The Weird Little Building on Lafayette Street

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:


More warnings…


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!


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  1. Here’s its GSA property page:

    It doesn’t give much info besides it was built in 1933. Which fits with the deco details. You could call the contact number and ask them.

  2. I think you’re right about the parking garage being built atop something else. This page ( says the building (209 Centre St) was “originally” built in 1933, which certainly explains the odd detailing. Supposedly the contact on that page can tell you more, though I’d be surprised if he knew the building’s history. The ad here ( suggests it was the Baron & Houchin Manufacturing Co. (Bar Shakers, Soda Water Bottles…). Jackpot! Check this out:

  3. I’m embarassed: all those references are to the late 19th c. Who knows what went up there in 1933….

  4. I can’t give a link to the source because its in a paid database, but in 1949 209 Centre St was occupied by Anar Brass Works owned by Nicholas Rosencweig. He declared bankruptcy in that year according to a listing in the New York Times. Then in 1950, 206 Centre was leased to Arcadia Nut Packing Co.

    So, it was probably a general industrial building with a little sales/office entrance on the Lafayette St side that was leased by several different business until the GSA bought it.

  5. Sorry the Anar brassworks was also 206 Centre, just a typo on my part.

  6. Judging from the date, location, and appearance, I’d say there’s a good chance it was initially built in 1933 as a gas station.

  7. the little building is probably an annex to the warehouse/factory next door. since it was a home furnishing manufacturer, they probably built the little art-deco building to be a cleaner, fancier customer entrance to the building than through a loading dock. the empty pavement at the corner was probably for deliveries/staging or for parking. this is quite common for industrial buildings of this age.

  8. So cool. I used to live down the block years ago and would see cars pass in and out of the garage, but nobody ever in the office.

  9. Another great find. Truly bizarre.

  10. My best guess is that this is a gussied up loading dock side to an old warehouse that was gutted and turned into the ramp. In some of your other pictures on Flickr its pretty apparent that the roll up door and ramp up to it were renovations withsome green painted brick to match even though they cut out the middle portion of what was there. To me it looks like at least one if not all of the areas with the wall pack lights and diamond decoration above could have been the truck dock doors. The base looks to be about 4 feet up, and the openings are about right but its hard to tell with the oversized painted block/stone.

  11. I found the certificate of occupancy issued in 1934 listing it as a “non-fireproof” gas station.

    According to the property records the other building was built as a garage in 1964, the transactions included property owned by Sinclair refining. So the little building was a Sinclair gas station.

    The parking building was deeded to the United States in 1970 which held it until 1987 when it was, get this, foreclosed by NYC for non-payment of taxes.

  12. It reminds me of the gas stations we used to see all over the city when I was a kid more than 60 years ago.

  13. That post must have taken you ages to prepare. It was fascinating

  14. My girlfriend and I work in the area and we sometimes eat pastries from little italy on those concrete steps. One day in late march a fellow came by and walked toward us, motioning that he needed to pass- so I stood to let him by, and as he was passing I asked, “can you tell me what this building is? I’ve always wanted to know.” As he punched a code into the keypad (see the little black square off to the right?) he said “It’s F.B.I.” and went inside. About five minutes later the rollup lifted and away he drove. Maybe there are offices below the ground or on that side-area but it seems awfully small for that. My guess is it’s just an inner-city private parking lot for Feds. I mean maybe he was lying (then again, why tell us what it really is?) but a parking lot in that location would be a seriously valuable asset. I don’t doubt it.

  15. It’s as Josh says, a private parking lot for government employees. We have a friend who works for the State Dept. and that’s where he parks when he comes into town for work. I don’t know they do on the Lafayette side though…

  16. I agree with Jack, there is an old gas station in my hometown of Pawtucket, RI, that looks very much in the same style. It’s now part of a mini strip mall, but it was definitely a gas station originally.

  17. Linda Danz and Tyler are the winners. It was clearly a gas station. There were many of them in cities all around America in the good old days. I think there was one like it in Portland Maine when I first moved up here.

  18. I was walking by one day and saw that the Lafayette side roll-up door was up. Inside the garage on the ground floor was one of the government’s black limousines — like the ones used by visiting dignitaries — being repaired by a mechanic. From what I can see, the upper floors are used to house Federal Protective Service police cars and SUVs, and the ground floor is for limousines and other vehicles.

  19. Upstate Johnny Gee

    Must be where Jack Bauer parks when he comes to NYC…..

  20. I’ve been looking for the Hudson Brass Works! Would be interesting if this was the place. I own a small brass table made by them. I thought they were owned by the Guterman family prior to WWII. I believe these folks moved upstate in the late 30’s early 40’s to run another foundry.

  21. Its so funny all the times that I passed this place I just assumed it was indeed an abandon garage

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  26. I always thought it was the site of a former gas station. Fascinating article.