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Carter's View

From Archives Cobblestones rule!
By Carter Horsley Monday, July 10, 2006
A hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission on a proposal to replace the cobblestone pavement in front of 44 Laight Street in TriBeCa that had been scheduled as recently as last week for tomorrow has been laid over.

On June 20, Community Board 1 voted 29 to 0 to recommend that the commission reject by application by the building's owners to replace the cobblestones with concrete to make the sidewalk easier to traverse.

The structure at 44 Laight Street is known as the Grabler Building, and is in the middle of block between Hudson and Varick Streets a large open space that is part of the Holland Tunnel roadways in the TriBeCa North Historic District. Almost all of the street's roadway is covered with cobblestones but not all the sidewalks. The Grabler building has a truck loading dock platform that occupies most of its frontage and the remainder of its sidewalk is covered with cobblestones.

An inspection by yesterday indicated that many of its cobblestones were broken and that its sidewalk was fairly treacherous in terms of not being very level.

Cobblestone streets, especially in TriBeCa, SoHo and the West Village, are among the most desirable in the city because of their historic connotations whereby the stones in many instances were ballast from sailing ships. They also harken to an urban age where the comfort of automobile riders was of little importance, that is, when pedestrians and horses were kings.

The community board's resolution noted that "Although it is recognized that the entire block front has variegated pavers, with no curbed separation between roadway and pedestrian walkway and whereas it is nevertheless completely unacceptable to remove the existing cobblestones," it "may be of some use for representatives of all the buildings along the block to attempt a unified solution to any pedestrian issue, a solution that utilizes these cobblestones."

The building is a former warehouse that was converted several years ago to 18 residential condominiums. Its 14 parking spaces were sold at $169,000 each. This handsome building was designed in Renaissance Revival style by Clinton and Russell and erected in 1896. It was built for William J. Russell was named the Grabler Building after one of its early tenants that manufactured pipe fittings. It is within the TriBeCa North Historic District and is directly across from the original St. John's Park that was acquired in 1886 by Commodore Vanderbilt for conversion to a rail depot.

Its apartments have original brick walls, gas fireplaces, washers and dryers. The penthouse units have wood-burning fireplaces, exposures in three directions, six-burner Viking stoves, high ceilings and private terraces of more than 1,400 square feet. The building has a lobby attendant, video security, a key-locked elevator, and a mahogany and steel lobby designed by Bill Massie.

The building has an attractive marquee and no sidewalk landscaping and the second floor apartments have arched windows.
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.