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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

tribeca, 1936 to today


above: the corner of West Street at Warren Street in 1936. below: 101 Warren Street on the site today
click on any image to enlarge it | 1936 photo by Berenice Abbott | 2009 photo by Peter Comitini

101 warrren streettribecaI had some fun today standing in the approximate foot steps of Berenice Abbott and rephotographing the above scene, which she shot on April 8th, 1936 as part of Changing New York, her definitive record of New York in the 1930s which was sponsored by the Federal Art Project. I happen to live in Tribeca, a block away from this scene at the corner West Street at Warren Street. It had been a vacant lot ever since I can remember, part of the "urban renewal" which cleared out much of the infrastructure of the industrial waterfront in the 1960s. The new condominium tower at 101 Warren Street now rises on the site, along with the neighborhood's Whole Foods, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Barnes & Nobel. It epitomizes the modern day transformation of the area. The residences were designed by the New York office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill for developer Edward Minskoff, and are some of the best designed and built anywhere in Manhattan in recent memory. This is a special building that outperformed many others during the recent NYC building boom because it delivered superior product and location. The sales here reached an average selling price for the initial sponsor's offering of around $1500 per square foot (that's just an average, many units sold much higher) and pushed above $3800 per square foot for a unique $22,000,00 penthouse with panoramic river views. With the exception of one of the penthouses, the building completely sold out its 227 sponsor units, there are several apartments available for resale that can be shown too. It is quite a contrast to the lower west side of the Manhattan that Berenice Abbott walked 73 years ago. The Museum of the City of New York describes the West Street of the 1930s like this:

"The Eastern side of West Street was lined with cheap hotels, bars, luncheonettes, auto repair shops, and gas stations"

In comparing the two images above, the massive, Art Deco, New York Telephone building serves as a visual landmark further down West Street in the new photo, while DC37 union headquarters now occupies the Abbott shot's World Telegram building, just to the north of it; note the naked steel armature for the signage which still sits on the roof. The College of Insurance building and 101 Warren Street now occupy the foreground, while the Bank of New York building and Seven World Trade Center rise in the background.

Photo by Fred Palumbo, New York World-Telegram & Sun
Washington MarketI find myself endlessly fascinated with the metamorphosis of the city. Tribeca's western most area was once the bread basket of New York. Produce and meats came down along the Hudson by ship from upstate, then were processed, stored and distributed from the waterfront. The marketplace stretched from the north at the Gansevoort Market in the "meatpacking district", southward through Greenwich Village, Soho, and Tribeca, to the Washington Market, which once occupied the World Trade Center site. It's 1940's iteration is shown here just to the south side of the of the New York Telephone building.

Most of the industrial waterfront and the rest of Tribeca, has been reclaimed as residential luxury lofts and apartments in this most recent chapter of downtown Manhattan. While many of West Street's historic structures have been lost, much of Tribeca to the east has been preserved from it's industrial past, and is now protected by several historic landmark districts which will help insure that our neighborhood retains its distinct character for future generations.

updated 01.29.2009