By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
When the New York State Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 adopted the rectangular grid plan of streets and lots, typically 25-feet by 100-feet each, for Manhattan streets between Houston Street and 155th Street, it was called “the single most important document in New York City’s development.”
Most lots were used for single-family residences many decades prior to and after 1811. Through the years, every imaginable architectural style has been applied to homes, but one that has stood the test of time is the Federal style. So as not to be confused with Colonial, Italianate, Greco, or other revival styles, we must understand how Federal houses are narrowly defined.
Federal houses were built between circa 1790 to 1835. The style was so named because it was the first American architectural style to emerge after the Revolutionary War. In elevation and plan, Federal-period row houses were quite modest, characterized by classic proportions, and ornamented with the simple detailing of lintels, dormers, and doorways, as well as brick facades laid in a Flemish bond; the brick always alternated a stretcher and a header in every row. (See the accompanying photo.) Usually two-to-three stories high, three bays-wide (referring to windows or door openings), with steeply pitched roofs, houses were of load-bearing masonry construction for party line walls, and contained wood joists for floors and the roof.
Twenty years ago, it was believed that about 330 such structures survived. An ongoing part of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s (GVSHP’s) mission was to advocate for the preservation of the remaining Federal-era houses. One hundred thirty-six of these houses have been landmarked and/or listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places, which include 13 individual New York City landmarks, and nine New York City historic districts.
Only three of the homes in the West Village are individually landmarked: 127, 129, and 131 MacDougal Street were among 13 federal houses GVSHP and The New York Landmarks Conservancy proposed for landmark designation; they were designated in 2004. These three Federal-style homes were built in circa 1828 to 1829. The two dormers on each were linked and the storefronts opened with picture windows between 1920 and 1950.
131 Charles Street, circa 1834, is a more intact version that seems to remain a single-family residence, setting quietly across from a wood lap-sided Colonial-style home from 1899.
651-655 Washington Street contains three homes built in 1829, set back from the street and nicely preserved as residences.
In the Weehawken Street Historic District is 398 West Street built in 1830 to 1831. It has been heavily altered for commercial uses, but still retains a special charm.
In 2010, the City designated the South Village Historic District as a landmark area. At the time, it was the largest expansion of landmark protections in Greenwich Village since 1969.
A huge portion of Bedford Street, mostly from the 1828 to 1829 era of construction, was included under these protections although most homes were also altered during periods of prosperity.
Likewise, many homes were built from 230-287 Bleecker Street, some as early as 1813 or as late as 1836, and were altered to meet the commercial needs of the owners. Many examples are also found along the short streets, like Carmen, Cornelia, Leroy, Morton, Jones, and Downing Streets.
In 2013, the City expanded the South Village Historic District, surpassing even the previous expansion. Now, the 140-202 blocks of Bleecker Street were included, plus Minetta Street, MacDougal Street, West 4th Street, and even West Houston Street, with homes built from 1828 to 1833.
To get the full 44-page report on these Federal-era homes, visit: