo being the view from the corner of Nassau and Bleeker Streets, looking south.  

The star of this view, the all-white, classical structure, is the Bennett Building (1873,) at the northwest corner of Nassau and Fulton Streets. The architect was Arthur Gilman, who chose French Second Empire as the style. Second Empire became all the rage in the U.S. after the Civil War, and Gilbert had previously completed several successful designs in that style, including Boston City Hall (1865, now called "Old City Hall,) and the Equitable Building* (1870) at 120 Broadway. Gilman's original design was six floors plus a mansard roof "attic." Modifications in 1890-92 and 1894 removed the mansard roof and added 4 additional floors, so the building now stands at ten stories and 125 feet. Gilman's design called for a cast-iron façade, an off-site manufacturing technology that was new, innovative, and cost-effective for the early 1870's. Unlike many of the cast-iron building that you'll see in SoHo, the Bennett Building has three full-height cast iron façades, fronting on Fulton, Nassau, and Ann Streets.  With the additional floors added by 1894, the Bennett Building became, and is to this day, the tallest building in the world to utilize a cast-iron façade.

The namesake of the Bennett Building, and the man who invested the capital to build it, was James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the editor and publisher of the New York Herald newspaper (the institution that was itself the namesake of Herald Square in midtown Manhattan.) By the early 1870's, this neighborhood on Nassau Street had become the location for office space in Lower Manhattan, and Bennett took note of this when he located the building. 

The supporting actor in this view is the reddish-tan brick and terra-cotta structure immediately across Fulton Street from the Bennett Building, 130 Fulton. This building was constructed 1891-1893 according to a Romanesque Revival design by the architectural firm of W. E. De Lomos and August W. Cordes. The architects wrapped the building elegantly around the corner of Nassau and Fulton Streets, using expensive curved glass for the corner office windows. The brick floors sit on top of a classy four-story rusticated limestone base. 

130 Fulton underwent and thorough renovation and modification as it was converted to co-op apartments in 2005. The architect, Elliott Vilkas, did a great job with the renovation part, but unfortunately, his modification added four floors to the top of the building that are totally out of context with the original design. 

The final building I want to mention is shown as just a red-brick sliver on the right edge of this view. It's now The Beekman, a Thompson Hotel. Constructed from 1881 to 1883 as Temple Court, this beautiful pile of brick and terra-cotta became vacant in 2001 and stayed that way for a number of years. Glad to say, the structure has since been beautifully renovated and reopened in August 2016 as The Beekman. Take a look at what it looks like now. 

That's it for now. I'll do a whole post on The Beekman as soon as I can get back to NYC and take the time to get some exterior and interior photos. 


* The 1870 Equitable Building, designed to be fireproof, was destroyed in the very cold winter of 1912 when water from firefighters hoses froze on the surface of the building without extinguishing the fire.  The structure that replaced it, also called the Equitable Building, is still extant at 120 Broadway. 

Lower Manhattan, Illuminated

Lower Manhattan, Illuminated

Annapolis, MD:  Midshipman in Arcade

Annapolis, MD: Midshipman in Arcade