Tribeca has two new landmarks: a Irish linen merchant’s commercial palace and a former police station that later served as hospital and firehouse, before finding subsequent life as a wine store and then a nail salon. Both were declared legally protected buildings by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission at the end of June.
The first of these, 315 Broadway (between Thomas and Duane Streets, directly across from the Federal Building) was project of Thomas Suffern, a prosperous linen merchant born in Belfast, Ireland in 1787. A cousin of U.S. President Andrew Jackson, he emigrated to New York at age 11, and went on to make successive fortunes in fabrics, tobacco, and banking. He built himself a handsome home at 80 Greenwich Street (now the site of the Battery Garage) and then another at 23 Park Place (approximately where the Tents & Trails store is now located).
But, in the late 1850s, Suffern noted with admiration and envy that his close friend (and fellow Irish Protestant emigre) Alexander Turney Stewart had grown fabulously rich creating the world’s first department store at the corner of Chambers and Broadway. So Suffern resolved to piggyback onto the surging property values of this new commercial district, by erecting a store and loft building one block to the north.
In the years before the Civil War, New York fabric importers and sellers were enamored with buildings that recalled the palazzo design style favored by Renaissance-era merchant princes, whose successors they imagined themselves to be. Suffern was no exception, and he commissioned an architect (whose name is now lost to history) to create a five-story tabernacle of trade. He chose for his site the former homestead of Anthony Rutgers (a scion of the Colonial-era family for whom the university is named), whose mansion and farm had occupied the area for much of the 1700s. Toward the end of the 18th century, it had been the home of Ranelagh Garden tavern, an outdoor beer garden situated in what was then regarded as a bucolic northern suburb of New York City.
By 1864, Suffern’s building was complete and had been leased to Loder Brothers, an importing firm. From the 1890s through the years approaching World War One, the structure housed the New York office of the Remington Arms Company, which (curiously) was at that time as well known for manufacturing bicycles as it was for rifles. For several decades after World War l, it hosted a field office of Hagstrom Company, which was busy producing the official New York City subway map. Today, 315 Broadway is home to a pizza parlor on the first floor, and a menagerie of process serving firms upstairs.
In some ways, the landmark designation for 315 Broadway comes just in time: the building was sold to real estate developers last year for more than $18 million, and its legally protected status will help ensure that the structure is preserved. But in other ways, this acknowledgement of the structure’s historic worth is a tad dilatory: It was first proposed for landmarks protection in 1989.
An older building, but one that the Landmarks Preservation Commission acted on with more alacrity is 160 Chambers Street (between Greenwich Street and West Broadway), which is familiar to Tribeca residents as a nineteenth century firehouse that now houses a nail salon. (This structure was proposed for landmarks protection in 2014.) Originally constructed as a rooming house in the 1830s, it morphed shortly after the start of the Civil War into the Third Precinct police station, under the design of Nathaniel Bush, who was not only an architect but also a New York Police sergeant.
In the years after the Civil War, the Police Department outgrew 160 Chambers. By 1875, it had become the House of Relief, a free hospital for Lower Manhattan’s poor. But that institution moved around the corner, to larger quarters at 67 Hudson Street (between Jay and Harrison Streets) in 1894. Between the World Wars, it was a hospital for United States Marines. Although still standing, this structure no longer does much of anything for the poor, or for veterans. In the 1980s, it was converted into lofts for millionaires.
The Police Department’s decision to move out of 160 Chambers whetted the appetite of the New York Fire Department, which headquartered Engine Company 29 there starting in 1897. Half a century later, the firemen rolled up their houses and left the building, which became a lumber supply depot, then a wine store, and is now a nail and beauty salon, with apartments upstairs once more.