New York Architecture Images-Soho

Roosevelt Building Landmark


Richard Morris Hunt


478-482 Broadway  




Art Nouveau


Cast Iron Facade


Office Building




A commercial building located on the site of the former home and office of one of the Roosevelts, Hunt's iron loft building was meant to generate income for the hospital established in honor of Roosevelt. Built as a speculative office building and without a company image, it is unusual for the district. The building has large areas of glass on the facade and a structural treatment expressed at the corners and main support areas of the building. Small French-styled ornamental grillwork provides some detail on one of the last structures erected during the cast-iron era. 

The 1874 Roosevelt Building at 478 Broadway is one of the most significant iron–front buildings in the world. Its architect, Richard Morris Hunt, later built mansions for the Vanderbilts, the massive pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, and in 1895, the Fifth Avenue portion of the Metropolitan Museum. The first American to be trained at the Ecole de Beaux–Arts, he combined a knowledge of construction methods and the use of metal with an artist’s sensibility in designing this commercial structure. Hunt once said that he used metal and glass to create a front that would serve as an immense window for the interior.

Although hundreds of iron fronts simulating masonry had already been erected across America, Hunt said iron need not pretend that it was something else. The Roosevelt Building, with its facade composed with attenuated colonettes and three filigree arches, expresses his conviction.

On this significant site had stood the home of James Henry Roosevelt, great–uncle to President Theodore. Following his death in 1863, his estate donated the house and its adjacent lot to Roosevelt Hospital, which decided to erect two commercial structures to provide revenue. At the time, the area now called SoHo was becoming the fabric center of the city, and throughout the history of the building, it has housed various firms involved in textile wholesaling and the garment trade.

Five stories high, its strong ground floor provides an austere platform from which rise two colossal columns dividing the facade into three sections, each having three large windows separated by slender colonettes. The attic story has a row of nine identical windows separated by colonettes held to the facade by delicate iron tracery.

Similar tracery appears in the brackets that support the concave roof cornice. Today, the ground floor of the Roosevelt Building is painted a brownish gray, while the upper stories and cornice are painted an off–white. The building is fortunate in not having a fire escape to obscure its bold Neo–Grec features.

The Roosevelt Building’s associations with the apparel trade continue today. The ground floor has a store selling casual wear, T–shirts, jeans, and jackets. Alas, this store demeans the historic cast–iron facade with big, pumpkin–colored advertisements with pictures of rats and its name, “Yellow Rat Bastard”.