The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

unnumbered crimes

with 5 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

note: despite the title, this a “just the facts” brand posting

Cortlandt Alley is a vestigial connection between Franklin and Canal Streets in Manhattan, crossing White and Walker on its path. If it looks familiar, it should, as many commercial photographers utilize the location for its noir aesthetics and patois of urban decay. One may often observe a shoot going on here, a sharp contrast to the sort of lurid business which one might have seen on this street a mere twenty years ago (which discouraged the presence of cameras).

Today, my focus turns to an enigmatic structure on the corner of Walker Street and Cortlandt Alley.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

According to the best sources I could find, Walker Street was scratched onto the maps of New York sometime in 1810. Pavement came along in 1819, and by the 1870’s a street railway connected the area (via West Broadway) to the far distant East River. This was considered a near suburb in those hoary days of the early middle 19th century, and this was fairly close to if not the actual border of the Bloody Sixth Ward (I’ve seen conflicting accounts describing the borders of the 6th ward).

All accounts agree that this area, known as “Tribeca Historic District” in modernity, served the city as a mercantile center which took advantage of the ample docks on the nearby North (Hudson) River for the importation of foreign goods.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The intriguing (and officially Landmarked) Latimer Building was raised sometime between 1860 and 1862 for developers Barret Ames and E.D. Hunter. Municipal sources indicate that it stands on land once occupied by a part of the legendary Florence’s Hotel, whose main address was on the confluence of the North side of Walker with Broadway. Supposition is also offered by these selfsame governmental entities that the “Latimer” indicated by the cornice art would have been a fellow named Edward Latimer, a SOHO merchant- although I haven’t been able to confirm this independently.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The modern occupants of the building follow a historical pattern of tenancy by garment manufacturers, book publishers, and building trade jobbers. A “jobber” is a company or individual who imports and resells manufactured goods, and offers installation and delivery services for the materials they handle.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Occupying 72-76 Walker Street, the Latimer is a relict and vestige of New York’s industrial past. Single floor factory operations and garment assembly shops- sweat shops as they were and are known- once provided occupation and employment for large numbers of immigrant poor. In my own family, certain individuals who enjoyed an exalted peer status and exhibited financial success were “pattern cutters” and “dock foremen” and employed nearby, while others (like my own grandmother) were “sewers”. One of my Aunts actually worked at Triangle Shirtwaist.

Back then, this was an overwhelmingly jewish industry. Modern day economics seems to favor the presence of Asian and Latino work forces, as the earlier ethnic laborers have moved on to explore other synergies.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Cortlandt Alley side of the Latimer exhibits the “fireproof window doors” once common in the days before sprinkler fire suppression systems became mandatory in such structures. Additionally, iron rails and reinforced concrete still extant point out that there was once a loading dock on the Alley side which has disappeared sometime in the intervening decades since the completion of the building in 1860. The fire escapes are a later addition, of course, which were mandated by the precursor of the FDNY sometime in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The grand appearance of the building is somewhat muted at street level, and it blends into the dark melange of relict buildings and ancient tenements which typify the parts of Manhattan just North and West of “Chinatown”. The age of Walker Street is betrayed by not just by its narrow bed, but by belgian blocks bursting through modern asphalt and the occasional stone curbs which still line it.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The charming ambience of the “old days” has rendered many of these former industrial spaces into mixed use buildings- and  many of them are now the exclusive and dearly held apartments of millionaire dilettantes. According to one Forbes magazine report in 2006, this was the most expensive section of New York City in which one might seek domestic housing.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Mitch, how does a “fireproof window door” work?

    georgetheatheist

    August 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    • Ok George.
      In the 19th century, a fireproof window or door was a steel or iron contraption which created a non flammable barrier between two spaces. Famously, the Blanchard company on Borden Avenue built them locally, but warehouses around the country were outfitted by mainly local suppliers. Before electric water pumps were common (or invented), insurers and merchants put a lot of effort into having blazes (common in the days of COAL heating) not spread. Since the floors and structures of most buildings were WOOD, it was kind of a thing. In tight quarters, like Cortlandt Alley, it was critical to keep flame isolated and not allow it to jump across the street. Hence the fireproof window doors. A trip to wikipedia might lead to answers on other questions that arise, concerning 19th century fire suppression techniques. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fireproofing

      Mitch Waxman

      August 17, 2011 at 12:21 am

      • Thanks, Mitch. But I’m still curious. If one building caught on fire, someone inside that building had to runaround and close all the windows? While standing in the room that was aflame?

        georgetheatheist

        August 19, 2011 at 10:55 am

  2. I guess that would depend George, on circumstance and the individual. I can’t tell you how to use these things, just describe what they are.

    Mitch Waxman

    August 19, 2011 at 11:11 pm

  3. Triangle Shirtwaist anyone?

    cav

    August 20, 2011 at 12:49 am


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