Manhattan’s Historic Buildings

Some of Manhattan's most important buildings might not have survived the Lower Manhattan Expressway, fortunately, the expressway idea didn't take and these historic locations have remained a testament to Jane Jacobs' progressive urban planning ideas.


 

Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses were integral in the urban development of Manhattan. In the battle of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, Jacobs won and managed to ensure that these important buildings and green spaces endured in Manhattan’s cultural landscape.

Washington Square Park

The original wellspring of Greenwich Village culture is typically teeming with life, even with 20,000 skeletons buried underneath the former graveyard. Marching suffragists, pamphleteers and outspoken beatniks have mostly given way to New York University students, frazzled locals and wannabe performers, and the park is currently being renovated in phases (not without protest) to add lawn space and to align the fountain and arch. (Southern terminus of 5th Avenue)

72 – 76 Greene Street

The devotion to cast-iron restoration on Greene Street between Canal and Houston is awesome, but perhaps nowhere more so than at this address, a.k.a. the King of Greene Street.

Built in 1873 by a cast-iron specialist for the Gardner Colby dry goods company, this gorgeous cascade of columns and zigzagging fire escapes allude to SoHo’s original magnificence. (Between Spring and Broome streets)

The Drawing Center

Established in 1977, this understated museum and education centre is the country’s only fine arts institution focusing solely on drawing, be it illustration, conceptual sketches, drawing-based installations or ideas more difficult to articulate.

Exhibits tend towards the underappreciated work of masters and marginal artists, and a secondary gallery showcases emerging talent. (35 Wooster St.; 212-219-2166; drawingcenter.org)

The Police Building

The words “Beaux Arts” and “cop shop” might seem incongruous, but this Edwardian Baroque gem proves otherwise.

Built in 1909 to emulate the grandeur of Manhattan’s nearby municipal buildings, the boys in blue were headquartered here until 1973. Slated for demolition in the Lomex plans, it was eventually converted into a 55-unit luxury residence. (240 Centre St., between Broome and Grand streets)

Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz

This modest, easily overlooked Filipino house of worship, has strong ties to the Lomex battle.

Back then, it was called the Church of the Most Holy Crucifix, its parishioners were mostly Italians and their pastor, Father Gerard La Mountain, was instrumental in saving the neighbourhood by enlisting Jacobs’ help. La Mountain and Jacobs allegedly planted the tree out front after the Lomex was scrapped. (378 Broome St.; 212-925-2428)

Tenement Museum

Six dwellings inside a restored 1863 tenement building have been recreated to showcase the extraordinarily ordinary lifestyles of immigrants who once over crowded the Lower East Side. Daily tours probe the lives of specific residents from different eras using tenement artifacts and archival research, and neighbourhood walks explore the notions of gentrification and community. (108 Orchard St.; 212-982-8420; tenement.org)

Cafe de la Esquina

If the lingering droves don’t tip you off, this reinvented corner deli makes cheap, quick and delicious Mexican grub into an art form. Plated meals, tortas and tacos are packed with authentic flavours such as stewed chicken, avocado, cabbage and chipotle salsa.

The adjoining cafe and brasserie boasts an expanded, similarly scrumptious menu, plus a dangerously large tequila selection. (114 Kenmare St.; 646-613-7100; esquinanyc.com)

Photos by Ken Kaminesky