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Primary Resources: Industry

20. East River Generating Station
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20. East River Generating Station.

The Consolidated Edison Company’s East River Generating Station dominates the eastern section of 14th Street, stretching from 13th and 17th Streets and between Avenue C and the East River. It was erected primarily in two phases, the first campaign completed in 1926 and the second in the 1950s. Because of its size and prominence, the East River Generating Station plays an important role in the history of the East River waterfront, as well as in the general evolution of power plant architecture in New York City. The widespread low-scale fabric of the Lower East Side, consisting mostly of tenement buildings, went generally unchanged for most of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, while the rest of Manhattan was seeing the erection of skyscrapers and other tall buildings.

Driven by the increasing cost of power plant construction and the need to design “with an eye to the future,” the East River Generating Station of 1926 was designed to be less ostentatious than earlier stations that were typically of the Beaux-Arts Style, yet it was also less monolithic than contemporaries such as Hell Gate or Hudson Avenue Stations. The waterfront façade of this building was divided into three distinct bays in rectilinear form, a design scheme that allowed for easy expansion as need be. The building uses vertical fenestration and horizontal bands of limestone set within a field of dark red brick to give the façade a sense of visual excitement

In the years between the original structure and the second phase of construction, technology and architectural taste evolved so that the original design for the addition was no longer deemed appropriate. The 1950s addition is a monumental, but much less ornamented structure than its neighbor. This minimalist architectural style, which could be likened to Fascist Style architecture such as that of Giuseppe Terragni, is indicative of New York Edison’s transformation from a young, civic-minded company into a government-regulated corporation. The façade places thirteen massive concrete semi-cylinders in front of a monolithic brick form. This purity of form is admirable, echoing the interest of Modern architects of the time. The only mark that signifies the building’s function would be the massive smokestacks rising above the solid form.

The East River Generating Station is a powerful presence on the East River, not only hearkening back to the industrial nature of this waterfront throughout the history of Manhattan but, more specifically, Consolidated Edison’s prominence and importance in the city’s viability. The strong architecture of the two phases of the station is both functionally aware and emblematic of this important industry. To sustain these buildings as a symbol of historic significance and an iconic New York corporation will appropriately maintain this strong presence on 14th Street at the East River.

21. The Consolidated Gas Company Building
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21a. The Consolidated Gas Company Building, c. 1929.

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21b. The Consolidated Gas Company Building tower.

The impressive expansion of the Consolidated Gas Company Building mirrors the explosive growth of the utility industry in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Henry J. Hardenbergh (architect of other New York icons such as the Dakota Apartments and the Plaza Hotel, both designated landmarks) designed the original tall office building and its subsequent expansion in 1911 and 1913, respectively. A massive Beaux-Arts building with regular, repeating bays, the limestone-clad building was ornamented with such details as carved spandrel panels and striated pilasters to highlight the building’s architecture, especially at night, when it was illuminated with the emerging technology of the electric lamp. The base is composed of double-height first floor arches, capped by a single-story row set between two mild cornices.

After the 1913 construction, six additional stories were placed on top of the original twelve. Under this scheme, the upper stories of the 1911 façade are no longer the capital of the scheme, but create intermediary bands that emphasize the horizontality of the 15th Street façade with their defining cornices and more deeply recessed windows. The additional six stories have monumental pilasters that extend from the lines of the six-story pilasters below, and they are capped by a prominent cornice which follows the profile of the existing cornices below. In 1927, Warren & Wetmore (architects of the Plaza Hotel addition and the Grand Central Terminal façade) added their mark on the building by erecting a skyscraping tower that still rises far above the low-rise neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and Gramercy Park. The tower, rising from the three-story base of a monumentally-scaled Doric colonnade at the corner of Irving Place and 14th Street, is itself twenty-one stories in height and topped with a modest cornice. Set back above the cornice rises a temple form highlighted by four mounted clocks, which is capped by a pyramidal roof. Crowning this limestone-clad tower is a thirty eight-foot tall lantern. Intended to be dramatically lit at night as a potent symbol of the utility company, the “Tower of Light” was a memorial to Consolidated Gas’ employees who died in World War I. In 1929, an unknown architect (possibly the company’s leading designer, Thomas E. Murray) continues the existing design for the addition along the east side of the building.

