Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
Finding a 10-story, full block building is not a common occurrence in the Village, but on the lot bounded by Washington, Barrow, Greenwich and Christopher Streets there sits just that. Built in 1898 as the Appraiser’s Warehouse by the U.S. Federal Government, this structure was designed by the architect Willoughby J. Edbrooke, who left his practice in Chicago in 1891 upon being named supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department. English-born Edbrooke was known for his dedication to the Richardsonian Romanesque style in Chicago. He died before the completion of this New York commission, but his Chicago School of Architecture influence is clearly present in the Romanesque building with its strong yet simple composition, brick support piers, masonry arch construction, three foot thick brick base and diminutive scale of window patterns. It has even been considered the best example of the Chicago School outside of the Midwest.
According to the building’s State & National Register report (it was listed on the Register in 1972), the Appraiser’s Warehouse was built “for the use of Customs Agents to examine, text, and appraise imported commodities to determine the duty to be collected. Calling it a warehouse was somewhat of a misnomer since the ten stories were subdivided into 153 rooms for the use of the custom service, and items were stored only long enough to be appraised.” The specific location was chosen due to proximity to the Hudson River docks at the time of construction. In true Greenwich Village fashion, the actual block is completely asymmetrical, with each side a different length and at a different angle.
As GVSHP (Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation) noted in a recent blog post, “After the Federal income tax was instituted in 1913, revenue generated by import tariffs was no longer a crucial component of the Federal budget and by the 1930s the building was reconfigured into office space for the National Archives, a post office, and other Federal agencies.” It then became known as the Federal Building. By the 1960s, Federal tenants began to depart, but the City recognized the cultural and architectural merit of the building and designated it an official city landmark in 1966. By 1976, the federal government deemed the building to be government surplus property and its future was in jeopardy. Luckily, ownership of the structure was transferred to the New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC) who preserved the building and leased it to a private developer for residential conversion. Completed in 1988, the conversion retained the exterior façade, but cut a new interior atrium through the center of the building making it viable for the 479 loft-like luxury duplex apartments. The current apartment building is aptly called The Archive in homage to its past life.