There’s a strange little building at the corner of Lafayette and Howard Street, and for years, I’ve wondered what the story is with it:
The small portion on the left is a tiny one-level office, with the facade extending to cover the wall of a parking garage, whose entrance is through that roll-gate on the right.
The weird thing is that in my years of living in New York and scouting frequently in the area, I have NEVER, ever seen this building open.
A great unintentionally retro sign above the entrance identifies it as home to the General Services Administration – love those starry-eyed eagles:
And I really like the blocky quirkiness of the building’s design, an imposing turret sort of thing:
It’s also pretty incredible they chose to decorate the back wall of the garage with the design…Or was this squat building here first, and the garage built on top of it? If so, that would be pretty remarkable.
This building is unlike anything else I can think of in Manhattan. Even its detail work (note the triangle pattern at the top) is bizarre.
Adding to the mystery are the endless amounts of warning signs posted all over the building, some clearly dating back quite a few years:
And more. What sorts of government secrets are stashed away behind these walls??
Unfortunately, I think the truth is probably pretty boring. According to Wikipedia, the GSA manages over 200,000 Federal Government vehicles, leading me to believe this is just one of many places they’re stored. The little office is probably for keeping records…
But why isn’t it ever open?? Anyone know?
Thanks to everyone posting comments and doing internet research. A quick recap – Janet writes that the building is listed on the GSA website with the address of 203-209 Centre Street. That means the Lafayette side is actually considered the rear of the building. This is the Centre Street facade:
As you can see, the green and white clearly matches the rear of the building. Also, according to the GSA site, the present building was built in 1933. Emporis tells us it is also known as 2 Howard Street.
As of August 22, 1854, the property was, according to this NY Times article, a drinking-house known as The Smile. The Times reports this really great story:
On Friday last a man named William Waring was arrested by Officer Welsh…for passing a bad Spanish quarter dollar, upon a person named Cornelius Barton. On his arrest, several other bogus coins were found on him…After some inquiries, [Welsh] found the headquarters of the [counterfeiters] to be a drinking-house called “The Smile,” No. 2 Howard-street…A strong party of officers visited the house on Saturday evening, when they found a number of persons in the back room playing at cards – the whole of whom were arrested. On the person of [one of the guys] was found a quantity of spurious shilings and quarters. Some bogus coin was also found on others of the persons. The house was searched; one bad piece of money was found in the till, and several pieces where the persons were arrested.
Goulding’s May 1878 Directory of New York City lists two companies at the property:
Reader Clazy8 searched the address and found a few interesting bits through Google Books. By 1898, a factory for the Baron & Houchin Manufacturing Company was located at the address. This ad was found in the July, 1898 issue of The Home Furnishing Review:
Could the current structure be their stripped down warehouse? More from an article in the magazine…
By 1909, the Hudson Brass Works was on the site:
Reader Jack believes the Lafayette side may have been a former gas station, while reader Brad says it would make sense to have a little annex office to deal with customers of the factory.
Keep sending info!