New York Architecture Images-Greenwich Village

Cable Building


McKim, Mead and White


611 Broadway at Houston Street. 













611-621 Broadway, on the North West corner of Houston Street, facing Houston Street to Mercer Street was designed by the famous McKim, Mead and White firm in 1892. The building is a 9 story 200' by 100' 129' tall structure which was the power plant for the Metropolitan Street Railway Co. / Metropolitan Traction Co. ( Cable car) line on Broadway. 

Formerly the site of St Thomas Church which burned down in 1851, was rebuilt and then demolished circa 1890. 

I have a copy of an 1894 Scribners magazine article on this railway and a Scientific American issue from 1897, with photos and line cuts. 
I also have several stereo view cards I scanned, one from 1894 and I have one from before the Cable Building was built- St Thomas Church can just about be made out in the distance- both taken from a block South on Broadway at the Metropolitan Hotel. 

Thus far I have not found one photo or even one article about the actual construction of the BUILDING and I find that very unusual given it was a McKim, Mead and White design, it was a main power plant for a then very new mode of transportation, and the building itself had to have it's foundations dug to an unusual depth- 40 feet in order to isolate the heavy vibrating machinery from the office building itself. 

It had (4) 1,000 Horse Power steam engines and 18 boilers in the basement, the engines had a 32 foot diameter driving drum and was the largest steam powered plant of it's kind.  

A little to the right of Vogel's window just to the left of the gas lamp in the foreground is the entrance, it clearly shows it had Ionic columns supporting the limestone entablature over the doorway. Those columns were removed at some point and replaced with some other means of support- I assume steel I beams through the wall, and covered with sheet metal decorative brackets which to me always had looked like the didn't belong, now I know WHY- they were NOT part of the original design. 

The building to the left of Vogel's window was demolished in the 50's when Houston Street was widened from it's original 2 lanes to 4 lanes. 3 other buildings still further left in the first view were also demolished- around 1915 to make way for a taller office building of 12 stories. The one that was featured with some kind of "art" bolted to the side wall that created a big stir when the owners wanted to remove it for a billboard. 

I believe there is Club Monaco on the ground floor still of that 12 story building. 

For our fellow reader who was doing the Penn Station project 
here is a photo of the portico entrance- recognize the two ladies and oval window? 
Now you know where Mckim, Mead and White first used this design (1892)- it was not Penn Station, that came later! 


The Republican

Hamilton Ohio
Monday, December 5,1892

The Broadway Cable Road.

Two years is a long time in the busy life of the metropolis to be occupied in the work of constructing and putting into operation a single line of cable railway, but this is what now seems certain to be the fact about the Broadway cable road.
The work of construction was begun early in 1891 and everybody still retains a most disagreeable recollection of the impassable condition of New York's leading business street during the summer and fall of that year.
During a greater part of the two preceding years the street was continually in a state of upheaval to allow the frequently needed repairs of the pipes of the steam heating companies, and the burying of the electric wires until the people had become desperate over the situation.
The laying of the cable road conduits and the repaving of the street were finally completed and then the people began to look for the promised improvement in Broadway car travel, which was to compensate them for the months of discomfort which they had undergone.

But the railroad company has only begun its work with the completion of the roadway, and for a year past they have been constructing the necessary power stations along the line of the road, and this work has progressed in a painfully slow fashion. Meanwhile, horses drag the cars over the rails with exasperating slowness, as in former years.
A number of the new pattern of the cars to be used on the road have been built and a few of them are brought into service during the busiest hours of travel. They are much larger than the regulation cars, and teams of four horses are required to draw them. There is little prospect of the cable being put in operation on this line before next spring, while the outlook for the initial trip of the third avenue line is still more remote.

It must be confessed that in the matter of street railway travel, New York is far behind the age. Even in Philadelphia, whose slowness and conservative motions are proverbial, can give New York points about rapid transit on surface lines while many small western cities, whose population does not exceed that of a single ward in this city, display a spirit of enterprise in public improvement, which we might imitate with profit.

Kirke White.

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