Ambulance sirens, darting bikers, and fantastic shopping places are all seen in New York City’s downtown. New York is a metropolis of neighborhoods, and one area in Manhattan stands out for its rich history of distinctive architecture. The community was known as “SOuth of Houston” is called “SoHo” because it is in the heart of Manhattan’s downtown. Chester Raskin, a city planner, invented the name in a 1963 paper on city planning. SoHo district in midtown Manhattan is home to the world’s most extensive collection of cast iron façades.
Cast-Iron Architectural New York’s Marvel
An architectural marvel of its day, the cast iron design was a game changer in how structures could be put together at the time of its development. The adoption of cast iron as a building method sparked a rapid expansion, economic growth, and the northward expansion of New York City. It emerged in the mid-1800s; pouring molten iron into sand molds allowed for decoration and intricacy. The material’s robustness allows for more oversized windows and a slim, rectilinear grid. Many Manhattan foundries made prefabricated columns that could be ordered online and delivered to the building site. The irony is decorative, faux-historical buildings that are also modern.
Walking around SoHo in New York City today is like being transported to another era. Wild-west facades, industrial revolution innovation, and worldwide fashion trends. Spacious storefront windows work as effectively today as when 19th-century businesses competed for visibility. Strong and thin iron columns replaced brick or stone pillars that obscured merchandise. Originally cast iron was exclusively used for shop windows on the street level, supporting six layers of masonry above it.
SoHo boasts the most significant number of cast iron structures in the world. Cast iron architecture stays unique throughout this neighborhood’s up and down seasons. New York’s street architecture would be bland and lifeless without the cast-iron exterior.
Famous Example of Cast Iron Architecture in New York City
1. New York’s 1857 Bruce Building
James Bogardus is a prominent New York City cast-iron architect. George Bruce opened his printing shop at 254-260 Canal Street. Architectural historians believe George Bruce hired engraver and inventor James Bogardus to create his 1857 structure. Even for those unfamiliar with cast-iron construction, the Canal and Lafayette cast-iron facade is a New York City tourist destination.
2. 1857 E.V. Haughwout & Co. Building, NYC
The E.V. Haughwout & Co. Architect John P. Gaynor planned the building, and Daniel Badger created the cast-iron front at his Architectural Iron Works. Badger’s Haughwout Store as compared to the George Bruce Store on Canal Street. Haughwout’s installed the first commercial elevator in 1857. Architects were already able to design skyscrapers. With safety elevators, humans might reach greater heights. According to E.V. Haughwout, this is an excellent example of customer-focused design.
3. Edgar Laing Stores
The first self-supporting, multi-story building with iron walls was the Edgar Laing Stores in the Washington Market District, and it served as a model for all cast-iron structures that came after. The Landmarks Preservation Commission recognized it as a historic site in 1970. When urban redevelopment nearly wiped out the neighborhood, the building was deconstructed and kept for future reconstruction; however, the pieces were stolen, possibly for sale as scrap metal.
4. 478-482 Broadway/Top Shop
Richard Morris Hunt used cast iron for No. 478-482 Broadway, dubbed the Roosevelt Building. While other builders used iron to simulate stone, Hunt used its adaptability to improve the structure. The 1874 five-story skyscraper was revolutionary. Architectural Record called it “the most serious attempt” to use the material’s strength. Hunt’s thin colonettes between second through fourth-floor windows allowed for large expanses of glass, unachievable in a masonry building. In the 20th century, the building attracted the garment trade. Upper East Side flower Madderlake took over the 5,000-square-foot ground level in 1989 as the Cast Iron District renaissance. Currently, No. 478 Broadway is home to Topshop, a four-level clothing store.
5. The Greene Street
Cast iron structures flourish on Greene Street, perhaps the best place to see them all. The Queen of Greene Street is the name of one of the most well-known cast iron structures. 28 and 30 of these streets house a beautiful Second Empire-style structure, the King of Greene Street, also designed by Isaac F. Duckworth, is located just a few blocks away at number 72. With its white front and Corinthian columns, the Gunther Building sits at the junction of Green Street and Broome. Since 1978, this structure has been on the National Register of Historic Places. Located at 469 Broome Street, it underwent a complete restoration in 2001.
6. Cast-Iron House/ 67 Franklin Street
Cast Iron House, a Tribeca luxury condominium building with a cast-iron front designed by W. Wheeler Smith and built-in 1882, is precisely what its name implies: a cast-iron facade. The facade has been recognized as a New York City Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. However, a brand-new structure, designed by the Tokyo-based architect, lies behind the beautifully restored façade. Intricate decoration moves from floor to floor on the iconic building’s neoclassical façade, which stands six stories high. Although Shigeru Ban reimagined the inner proportions of the 13-unit structure, he preserved its historic features while introducing two glass and steel penthouses that epitomize contemporary living at its finest.
7. Tiffany & Company
Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White designed the Tiffany and Company Building for Tiffany & Co., a luxury goods retailer. Venice’s Palazzo Grimani di San Luca inspired the building’s facade; with seven floors high, the structure has a tiered façade with three horizontal tiers. Despite its 140-foot height, the building is slightly taller than an average 11-story skyscraper. The outside is unaltered, but the interior has been completely redesigned. The structure now stands at a total height of eight stories after the lowest layer was raised by one floor. Iron and terracotta accents and marble dominate the facade. It is divided vertically, with five bays on the west side facing Fifth Avenue and seven on the north side facing 37th Street.
8. Theatre on Bouwerie Lane
Since 1974, the Bouwerie Lane Theatre has operated as a performing arts center. The Henry Engelbert-designed cast iron building is a rare specimen of the French Second Empire style and is a historic landmark. The German Exchange Bank originally occupied the building, eventually becoming the Bond Street Savings Bank seat. In 1963, the space was transformed into a theater. Fortunately, the original vault and teller windows can still be found in the basement.
9. The Croft Building of Appleton Century
Despite a fire that destroyed much of it in the late 1870s, Robbins and Appleton, a timepiece company, decided to reconstruct this superb cast-iron edifice. Newly refurbished, the glass façade of this office building faces northward as the residential area departs and printing-related businesses follow them to Lafayette Row.
10. House of Gilsey
The Gilsey Hotel opened in 1871 and was the city’s first hotel to offer telephone service to its customers. Among the many hotels in New York City, the Gilsey, the Grand, the Coleman, Martinique, and the Sturtevant are among the most popular for military and navy officers and tourists. The Gilsey has been renamed the New Breslin, and the Imperial, the city’s most luxurious hotel, has been built and expanded in less than fifteen years, making it the fastest-growing hotel in New York City.
Since the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, New York City’s cast iron structures accumulated to a hefty total of about 250, with the majority located in SoHo. In addition to being less expensive to create than stone or brick facades, cast iron facades were also faster to fabricate since they were made in molds rather than by hand and then fastened to buildings’ faces. The use of ornate cast iron façades began to brighten existing buildings, but it has since spread to new construction. A damaged piece can easily be remade, making this an extremely efficient ornamental solution. The same mold can be used for several buildings. Enlarged windows and lofty ceilings were made possible by the structural support supplied by the iron, which allowed for enormous open spaces with only columns for support.