-By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
53–61 Gansevoort Street was constructed in 1887, at the time of the widening of Gansevoort Street, during one of the major phases of development of the area, when buildings were constructed for pro-duce and food-related businesses. An extension of Washington Street from Little West 12th Street to West 14th Street, undoubtedly in response to the increase in traffic to the markets, meant these longer and broader streets contributed to the district’s character. For nearly a century, from 1847 to 1942, this property belonged to the promi-nent Goelet family that held exten-sive real estate in Manhattan. The Gansevoort Market Historic District is the only remaining marketplace district aside from Tribeca that served the once-flour-ishing Hudson River commercial waterfront. Gansevoort Street (formerly Great Kill Road, renamed in 1837) and the riverside Fort Gan-sevoort (1812) were named for Revolutionary War General Peter Gansevoort (who died in 1812). The fort had to make way in 1851 for infill and freight yards for the shipping piers. This imposing vernacular-style building, which is largely intact, contributes to the historical-ly-mixed architectural character and varied uses, including mar-ket-related functions, of the Gansevoort Market Historic District. The building further contributes to the visual cohesion of the district through its brick and stone facades, metal canopy, cast-iron storefronts, and the fact that it is one of seven buildings in the district designed by architect Joseph M. Dunn, an established architect in New York by 1872 who remained in practice through at least 1894. Dunn executed a number of commissions for the Goelet family during his career, e. g., 823, 825, 827, and 829 Washington Street (1880), 400 West 14th Street (aka 37–45 Ninth Avenue, 1886), 414 West 14th Street (1887), and this 53–61 Gansevoort Street (1887).
In this 1930’s photo, 53-61 Gansevoort Street had painted horizontal advertising bands for its produce and food-related businesses. Note the railroad tracks on the street paving.
THEN: The Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report for the historic district, dated September 9, 2003, describes the history of the market and the building.
Credit: NYC Municipal Archives.
55 Gansevoort Street has been transformed into a guesthouse for Restoration Hardware. Note the unusual curved glass and sash corner windows, matching historic-style windows. Credit: B.J. Pape.
NOW: The residential and industrial area transformed over the years to a marketplace, then as a meatpacking district, and now as a shopping and dining magnet. Down at Washington Street is the hustle and bustle of the Highline, the Whitney Museum by Renzo Piano Building Workshop (2016), and the 338-room Standard Hotel, Beer Garden, and Grill, by Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partnership), completed in 2009. Home interiors company Restoration Hardware (RH) has a store at 9 Ninth Avenue, aka 7 Little West 12th Street, having added two glassy floors with a restaurant above a gutted out two-story shell of old brick facades.
Credit: B. J. Pape.
Dunn’s commercial work included stores in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District, including the cast iron-fronted 47–49 Mercer Street (1872–73) for Alexander Roux, 39–45 Wooster Street (1884–85), and the Neo-Grec style cast iron-fronted 857 Broadway (1884) for Peter Goelet in the La-dies’ Mile Historic District. Visual cohesion is provided to the historic district streetscapes by the predominance of brick as a facade material, the presence of buildings designed by the same architects, the existence of metal canopies originally installed for market purposes, the one-to-six-story scale. and the Belgian block paving still visible on most streets. The street layout is shaped by the tran-sition between the irregular pattern of northwestern Greenwich Vil-lage (as far north as Gansevoort Street) and the grid of the Com-missioner’s Plan of 1811. One of the district’s unique qualities is that earlier buildings were retained and altered for mar-ket uses, creating mixed use con-sisting of single-family houses, multi-family dwellings, and indus-trial buildings. The stretch of Ninth Avenue between Gansevoort and West 15th Streets offers a vista of a distinctive Manhattan streetscape featuring twenty buildings of the 1840s. The area’s early mixed use is evident in the rare surviving early factory building on a flat-iron-shaped lot at 669–685 Hud-son Street (ca. 1849–60) built for Col. Silas C. Herring, a nationally significant manufacturer of safes and locks. Another business from this period was the woodworklng factory of the prominent building firm of James C. Hoe & Co. (ca. 1850–54) at 52–58 Gansevoort Street. The second factor spurring development within the historic dis-trict was the 1878 partition of real estate owned by the Astor family, which had remained underdeveloped since John Jacob Astor I’s acquisition in 1819. Of the 104 buildings in the district, over one third of them were constructed by the Astors and related family members. Now RH has developed RH Guesthouse, a 14-bed hotel in the five-story building at 55 Gan-sevoort Street. In the rooms, Euro-pean oak walls, floors, ceilings and moldings flow into two full bath-rooms of vein-matched Italian travertine slabs. A wall of south-facing soundproof windows and architectural lighting update the details. The architect is Caro-line Otto of Tribeca-based Anderson Architects, with preservation consultant Jacqueline Peu-Duval-lon. Their rooftop addition had been the biggest sticking point for the LPC, but it now appears masked behind a restoration-style parapet. The rooftop offers an architectural oasis of sculpted hedges and Lon-don Plane trees surrounding a 40-foot mosaic infinity pool with pan-oramic views of downtown New York, Freedom Tower, and the Hudson River; a spa pool is perched on the building’s edge. Morning breakfast, afternoon lunch, and candlelit dinner is offered on the private dining terrace year-round, as well as on the ground floor. Like many restaurateurs, RH has taken advantage of the sidewalk area under the canopies to enclose a seating area for its restaurant. The faire is reportedly nothing to write home about, especially for the pric-es, e. g. 14 oz. Westholme Austra-lian Wagyu wood-grilled for $125, or organic Giannone chicken, nat-ural jus, rosemary, and garlic (half for $42 or whole for $84), and whole Branzino, wood-grilled, ol-ive oil, and lemon for $56. The gourmet pantry offers a selection of charcuterie, crudités, berries, and a fresh baguette.
Brian J. Pape is a citizen architect in private practice serving on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Committee (speaking solely in a personal, not an official, capacity). He is also co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, a member of AIANY Historic Build-ings and Housing Committees, is LEED AP “Green” certified, and is a journalist specializing in architec-ture subjects