A new type of building construction appeared in New York in the mid-late 1800s that would become the precursor to the skyscraper: the use of prefabricated cast iron for building facades and interior support columns. The relatively inexpensive cast iron could be molded into intricate designs and patterns for the facades, while the strength of the metal allowed for higher ceilings and taller windows, permitting more natural light to flow into industrial buildings and warehouses in this pre-electrical era. The low-cost iron was an easy and inexpensive way to add decoration to utilitarian commercial buildings. More than 250 of these buildings exist in New York and most of them are in Soho. Here are a few worth seeking out:
At the northeast corner of Broadway and Broome is the E. V. Haughwout, one of the first cast-iron structures in the city which took just one year to build. When unveiled in 1857, it boasted the world’s first hydraulic passenger elevator.
Dating from 1873, the Gunther Building at the southwest corner of Broome and Greene boasts an elegant Second Empire facade, a style popular in the 1870s, with regularly spaced Corinthian columns and ornate cornices, balustrades, and brackets.
Damage to 71 Greene Street on the first and second stories of the building reveals how the ornamental cast-iron plates were bolted onto the facade. The ornate three-dimensional facade of 72 Greene Street is considered the area’s finest example of cast-iron splendor. The facade at 10 Greene Street, built in 1869, has heavy, unadorned Tuscan columns. Like other buildings in the area, it is partly obscured by fire escapes – a legal requirement after a series of loft fires swept the city in 1915.