Down the Rabbit Hole of Alterations

I took the picture above because the work on the side wall interested me. The adjacent buildings have recently been demolished and, rather than simply parge the newly-exposed face of the side wall of 106-108 Liberty Street (AKA Burger King) to provide some waterproofing, the team next door has put up insulation. That may have been part of a deal with the 106-108 owners, to protect the interior of that building from the worst effects of the demolition and construction. Then I started looking at the building more closely, and realized how circumstances have led to some real oddities. Here’s a labelled version of the picture to make references easier:

A is the building I’m interested in, 106-108 Liberty Street. It runs through the block in an elongated L shape (more on that later) and C is where it fronts on Cedar Street. (I was standing on Liberty looking southeast when I took the picture; 106-108 has a facade facing Trinity Place to the left for half the block front.) B is the back of 111 Broadway, where our office was 2010-2016, D is Zuccotti Park, and E is the old Equitable Building on Broadway.

For some very old changes, look at the white-painted south (Cedar Street half) part of the wall. You can make out the ghost of a gable-roof building that was next door and some windows long since filled in.

There have been significant changes to the street layout west of Broadway since the mid-1800s. Originally, Greenwich Street was the main north-south thoroughfare in the, and Trinity Place was a short and narrow street that ran from a near dead-end south of Rector Street to a T intersection at Liberty. Church Street started on almost the same line a few blocks to the north. Between 1869 and 1872, various buildings were demolished to connect Church and Trinity, and at the same time Trinity was widened and extended south to a plaza at the foot of Greenwich Street. The old maps show someone’s attempt to sketch in what happened to 106-108. Here’s 1857:

(The last vestiges of Temple Street were buried when Zuccotti Park was created.) If you look at 108 Liberty Street/111 Cedar Street, you can see that elongated L shape I mentioned. You also see that there are three lots (100 Liberty and the double-width 102 Liberty) between that building and Trinity Place, that Trinity is less wide than Liberty or Cedar, and that 109 Cedar is a relatively normally proportioned building. 113 Cedar Street is probably the building that had the gable roof.

Someone has amended the east wall of the Liberty Street end of 108 Liberty showing it getting wider. My guess is that is an alteration that took place when the widening of Trinity Place resulted in the demolition of 100 Liberty and three-quarters of 102 Liberty. Here’s 1894:

Trinity Place is a lot wider, 100 Liberty is gone, 102 Liberty is gone, and the north wing of 108 Liberty/111 Cedar has grown wider. In rough terms, the chamfered corner of the building, now renamed 106-108 Liberty, is the width of the eastward extension. If you look at 109 Cedar, it’s been shaved thinner and extended to the north to fill in its old rear yard. The L shape of 106-108 has reached the form it has now, and the building got an elevator in the new extension. The building is colored green, which marks it as a special hazard for fire; the B and two dots mark it as a brick-walled construction “2nd class warehouse” and one of a long list of possible high-fire-risk occupancies, including book-binderies, patent-medicine storage, and slaughterhouses. Finally, the dashed line separating 106-108 from 110 Liberty indicates that the wall separating the buildings was not present at every floor. In other words, those buildings were functionally combined. That suggests that the 106-108 wall exposed when 110 Liberty was recently demolished was at least in part infill, and therefore maybe less solid than it might have otherwise been.

Here is a 1940 tax photo, showing dignified and matching facades for 106-108 and 110 Liberty Street, taken from an angle similar to mine and therefore hiding the chamfered corner, as my photo does:

If you look at the current-day photo, you can see a rectangular cast-iron column at the side of the front facade of 106-108; the tax photo suggests that both that building and 110 had iron storefronts. It’s quite likely that the stainless-steel “columns” at the Burger King storefront are simply wrappers around the old iron columns, as the spacing seems to match.

This is a lot of change for a small area, but it took place over some 150 years, so it took place in increments. I do wonder how long 106-108 Liberty and 109 Cedar will remain, as they seem to be the only development site left on the block.

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