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March 19th, 2009, 12:02 pm
Joined by preservationists throughout the city, MAS is calling for the individual landmark designation of the IRT Powerhouse, which occupies the entire block running from 58th to 59th Street, 11th to 12th Avenues. The monumental building was originally constructed in 1904 to provide electricity to the Interborough Rapid Transit Construction Company’s (IRT) subway lines; power generated within the building was fed to eight substations to help run the subway’s signal and lighting systems.
By the 1950s, the building was no longer needed for the subway system and was given over to Con Ed, who still uses the building to provide steam for nearby property owners. The recent demolition of two other Con Ed powerhouses, the Waterside No. 2 Power Station on Manhattan’s east side and the Kent Avenue Power Plant in Williamsburg, have made the preservation of this structure all the more imperative.
In spite of the building’s utilitarian function, the powerhouse is remarkably lavishly detailed in the Renaissance Revival style. The building’s architect was Stanford White of the renowned McKim, Mead & White firm. The ornate details on the exterior of the building extol not only the progressive ideals of the contemporaneous City Beautiful movement, but they also pay tribute to the sophisticated technical uses of this great industrial building. Much of the building’s details are still intact, including an original circa-1904 smokestack.
In both 1979 and 1990, the Landmarks Preservation Commission officially considered the building for landmark designation, but it was never officially protected with landmark status. The Municipal Art Society recently sent a letter to the LPC urging them to move forward in making this building a New York City Landmark.
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