Hotel Chelsea

222 West 23rd Street
1883-85; Hubert, Pirsson & Co.

The famed Hotel Chelsea was one of the city’s first cooperative apartment buildings, originally named the Chelsea Apartments. Architect and developer Philip Hubert was influenced in
bringing the co-op to America by the philosophy of early socialist French thinker Charles Fourier, who imagined a utopian society based on communal associations. Hubert designed the Chelsea with apartments for both co-op members and renters at a variety of income levels, with shared spaces to facilitate community interaction. The massive and imposing 12-story, red-brick building is 25 bays wide, fronted by tiers of delicate iron balconies, and capped by dramatic pyramidal slate roofs, gables, dormers, and chimneys. It has elements of Aesthetic Movement, Queen Anne, and High Victorian Gothic styles, and is notable for its early use of fireproof construction methods such as load-bearing masonry walls and wrought iron beams. When Hubert’s experiment bankrupted in 1905, the building was converted into a luxury hotel visited by prominent guests including Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, Sarah Bernhardt, and painter John Sloan. After World War II, as the hotel declined and room prices fell, it attracted Jackson Pollock, Virgil Thomson, Larry Rivers, James Schuyler, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, and Jack Kerouac. Arthur Miller moved into Room 614 after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe. Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick wrote the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Chelsea. From 1957 to 2007, the hotel was an informal artists’ colony benevolently and tolerantly “curated” by manager Stanley Bard. Artwork he accepted in lieu of back rent from struggling artists filled the lobby and main staircase. Bard fashioned and maintained the unique creative dynamic for which the hotel is perhaps most famous, presiding during the 1960’s when Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen wrote some of their greatest songs. Andy Warhol filmed Chelsea Girls here. Bard’s departure was mourned by many residents of the hotel and the Chelsea community. The building continues to house a significant number of permanent tenants. The Chelsea Hotel is is a NYC Individual Landmark and listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.

Traffic Building

163 West 23rd Street
Abraham Fisher

This six-story commercial building is notable for its striking façade and unusual name, a reference to the “Traffic Cafeteria” that occupied the lower two stories in the late 1920’s. “Traffic” referred to the trucking industry in its nascent years. Cafeteria-style restaurants catering to budget-conscious urbanites became popular in the 1920s. Designed by littleknown architect Fisher, the building is a wonder of patterned brickwork and rich, Celtic-inspired terra cotta ornament. Rather than bearing weight, this façade is a “curtain wall” held up floor-by-floor by the building’s concealed steel frame. Fisher’s treatment of the Traffic Building’s façade as a tapestry and use of diagonally-laid brick acknowledge this up-to-date reality. At the same time, traditional elements make it seem anachronistic. It is one of those buildings which, when noticed, rivet and reward.

Seamen’s House YMCA

550 West 20th Street
Shreve, Lamb & Harmon

An embodiment of Chelsea’s working waterfront, the Seaman’s House YMCA was built to serve merchant sailors whose ships were docked along the Hudson. Along with clean rooms, its gymnasium, pool, cafeteria, and chapel were aimed at diverting seamen from the less savory establishments available in the area. Shreve, Lamb & Harmon is most famous for designing the Empire State Building, completed just a year earlier. Their Art Deco YMCA makes a design motif of the organization’s triangular logo and features stylized, nautical-themed, polychrome terra cotta ornament. The building maintains a strong presence at the intersection of 11th Avenue and 20th Street, with its chamfered corner and monumental entrance. It operated as a YMCA until 1966. The property was sold to New York State and operated as a correctional facility from 1974-2012.

20th Ward, School 48

120 West 28th Street
c. 1854
Amnon Macvey,Superintendent of School Buildings

The New York City Board of Education was established in 1842, and in 1853 it merged with the older Public School Society to create Manhattan’s first true municipal public school system. Under it, schools were overseen by the local ward trustees who had considerable oversight over the construction and operation of school buildings. This building was completed during the long tenure of Macvey, who served from the 1830’s (under the Public School Society) through the 1870’s. One of the three oldest public school buildings in Manhattan, its Italianate design is characteristic of the period, with a symmetrical facade featuring a slightly projecting central section with shallow pediment.

The Corner

729 Sixth Avenue
(1886-87, Schwarzmann & Buchman)

The late 19th-century commercial takeover of Sixth Avenue wasn’t limited to just high-end department stores. The area surrounding 23rd Street was once a nexus of theatrical productions, of both vaudeville and legitimate persuasions alike. In 1879, Koster & Bial took over Bryant’s Opera House (established 1870, infamously one of the last minstrel theaters in the city). The partners soon expanded to a 1,200-seat theater on 23rd Street and eventually took up the entire Sixth Avenue frontage as well with a beer garden and a corner annex, which served as a saloon and beer store. The latter’s pediment and corner plaque still proudly advertise “The Corner” and “Koster & Bial.” In 1893, the partners were forced to close their Chelsea operations on charges
of “encouraging prostitution.” A few days later they had opened a new venue on 34th Street (later famous for hosting the city’s first motion picture exhibition in 1896).

