By Carter B. Horsley
This very handsome, 7-story
building at 1 Astor Place was designed in 1881 for Orlando Potter
by Starkweather & Gibbs in a highly articulated Victorian
style with red-brick and terracotta facades and a cast-iron base.
The building has a chamfered
corner and its facade along Astor Place is slightly bent in two
The building's facades are
heavily modulated with deeply, multiple-framed, inset windows
and an abundance of decorative detail including dentilated spandrels,
keystone heads, a variety of pilasters, elaborate capitals and
The building has a one-step-up
entrance with three glass marquees leading to a revolving front
door. The building, which has entrance sconces, has a concierge
and about 175 rental apartments. It permits protruding air-conditioners
but has no sidewalk landscaping, no roof deck and no garage.
Astor Place runs from Broadway
across Lafayette Street to Third Avenue and was named for the
fur trader John Jacob Astor who had bought a large tract of land
on the site in 1803 and when the street was "opened"
in 1836 its "angled intersection with Lafayette and Fourth
Avenue created something of a ceremonial air, especially as it
continued east to connect with another diagonal street, Stuyvesant
Street," Mr. Gray observed.
In 1847 the Astor Place Opera House opened on the narrow triangle
of land at 13 Astor Place. Two years later, in May 1849, one of
New York's worst civil disturbances, involving thousands of unruly
protesters, took place. Partisans of the American actor Edwin
Forrest, incensed by the appearance at the opera house of the
English actor William Macready as Macbeth, threw paving stones
into the theater, starting a disturbance that was ended only after
the National Guard was called in and 22 people were killed.
In his March 2, 2003 "Streetscapes"
column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray wrote "In
1853 the American Bible Society built Bible House, its six-story
office and printing building, on the site of what is now Cooper
Union's 1950's engineering building,'' adding that "The next
year, the Astor Library, the city's first large library available
to the public, opened on Lafayette. Its building is now the Joseph
Papp Public Theater.
That same year," Mr. Gray
continued, "the old Astor Place Opera House was remodeled
as Clinton Hall, which included space for the New York Mercantile
Library, established in 1821 as a public institution for clerks
and business owners. The original Cooper Union building went up
in 1859. By 1870 the Merc - as it came to be known - was the fourth
largest library in the United States, with 140,000 volumes and
a membership of almost 11,000, with 1,000 patrons a day."
This building was erected in
1881, five years after its developer, Orlando B. Potter, had built
10-20 Astor Place, a building designed by Griffith Thomas on the
southeast corner of Lafayette Street.
"By this time," Mr.
Gray wrote, "Bible House and the Mercantile Library had attracted
publishers to Astor Place, among them Thomas Crowell and John
Wiley in the Mercantile Library building and Isaac Funk and Adam
Wagnalls in 10-20 Astor Place.
IN 1891, Potter switched designers again, hiring Francis H. Kimball
for an office building at 4-8 Astor Place. The design was not
as ornate as Starkweather & Gibbs's, but the building does
have elaborate quoins, or corner blocks, articulated with intricate
vermiculation (the architectural term for a wormlike pattern in
a stone surface). In 1892 the Mercantile Library put up a new
office and library structure of brownstone and straw-colored brick
- designed by George Harney - on the triangular site of the old
Clinton Hall. The library took the sixth and seventh floors for
a vast reading room with high bookstacks. After the Mercantile
Library sold its building in 1920, it remained a tenant and a
subsequent owner added two floors."
The Elad Group, a New Jersey developer, bought the old Mercantile
Library building for $41.5 million in 2002 to convert it into
49 residential condominium units. It overlooks Tony Rosenthal's
very popular "Alamo" metal sculpture that was installed
in 1956 on a small traffic island at Astor Place and Eighth Street.
In 1936, the American Bible
Society left Bible House where it had had been producing three
Bibles a minute, 24 hours a day, since 1853, and the building
was demolished in the 1950s and replaced by a six-story engineering
building for Cooper Union that was eventually sold in the early
years of this century to Edwin Minskoff.
By 1967, when Tony Rosenthal's
near-cubic sculpture ''Alamo'' was installed on the small traffic
island at Astor and Eighth Street, Astor Place was a gritty connector
between the musty lofts along the Broadway corridor and the ramshackle
East Village neighborhood beyond Third Avenue.
The Related Companies erected
a sinuously curved glass residential condominium tower on the
parking lot at Astor Place and Lafayette Street on land it leased
from Cooper Union. The 22-story free-standing tower became an
instant new landmark for the East Village and was designed by
Charles Gwathmey, who died in 2009. Initially called the "Sculpture
for Living," the tower, whose address is 445 Lafayette Street,
was known for a while as "One Astor Place," which was
a little confusing.
Orlando Potter's heirs built
740 Broadway at the southeast corner of Astor Place in 1912.