Filling the otherwise empty space between the downtown and midtown clusters of tall buildings, this amazingly harmonious structure (considering it was built over almost two decades by three separate firms) is a testament to the rapidly expanding electricity industry in New York City.

22. 154-160 West 14th Street
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22a. 154-160 West 14th Street.

The steel frame twelve-story loft building at 14th Street and Seventh Avenue was designed in 1912 by Herman Lee Meader and is a spectacular example of the use of polychrome terra cotta. The base consists of golden terra cotta tiles with white floral relief work and green diamonds with blue surrounds. Blue diamond accents are used below each window in the central section of the tripartite design. The top of the building is emphasized with elaborate laurel wreaths and floral elements to the upper stories and the cornice. Additional materials include a pink granite base, light colored brick and horizontal pivoting steel frame windows, which are still largely intact.

At the turn of the twentieth century, very few architects were choosing to use polychrome terra cotta even though the technology was readily available and it was lightweight and durable. One earlier example of the use of polychrome terra cotta is Clinton & Russell’s red and green Beaver Building from 1903-04. Meader’s use of polychrome terra cotta in this building was one of the boldest of its time.

The organic motifs and geometric building forms, along with the use of laurel wreaths near the cornice selected by Meader for this loft building indicates the influence of Austrian architect Otto Wagner and his followers on the architecture of New York City. This can be seen in Wagner’s Karlsplatz in Vienna, Austria from 1889-1899. Meader went on to design the Cliff Dwellings Apartments at 240 Riverside Drive in 1914, for which is most well-known, also with extensive terra cotta ornament depicting Native American motifs.

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22b. 154-160 West 14th Street (detail).

23. Commercial Traders Building
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23. Commercial Traders Building.

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24a. Newtown Building (14th Street facade).

The Commercial Traders Building was erected in 1903 at 32 Union Square East, the site of the last remaining Greek Revival rowhouse on the Square and the final residence of the eccentric millionaire Richard Tighe. Known as the Reliance Building by 1905, it housed a variety of manufacturing and commercial businesses early in its life, including the Atlantic Dock Company, Stag Brand clothing and the Tanenblatt Celluloid Company. George H. Pigueron, a real estate broker who dealt throughout Manhattan (and transacted business with Henry Corn, a contemporary developer of consequence), assembled the site from the former Tighe estate and an adjoining building on 16th Street, the combination of which yielded its T- shaped plan. Pigueron’s brother William, also a real estate man and the architect of record on several other projects in the city, designed the structure.

The building is a tall, single bay loft in a vernacular BeauxArts style, replete with cartouches, sculptural molding, a mansard roof, and an unusual projecting peaked roof at the second floor. The steel structure is primarily clad in light stone, and while the floor plan would originally have been an open loft with a side elevator bank, it has now been altered on the ground floor to integrate circulation with its neighbor buildings. Although Pigueron was an amateur architect, his design enthusiastically engaged the growing scale and elegance of the Square, and represented a handsome attempt at applying popular architectural ideas to a uniquely New York building typology. It is the only single-bay Beaux-Arts loft on 14th Street or Union Square.

In 1903, the building was the tallest on Union Square East, and combined with the Decker Building, Bank of the Metropolis, and the [demolished] single-lot-wide building immediately west of the Century Building, would have contributed to the new sense of height that prevailed on the Square until the construction of the even taller Germania (1910) and Everett (1908) buildings. Although it has suffered recently at the hands of a multiple-building homogenization, the Commercial Traders Building tells the story of speculative construction in the Beaux-Arts mode on Union Square East.

24. Newton Building

The Newton Building, which has a narrow street frontage on 14th Street and much larger ones on 13th Street and Hudson Street, is unusual because of its combination of office and manufacturing uses. It is a characteristic work of the prominent commercial architect, James Farnsworth and famous New York real estate developer, John Pettit, who together built many speculative office buildings in the Lower Manhattan area to meet the growing demands of development of the city. Located in the vicinity of the Gansevoort Market district, this building represents the development of the area in the late-nineteenth century, and it is one of the early speculative office buildings on 14th Street. Built in 1890, it is also one of the late examples of the transitional construction type of load bearing masonry walls and iron beams on 14th Street.

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24b. Newtown Building (13th Street facade).