August 2017
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Hidden TriBeCa

tribeca white street corner sign

In this weekly blog series, MAS Intern and Sarah Lawrence College Senior Kate Lenahan reports back on her adventures on MAS tours. We hope you will also share your tour experiences with us on our Facebook pageTwitter, or follow us on Instagram at MAS_NYC.

With real estate prices rising and developers snatching up open lots for new commercial and residential buildings, it was fitting for MAS tour guide and historian Matt Postal to begin last Saturday’s tour of TriBeCa with the question, “What is so hidden about TriBeCa?”

The answer became clearer as Matt led us away from the waterfront and past buildings that once housed the textile and dry goods industries that thrived in Manhattan in the 19th-century.  Alongside industrial buildings and blocks, private residences have also lined TriBeCa’s streets for two centuries.  Matt was intent to point out the alleyways that speckle the area, many of which once served as private entrances to these fashionable homes. You may see these same alleys in magazines today; the place certainly hasn’t lost its trendy appeal. The industries themselves left their mark on the neighborhood as well with outmoded loading bays now restaurant and shop entrances.

The neighborhood is a model of reuse and most building façades have kept the Italianate details New Yorkers have loved for so many centuries: columns, pediments, the Classical orders. This style translated, as it did earlier in Paris, London and other modern capitals at the turn of the century, into the cast-iron architecture for which TriBeCa and Soho are known. Two of Ralph Walker’s brick buildings, infused with Art Deco style, are also in the area, while mid-century modernist gems like William Breger’s Synagogue for the Arts and Lorimer Rich’s State Insurance Fund Building can be found next door or across the street. It seems every era and style has its place in the buildings of TriBeCa, helping to give the neighborhood that special flair.

Matt was especially careful to stress the significant role played by the Landmarks Commission in preserving this corner of New York. It’s the job of eleven members to select, protect, and slate each building into the historic district’s boundaries. From what I saw on Saturday, it’s a job well done.

I ended my day in TriBeCa, with a spot on one of the MAS docent-led chauffeured mini-tours of the neighborhood, hosted in conjunction with Architecture and Design Film Festival. Docent Terrence Kirk complemented Matt’s walking tour as we drove through the old food industry quarters near the water on glamorous new set of wheels (view photos).

I guess what’s hidden about TriBeCa is its history. That’s what gives the neighborhood the character we’ve come to know and love so well. It’s the neighborhood’s history that draws us there in the first place.