O’Neill Building / Third Cemetery of the Spanish- Portuguese Synagogue

655 Sixth Avenue
(1875, Mortimer C. Merritt; expanded 1895)

104 West 21st Street

As early as the 1860’s, the West 20s above Union Square had a reputation as a shopping district for a new class of retail consumer, primarily women with disposable income and leisure time to spend on shopping for ready-made clothing and goods. The Hugh O’Neill Dry Goods Store is perhaps the most visible department store on this stretch of Sixth Avenue. With its domed corner towers and central pediment it is among the finest examples of cast-iron architecture in the city. The original fourstory, French-inspired Renaissance Revival design was expanded in 1895 with a fifth floor. The domes and pediment were temporarily removed and then reinstalled on top of the addition. Adding stories or whole new bays on cast-iron fronted buildings was a fairly frequent occurrence, and pointed up the advantages of cast iron as a modular construction technology in which standardized, mass-produced facade components and ornament could be replicated and installed with relative ease. The L-shaped building was erected around a small burial ground on 21st Street, established in 1829 as the third cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel of Lower Manhattan. (The congregation itself moved to Chelsea in 1860, before relocating to the Upper West Side in the 1890s). The O’Neill Building and the cemetery are both located in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District.

126, 128, 130-132, 136, and 140 West 18th Street

These five late-19th-century brick stables are all that remain of an original grouping of 13 commercial livery stables, built in 1864-66 for wealthy owners whose residences were some blocks away. This block of 18th Street was then almost exclusively stables, a prezoning development pattern that separated service uses and light industry from upscale residential enclaves. There are very few surviving groups of cohesively designed carriage stables in Manhattan, and this group of five is a remarkably intact and architecturally distinguished example. Inspired by the German Rundbogenstil (round arch) mode, each façade follows a lively pattern of arched openings, accented by faceted keystones and unified by stone stringcourses. The wide opening in the center bay would have been fitted out with large doors for horse carriages to pass through. Each building is an Individual Landmark.

Chelsea, Manhattan

In 1750, British naval officer Thomas Clarke bought a Dutch farm to create his
retirement estate, named “Chelsea” after the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London. His
property extended from approximately Eighth Avenue to the Hudson—its shore ran
roughly along today’s Tenth Avenue—between 20th and 28th Streets. The estate
was subdivided in 1813 between two grandsons; Clement Clarke Moore received the
southern half below 24th Street while his cousin, Thomas B. Clarke, inherited the
northern section.

In the 1830’s, as the street grid ordained by the city in 1811 extended up the island
and through his property, Moore began dividing his land into building lots for sale
under restrictive covenants which limited construction to single-family residences and
institutional buildings such as churches. By the 1860’s, the area was mostly built out with
a notable concentration of Greek Revival and Anglo-Italianate style row houses, many
now preserved within the Chelsea Historic District.

Thomas B. Clarke’s property north of 24th Street was developed around the same time,
but with a more varied mixture of row houses, tenements, and industry. By the late
19th century, the area had an unsavory reputation. During the urban renewal era of the
mid-20th century, much of it was officially declared a slum and rebuilt with tower-inthe-
park housing, although clusters of row houses and several significant institutional
buildings remain.

By the 1850’s, infill of the Hudson pushed the waterfront to Eleventh Avenue and
within decades to its current location west of Twelfth Avenue. Industry was bolstered
by the mid-19-century with the opening of the Hudson River Railroad, and soon the
neighborhood supported a range of smaller manufacturers interspersed with sizable
operations including iron works and lumberyards. Storage and warehousing became
important uses around the turn of the century with the creation of the Gansevoort
and Chelsea Piers. By 1920, most of the area’s factories had been replaced by modern
facilities. The heart of this industrial district is preserved within the West Chelsea Historic
District. Clement Clarke Moore’s rowhouse blocks to the east were largely converted to
apartments for a working class employed by these businesses. As they became inactive,
an influx of gay residents opened a new chapter of Chelsea history. The neighborhood
remains proudly gay friendly today.

The current character of the western part of Chelsea is built on adaptive reuse of
industrial relics. Art dealers drawn to the lofty spaces of former warehouses and factories
began arriving in the 1990’s and built the blocks west of Tenth Avenue into the world’s
largest gallery district. After decades of abandonment, the elevated Hudson River
Railroad was transformed into the High Line, a public park and tourist attraction. Its
innovative design and impact on real estate values spurred a boom in new buildings by
celebrated architects along its length.

Although Thomas Clarke’s 1750 Chelsea estate extended only east to Eighth Avenue
and south to 20th Street, the present-day neighborhood encompasses a larger area.
Its eastern edge along Sixth Avenue lies within the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, named
for the elite shopping district, which saw its first department store open in the 1860’s.
Today, Chelsea contains a variety of historic architecture, including some of the city’s
most intact nineteenth-century residential blocks, significant commercial buildings, and
industrial complexes near the Hudson River.