Thursday, April 23, 2020

Meats, Radios and Dance - 228 West Broadway

In the 1850's respected citizen Walter J. Oughton lived in 24-foot wide house at No. 118 West Broadway.  But by the end of the 1860's the quiet residential tone of the neighborhood would be mostly gone as commercial loft buildings began to rise. 

Developer Myron W. Dow  purchased the building at No. 118 West Broadway (renumbered 228 in 1897) from Thomas Hagan in January 1892; and simultaneously the property around the corner at No. 8 North More Street from Heilner & Wolf.  His one-year mortgage on the combined properties was $48,000; a considerable $1.37 million in today's money.

Dow hired the architectural firm of Maynard & Wistairr to design a six-story, bluntly L-shaped loft and store building on the site.  Construction began in February and proceeded quickly.  Six months later, on August 13, when Dow sold the property to John Heyzer the Record & Guide commented that the building "is now being finished."  

The architects had created carbon copy Renaissance Revival facades.  A cast iron storefront supported five floors of red brick trimmed in terra cotta and stone.  Cast iron framing of the upper floor openings allowed for expanses of glass.  Especially eye-catching were the arched windows of the third and sixth floors with foliate decorations cast into the sprandrels.  The modillioned cornice was flanked by beefy brackets.

The building sat within a district occupied by produce and wholesale grocery merchants.  Thomas & Davis, "provisions," operated from the fifth floor here and in 1916 the Puritan Food Company took the store and basement levels.  The major occupant of No. 228 West Broadway at the time was meat plant of Oxo Limited, Inc.  That firm renewed its lease in 1920, but change in the tenant list would soon arrive.

Meats and produce firms were gone from the building before the onset of the Great Depression.  In 1924, when the Austen Cologne Company took space, the Manufacturers' and Inventor's Electric Co. had been in the building for some time.

Founded in 1897, the Manufacturers' and Inventor's Electric Co. offered help to electrical designers.  An ad in The New York Times on December 6, 1925 offered consultation on "experimental work," light manufacturing and instruments and development of inventions.  The Radio Dealer commented that the firm "operates a general shop for the production of radio equipment" and that "they have a most complete plant" for the manufacturing of scientific and precision instrument parts.  The firm would remain at the address at least through 1929.

Among the tenants at mid-century was Bookkeeping Machines, Inc.  The firm shipped office machines by various manufacturers to customers around the world. 

Buffalo Courier-Express, March 2, 1955
Change was again on the horizon for the Tribeca neighborhood at the time.  In 1971 artist Michael Economos listed his address here when he participated in the Ten Downtown exhibition.  The annual show had been launched in 1968 by a coalition of ten artists.  He was typical of the young artists who were moving into loft spaces despite no city sanction for residential usage.

The cornice was intact as late as the 1940's.  photo via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.
No. 228 quickly transformed from manufacturing to artistic.  In 1973 Meredith Monk used a loft as a performance space.  On May 12 that year The New York Times columnist Don McDonagh reported on her program "Paris," performed by herself and Ping Chong.  "It also concentrated on simple walking or circling steps but was broken into dramatic vignettes," he said.

Additional performance spaces opened.  Maugaret Beau and Lee Nagrin's dance space was in the building by 1978; and in 1980 James Staley and his partner David Weinstein (both composers) created Roulette in their loft.  On October 10, 1982 Times journalist Tim Page wrote "James Staley has found a novel way to make use of the living room of his downtown loft:  he puts on concerts.  Fifty or 60 evenings every season, Mr. Staley tidies up his cluttered, comfortable dwelling, puts out some folding chairs and creates Roulette, a makeshift performance space."  Roulette still operates from the second floor today.

The Loft Theater was in the building by 1985.  It was the scene of innovative performances like the "choreographic chamber music" that summer during which Margaret Beals danced as pianist Thomas Hrynkiv played Chopin on the piano.

The ground floor became home to Bubble Lounge in the mid-1990's, described by Monique P. Yazigi in The Times as "stressless chic."  The name referred to the lounge's focus on Champagne.  The broad variety of the bubbly wine was offered by the bottle, glass, or half-glass.

It was not until 2002 that a conversion officially resulted in "living/work quarters for artists" above the restaurant level--just one per floor.

The handsome facades on both streets have suffered abuse, including the loss of the cornices and various decorative elements.  But overall they are intact, including the 19th century iron storefronts.

photographs by the author

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