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Tribeca Historic Districts

Tribeca Historic Districts

Containing some of the earliest examples of cast-iron buildings in New York City, Tribeca was protected through a series of historic district designations.

Location: Tribeca, New York  |  Google Maps
Above: Cover of the Tribeca South Historic District Designation Report; Courtesy of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

Prior to being named Tribeca, the area was known as Washington Market. Washington Market served as New York’s main food market beginning in the mid-19th century after New York City’s piers moved to the Hudson River. The market was a gritty place, once described by The New York Times as a “dirty, degraded little rat hole.”1 Amidst the unfavorable conditions of the market were some of New York City’s most historic buildings, including a few of the world’s first cast-iron structures.2 The neighborhood was also home to numerous warehouses and loft buildings that suited its use as a commercial center.3 Many of these buildings were constructed in the Italianate or Romanesque Revival styles.4 The neighborhood began to see a turnaround in the 1970s when the area attracted artists who were looking to get away from the changing nature of SoHo. Artists embraced the warehouses and lofts that the former Washington Market offered and took up residence there.5 At this time the neighborhood also got a new name – TriBeCa – an acronym for Triangle Below Canal.6 Following the new name and new population, the neighborhood continued to attract New Yorkers. These new residents saw the architectural and historic value of the neighborhood and led the fight to preserve its character.

The Tribeca Historic Districts (sometimes listed as Tribeca West Historic District, Tribeca East Historic District, Tribeca South Historic District, and Tribeca North Historic District) were designated between 1991 and 1992 with a district extension designated in 2002. The Tribeca Historic Districts are largely residential areas. There is a continued campaign for the extension of these districts.

1984: The Committee for the Washington Market Historic District is established

June 14, 1988: The Community Board 1 Resolution is passed in support of creation of the Washington Market Historic District

May 7, 1991: Tribeca West is designated a historic district

December 2, 1992: Tribeca East is designated a historic district

December 8, 1992: Tribeca North and South are designated historic districts

November 19, 2002: The Tribeca South Extension is designated

The first efforts to preserve the Tribeca area were created when the Committee for the Washington Market Historic District was formed in 1984. However, it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that Tribeca got its first designated historic districts. In 1989, after years of small campaigns, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission had countered the Committee’s demands for one, large historic district with the proposition of four small, separate districts: Tribeca North, Tribeca South, Tribeca East, and Tribeca West.7 These four small districts were not what the Committee had intended for the neighborhood, but with a fear of the issue being pushed aside, they fought in favor of these four districts.8 
Over the next few years, the Committee for the Washington Market Historic District acted in support of the four Tribeca historic districts. The first success came in May 1991, when the Tribeca West Historic District was designated.9 The battle for Tribeca did not end there, as there were three more districts waiting for landmark designation. The remaining three Tribeca Historic Districts were designated in December 1992.10

One of the biggest historic preservation battles before the designation of the four historic districts in Tribeca was the fight over 55 White Street. 
In the summer of 1986, controversy arose over a planned tower atop a century old cast-iron building at 55 White Street in Tribeca. The proposal called for an 11-story tower to top the five-story building, to be used as apartments.11 Tribeca residents who had formed the Committee for the Washington Market Historic District were not fond of the idea saying that the structure would be "totally out of character."12 By the fall of 1986, Tribeca residents were involved in a campaign against the tower. Hal Bromm, chair of the Committee for the Washington Market Historic District, led the fight and utilized the artistic population with a benefit auction of residents' artwork.13 By 1987, the campaign had achieved some success when 55 White Street was slated for a hearing by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to determine whether or not the building would be protected.14 This measure and the eventual designation of the district as a whole halted the construction of a tower atop the building.

”Night in Washington Market,” The New York Times, 12 May 1872.
Andrew L. Yarrow, “TriBeCa, A Guide to Its Old Styles and its New Life,” The New York Times, 18 October 1985.
”Introduction,” Tribeca North Historic District Designation Report, December 1992.
Oliver Allen, “A Neighborhood Transformed,” History. Article retrieved 16 April 2016.
Margaret Garb, “If You’re Thinking of Living In/TriBeCa; From Quiet, Desolate Streets To High-Priced Neighborhood,” The New York Times, 2 November 1997.
Andrew L. Yarrow, “TriBeCa, A Guide to Its Old Styles and its New Life,” The New York Times, 18 October 1985.
”Progress for Tribeca,” Battery News, 8 May 1989.
Meryl Branch-McTiernan, Interview with Hal Bromm, 18 October 2007, New York Preservation Archive Project.
David W. Dunlap, “District in TriBeCa Wins Historic Designation and Elbow Room to Flaunt and Flex,” The New York Times, 12 May 1991.
”3 Historic Districts Are Created in TriBeCa,” The New York Times, 9 December 1992.
David W. Dunlap, “Planned Tower Atop Old Building Upsets TriBeCa,” The New York Times, 31 August 1986.
”Artists Rally To Block a Tower,” New York Intelligencer, 20 October 1986.
  14. David W. Dunlap, “Landmark Potential Confuses Plans for a Building,” The New York Times, 28 December 1987.