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On the Town: 7 Archtober Buildings of the Day & NYPL Resources


Archtober is an annual month-long celebration of New York City's built environment, with thirty-one "building of the day" sites. That can be a lot to take in; here are seven locations that archi-lovers can explore any day of the year, using materials in the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, and a variety of other NYPL collections and resources.

Woolworth building and Brooklyn Bridge Manhattan side
Woolworth Building and Brooklyn Bridge, 1921. Irving Underhill, photographer. NYPL digital collections, #800560

The Woolworth Tower Residences, Manhattan

233 Broadway was built for Frank W. Woolworth (1854–1919) and designed by Cass Gilbert (1859–1934). Always a commercial structure, now a portion of the building is being converted to residences, and rebranded. My colleague, Phil Sutton, wrote this great essay in celebration of the building's centennial, in 2013. You can also search for books and more related to the so-called Cathedral of Commerce in the Library catalog, and these titles, about and by the architect:

Water Street black and white photo
55 Water Street  (right) and the Brooklyn Bridge span, 1936. Berenice Abbott, photographer. NYPL digital collections, # 707323F

55 Water Street, Brooklyn

Now home to Empire Stores, the building with the distinctive arched shutters near Brooklyn Bridge Park also holds exhibitions for Brooklyn Historical Society. You can explore its history, Brooklyn's role in waterfront shipping and store houses, and waterfront planning, with these, for starters:

Noguchi Museum, Queens

Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) established the namesake Garden Museum in 1985 with a primary purpose of showcasing his distinctive sculpture, furniture, illustrations, and stage set designs. Open to the public five days a week, in addition to being a venue for exhibiting contemporary sculpture, it is an example of adaptive reuse: the site originally held a photogravure plant and gas station. More on the artist, and similar institutions, follows, first, by subject:

Noguchi scuplture, Chassis
Noguchi's sculpture model for Chassis fountain, the Ford Pavilion, 1939-1940 World's Fair. NYPL digital collections, # 1673371


PS 186, 1920
PS 186 in 1920. Board of Education photo, NYPL digital collections, # 715648F

The Residences at PS 186 & Boys & Girls Club of Harlem, Manhattan

Architect Charles B. J. Snyder (1860–1945) had a vision: build public schools with good ventilation, fire protection, high ceilings, large windows, and room to play, and during his tenure as Superintendent of School Buildings from 1891–1923, he implemented his ideas in over 140 elementary, 10 junior high, and 20 high schools within the five boroughs. PS 186 is not a landmark, but it is a Snyder design, and it recently began a long-awaited transformation into affordable housing in addition to its role as a home for the local Boys & Girls Club. My colleague, Andy McCarthy, authored this Research Guide to NYC Schools, which is chock full of facts and useful links, including the history of public schools in the city, and you might also be interested in:

And you can see the block across the years in fire insurance maps from 1909, 1914, and 1916.

Alexander Hamilton U. S. Custom House, Manhattan

One might accuse this author of a fondness for Cass Gilbert, and that is a fair assessment. (He does make two appearances on this list.) The architect from Minnesota won the commission for the Port of New York's duty collection agency, somewhat controversially (one might say he knew a guy), and construction began in 1902. Named after everyone's favorite first Secretary of the Treasury, and now a National Historic Landmark (recognized for its significance in the history of the greater United States), the building presently houses the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian, and the New York City office of the National Archives. Sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850–1931) contributed the four-part allegorical sculptural group The Continents, outside, executed by New York stonecutting powerhouse the Piccirilli Brothers. There's a lot there, and you can start with these resources:

America and Asia by Daniel Chester French; image by B. Abbott
Custom House statue: in rear of N.Y. Produce Exchange Building, 2 Broadway, Manhattan, 1936; Berenice Abbott, photographer. NYPL digital collections, # 482769

Daniel Chester French:

Piccirilli Brothers:

National Archives:

Bowling Green, also, is well-represented in Digital Collections, from maps to engravings to post cards and photographs.

1884 map of area
2 Monitor Street as an empty lot,  in an 1884 Sanborn fire insurance map. NYPL digital collections, # 1810783

Carroll House, 2 Monitor Street, Brooklyn

2 Monitor Street, in this Google street view from 2014, did not seem real when I first saw it, but, yes—that's a residential building composed of individual shipping containers. Zowie! This magnetic paradise by Lot-EK architects is not entirely unusual for the firm, though it is a mild departure for what was once a neighborhood of vinyl siding-clad low-scale buildings. It's also a great example of how to research a building that's been demolished, What was here before?—a question we get in Milstein more frequently than you'd expect! Build your knowledge base with these titles on modular construction and prefabricated housing, shipping containers, and see Williamsburg over time in a new way using the maps by decade tool from the geniuses at the NYPL Space/Time Directory.

Governors Island, New York Harbor

Allo, Gov'nor! —Right, you didn't come here for jokes, forgive me. The small landmass in the Harbor has shifted shape over the centuries, in addition to acting as home—actual and metaphorical—to a variety of institutions and individuals, from public art to diplomatic summits, from one resident to a haven of bike paths and poetry festivals. See the change, in maps, guide books, and government publications:

New York Harbor map
A chart of New York Harbour : with the soundings, views of land marks and nautical directions for the use of pilotage, 1779. (Joseph Des Barres, publisher.) NYPL digital collections, # 1692866


Further Reading

So many buildings, so little time. It was hard to whittle this list down, and there are so many more #BOTD sites worth exploring! Got a favorite? A suggested research subject? Let us know if the comments. And, if you haven't already, take a gander at these:

This essay and guide was written in conjunction with a post by the author on New York City architecture appreciation festival, Open House New York, published earlier this month.


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