Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Lost 1895 9th Regiment Armory - 125 West 14th Street

postcard from NYPL Collection

Architects Edward Sargent and W. E. Cable were little known when they submitted their designs to the competition for the proposed 9th Regiment Armory in 1894.  Among the eighteen other submissions, their bold plan stood out.

The cornerstone was laid on December 18 of that year.  It contained a history of the regiment, the roll of membership and contemporary coins and tokens. 

The massive structure, costing approximately $297,000, rose at 125 West 14th Street--a medieval fortress of rough-cut granite.  Crenelated towers, loops (the narrow openings for shooting arrows from inside), and arched entrances gave a solidly monumental quality to the building.   With 40-inch thick walls, it was built to withstand attack.  The colossal iron entrance doors were iron were ornamented with scrollwork.


The newly-completed Armory sat between brownstone residences to the west and the 14th Street Theatre to the east -- photo Library of Congress
The armory housed the 9th Regiment, also known as the 244th Coast Artillery, and the U.S. Army National Guard’s 42nd Infantry Division.  The 42nd would be commanded by Douglas MacArthur during World War I and would liberate the Dachau death camp in the next world war.

Only 22 years after its completion, city officials proposed selling the armory “in the interests of economy,” as reported by The New York Times on June 11, 1916.  Military spokespersons were decidedly against the idea.   Brigadier General George R. Dyer lashed out against the proposal saying he believed in “a proper economy,” but did not believe in one that would tend to ruin a military establishment.

Any further discussion was squelched by World War I.  

In 1917, as the United States entered the conflict the Corps of Artillery was stationed here.  Anti-aircraft batteries were organized to protect against attacking enemy airplanes.

But the gargantuan space was not solely about guns and bullets.  As early as 1898 it was the scene of and “orchestral and promenade concert” for the Spanish-American War effort.   Indoor baseball games, lawn tennis competitions, boxing matches, and track and field events were held within the soaring 64-foot high drillroom.  It was the scene of the annual New York Poultry Show and Farm Exposition for decades.

A near riot occurred in 1900 when the College of the City of New York and the 9th Regiment baseball teams played in the cavernous drill hall.  The umpire made a questionable call in the second half of the fifth inning that changed the tied score to 11 to 9 in the Regiment’s favor. 
The college boys were incensed.  When the official was unmoved, a group rushed to the locked gun cases at the end of the floor.  Before long the seats were emptied as the boys tried to break open the cases.

Only when a policeman arrived and threatened mass arrests did the young men leave the building; however they waited outside for the empire.  He was spirited out a different entrance by police.

The Poultry Show normally went much more smoothly.

In 1956 the fledgling motion picture company Galahad Productions shot scenes from its first movie, “Brave Tomorrow,” here.    Medical equipment borrowed from Mt. Sinai Hospital was brought in and, oddly enough, the medieval-looking structure was meant to depict Fordham Hospital.

In the second half of the 20th century the 174,000 square foot state-owned Armory was used by the city for welfare administration.   In 1996 14th Street developers urged the city to vacate.  Rob Walsh, executive director of the 14th Street Business Improvement District said “It’s become a valuable piece of property.”

The developers got their wish.

The fantastic castle-like 9th Regiment Armory was demolished, a victim of sitting on “valuable property.”   In its place a mixed-use residential project was erected.

4 comments:

  1. Oh. My. God. I can't believe that as recently as 1996 a building like that was allowed to be demolished. I bet whatever replaced it isn't a TENTH as monumental--or as memorable!
    I could understand putting it to other uses, but destroying it? Mind-boggling...

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  2. The building that stands in its place is pretty hum-drum. You can google map it and check it out. However nothing could be so monumental as that armory.

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  3. My great-great grandfather was the builder for this wonderful armory. Sad that I could have seen it had I known of it's connection to our family. And sad that it was torn down rather than modified. Thanks to those of you who appreciate it.

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  4. I remember attending roller derbies and wrestling matches there in the early 1960's.

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