That’s a very…interesting…facade. It’s a small commercial building at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue, with a big department store wrapping around it on both lot-line sides. Fortunately, it’s in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, so information is easy to come by. The district, as a whole, contains a lot of stores of various kinds, mostly from the 1880s through the 1910s.
This building was constructed in 1871, and was used as a store at the bottom with offices above. It had a cast iron facade and probably looked a lot like the cast-iron lofts in SoHo a mile to the south. The fourth floor gives you a sense of what the whole thing must have looked like. Then, in 1897, the designation report says the”Street facades of lower two stories replaced with display windows by inserting new columns and plate girders to hold upper walls.” That sounds awfully like the description that would accompany a filing at the Department of Buildings, in this case the paperwork for Alt 184 of 1897. You can make out, through the windows, the modern gypsum-board fireproofing enclosures around two of the new columns: one in the corner and the other just about at the center of the facade, in line with the “IN” in “WAXING.” Around 1971 the cornice got stripped off, and at some point that goofy filigree handrail put on the roof edge. The fire-escape is probably also a later addition, maybe a very old one.
Back to yesterday’s theme, what era is this building? In this case, it actually matters to some degree since the building’s inclusion in the historic district means that the Landmarks Commission would have to make decisions about any proposed changes to the exterior. The original appearance lasted only 26 years, or less a fifth of the building’s life; the cornice has already been missing for a third of its life. The peculiar appearance it has now is not an aberration in its history. That appearance is not architecturally consistent nor, in my opinion, particularly pleasing, but it’s what the building is. It is not less authentic than the all cast-iron facade you’d have seen in 1880, or the facade-with-a-cornice you’d have seen in 1960. Either its current state has meaning based on longevity, or any date will do because they are all equal and all theoretical.