TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal), to the south and east of SoHo, has four historic districts. Following the creation of the Hunt’s Point food market in the Bronx in the 1960’s many commercial food enterprises that constitute what was known as the Washington Market relocated and began to replaced in the 1970’s by artists in search of less expensive accommodations than could be found in the nearby SoHo district to the north.
In the next decade, the TriBeCa area became immensely popular and largely residential, a reflection of the southward shift of nightlife in Manhattan, and the many architectural merits of this interesting and historic neighborhood.
In the late 18th Century, much of the area was owned either by the Trinity Episcopal Church, mostly to the west, or the Lispenard family, mostly to the east, who leased out lots for residential development. Some early houses, such as the 1808 structure at 2 White Street, survive, but the area began to be commercialized after the opening of the A. T. Stewart Store, the city’s first major department store, on the corner of Broadway and Reade Street in 1846. The Stewart building, the first major Italianate commercial building in the city and the first to use Tuckahoe marble, later became the New York Sun Building and still stands across from City Hall Park along Chambers Street.
Particularly attractive buildings from the 1850’s and 1860’s are on the south side of Duane Street and the north side of Reade Street between Broadway and Church Street. Over the next two decades, numerous Romanesque Revival buildings were erected in the area including the interesting structure at 175 Duane Street designed by Babb & Cook in 1879 and the Dutch Revival building at 168 Duane Street designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch in 1886.
Much of the city’s important maritime industry shifted from the East River around the South Street Seaport to the Hudson River after the Civil War.
Later development has also been interesting. Perhaps the most notable building is the Barclay-Vesey Building at 140 West Street designed as the headquarters of the New York Telephone Company and the first building, according to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, "to exploit the requirements of the 1916 Zoning Code, leading to the tower’s massing. The building, designed by McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin with Ralph Walker in charge, has exquisite brickwork and interesting interiors and is surrounded by an arcade. A few years later, Walker designed a similar massive redbrick building for Western Union at 60 Hudson Street that has hints of Dutch and German Expressionist design influence and is an important Art Deco landmark.
The most beautiful building in the area, which is to the east of City Hall Park, which once had a very ornate Post Office Building at its southern end where Park Row meets Broadway, is St. Paul’s (Episcopal) Chapel and Graveyard, the city’s oldest surviving church and one of the country’s great Georgian-style structures. It was erected between 1764 and 1794.
TriBeCa’s heavy traffic congestion led to the erection of the West Side Elevated Highway (also known as the Miller Highway) above West Street. In the 1970’s, city planners advanced a very ambitious scheme to replace it with a major new road that would have been part of a new park along the river, but environmentalists, led by Marcy Benstock, successfully opposed the plan, which would have been built mostly with Federal funds and given the West Side the equivalent of Riverside Park.
In the 1980’s, part of the elevated highway collapsed and it was soon demolished. The state and city then advanced much smaller plans to try to provide some waterfront access and park facilities. A very handsome pedestrian bridge across West Street connects part of TriBeCa with the north end of Battery Park City, the huge landfill project, and the new Stuyvesant High School.
The city’s most attractive school is Public School 234, which was completed in 1988 on Greenwich Street between Warren and Chambers streets and was designed by Richard Dattner with watchtowers, sentry boxes, arches and a delightful large fence.
In the 1980’s, several attractive mid-rise apartment buildings were erected near the school included Dalton-on-Greenwich at 303 Greenwich Street. Nearby is the sprawling, five-block-long megastructure of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, which was completed in 1980 and designed by Caudill Rowlett Scott, and the quite handsome Independence Plaza North residential complex of tall towers on Greenwich Street between Duane and North Moore Streets that was completed in 1975 and designed by Oppenheimer, Brady and Vogelstein with John Pruyn, associated architects. These 40-story buildings of red brick and striated concrete block loom over a group of Federal townhouses on Harrison Street that were dismantled and moved from other locations nearby and sold for only a few hundred thousand dollars each as "shells" in the late 1970’s.
Also nearby is a large Shearson Lehman office building designed by Kohn Pederson Fox, one of the city’s premier corporate architects.
The traffic that leads to the Holland Tunnel on Canal Street that connects with New Jersey is heavy but the area once was quite fashionable as St. John’s Park was surrounded by Federal and Greek Revival Houses until it was sold by Trinity Church for use as a railroad terminal until it became a tunnel entrance in the late 1920’s.
The New York Mercantile Exchange used to be located at 6 Harrison Street in a fine 1884 building designed by Thomas R. Jackson that was converted to offices in 1987 by R. M. Kliment and Frances Halsband, architects.At the end of the 20th Century, SoHo, TriBeCa and NoHo are widely revered for their architectural treasures and the tremendous energy and style of their residents and workers and celebrants in stark contrast with how many planners valued the area for many years. When the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey was being constructed in the 1920’s, some planners, including the Regional Plan Association, began to advocate a highway across Lower Manhattan to connect it with the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges. Robert Moses proposed it to Mayor LaGuardia in 1940 and it soon was included the city’s master plan. Funding was not available, however, and the plan was dormant until 1956 when Congress enacted the Interstate Highway and Defense Highways Act and Moses revived the plan for the Lower Manhattan highway as well as highways across 34th, 59th and 125th Streets. The Lower Manhattan Expressway, as it was known, would have cut across SoHo on Broome Street, but the plan was voted down by the city’s Board of Estimate in 1962, although the next year it was drawn on the City Map, making properties along the route eligible for condemnation.
Opposition to the plan was widespread, but it remained on the map. Jane Jacobs, a planner, was arrested at a public hearing on the highway for disorderly conduct and Congressman John V. Lindsay made opposition to it part of his successful campaign in 1965 for mayor, although three years later when the federal government said it would underwrite construction of new buildings and parks deemed necessary parts for a highway, Lindsay, as Mayor, proposed that the Lower Manhattan Expressway be put partly below grade. The year before, the Ford Foundation commissioned architect Paul Rudolph to study the expressway and his study, published in 1972, called for a megastructure that will rise above a submerged highway with many different uses. The renderings of his proposals were very dramatic, very impressive, and very innovative.
In their fine book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between the Second World War and the Bicentenntial," (The Monacelli Press, 1995), Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman noted the drama of Rudolph’s design:
"Though undeniably spectacular, particularly in its technological bravura and the complexity of its functional organization, the overall Brobdingnagian scale and uniformity of architectural expression of Rudolph’s uninterrupted linear city gave it a nightmarish aspect quite out of keeping with the period’s increasingly preservation-minded contextualism."
The plan was defeated by the city’s Board of Estimate in 1969 and removed from the City Map in large part because of concerns about congestion and pollution. It was one of the last major automobile-friendly plans in Manhattan until the plan of Mayor Giuliani in 1998 to fight jaywalking and have no pedestrian crossings at certain intersections in midtown to improve car traffic.
Rudolph’s plan was extremely brilliant and exciting and should have been applied to the exposed tracks north of 97th Street on Park Avenue and perhaps even to Houston Street.