F.W. Devoe & Co. Factory
Constructed in 1882-83 for paint manufacturers F.W. Devoe & Co. and designed by the noted architectural firm of Kimball & Wisedell, the six-story factory building at 110-112 Horatio Street is a rare surviving example of the industrial structures that once occupied much of the far western section of Greenwich Village. F.W. Devoe & Co. traces its origins to 1754 when William Post began selling paint on the East River waterfront. The company expanded rapidly during the mid-nineteenth century, moving its offices to Fulton Street in 1855 and acquiring manufacturing facilities on Horatio Street that same year.
The firm continued to grow in the years following the Civil War, erecting several buildings in the 1870s and 1880s. The factory at 110-112 Horatio Street was the last and largest structure constructed for F.W. Devoe & Co. in the neighborhood and at one time housed the company’s brush making department, facilities for grinding and mixing paint, and areas for storage and shipping. The building was the most architecturally prominent structure within the paint company’s Horatio Street works. The multi-story construction, open floor plans, and large window openings are characteristic of the urban industrial loft building typology, while the façade’s regular grid of vertical brick piers and horizontal bands, relatively elaborate brick work, and corbelled brick and terracotta cornice containing a series of round arches suggest the influence of the Rungbodenstil and American Round Arch styles of industrial architecture.
F.W. Devoe & Co. sold its Horatio Street works in 1918, at which time the building—like many in the neighborhood—was converted to warehousing facilities serving the nearby Gansevoort and Chelsea Piers. In 1984 it was converted to an annex of the adjacent apartment building. This was a period of substantial redevelopment for the Far West Village, during which time many of the industrial buildings that once dominated the neighborhood were either replaced by modern apartment buildings or were significantly altered during their conversion to residential use. The F. W. Devoe & Co. Factory is therefore a rare—and because of its high degree of physical integrity, an important—reminder of the Far West Village’s industrial past.
DESCRIPTION AND ANALYSIS
Early History and the Industrial Development of the Far West Village1
In the early seventeenth century, the area now know as the Far West Village was a Lenape encampment for fishing and planting known as Sapokanican, identified through archeology and historical documents at the foot of Gansevoort Street. During Dutch rule, the second director general (1633-37) of New Amsterdam, Wouter van Twiller, appropriated a huge area of land in and around today’s Greenwich Village for his personal plantation, Bossen Bouwerie, where he cultivated tobacco. Under British rule during the eighteenth century, the area of Greenwich Village was the location of the small rural hamlets of Lower and Upper Greenwich, as well as the country seats and summer homes of wealthy downtown aristocrats, merchants, and capitalists.
The small tract of land between what is now Jane and Gansevoort Streets along the North (Hudson) River was developed during this time as the estate of William Bayard. Bayard remained loyal to the British crown throughout the American War of Independence and his estate was confiscated at the conclusion of hostilities. Bayard’s son, William Jr., eventually repurchased the property, and his heirs maintained the family estate into the 1830s. Census records indicate William Bayard, Jr. owned a number of slaves at the turn of the century; it is likely his father also owned several before he was forced back to England.
A number of cholera and yellow fever epidemics in lower Manhattan between 1799 and 1822 led to an influx of settlers in the Greenwich area, with the population quadrupling between 1825 and 1840.4 Previously undeveloped tracts of land—including the former estates of the city’s leading families—were speculatively subdivided and sold off. The Bayard farm was purchased in 1833 by Francis B. Cutting, who mapped out 125 building lots on the property and sold them at auction in 1835.5
Much of Greenwich Village was developed at this time with rowhouses for the city’s upper and middle classes—the heart of which now comprises the Greenwich Village Historic District—and the deeds executed by Cutting in fact contained stipulations requiring new owners to erect either residences or stores of high quality brick or marble; the deeds also prohibited a long list of noxious industrial uses.6 These covenants were almost immediately ignored, however, as the suitability of the Far West Village waterfront for commerce and manufacturing became apparent.
The Erie Canal had opened in 1825— making the Hudson River a viable working waterfront for the first time in its history—and the decommissioning of Newgate State Prison in 1826-29 further opened the area for shipping and industrial uses. The shoreline of the Far West Village was also regularized at this time, as remaining waterlots were filled in to West Street. Piers were soon extended into the Hudson River and by 1840 over fifty wharves stretched from Lower Manhattan to Gansevoort Street.
The Panic of 1837 and the subsequent economic depression likely slowed the industrial development of the Far West Village temporarily, but by the mid 1840s the city had largely recovered— due in large part to a rapid increase in both domestic and foreign trade.7 The first transatlantic steamships began regular operation during the recovery years at the end of the 1830s, while the introduction of the grand clipper ships in the early 1840s helped the city capture much of the traffic with China (and eventually California after the discovery of gold there in 1848).
The Erie Canal continued to facilitate the city’s commerce with the country’s interior and the opening of the New York and Erie Railroad and the Hudson River Railroad in the early 1850s further enhanced New York’s preeminence in trade. In addition to stimulating its commercial economy, New York’s emergence as the nation’s most important transportation hub also helped fuel the city’s increasing industrialization—both indirectly by facilitating the exchange of raw materials and finished goods necessary for manufacturing, and directly by creating substantial demand for industrial products relating to the shipping and railroad industries. By the 1850s, New York City had become the nation’s largest center of manufacturing activity and was in fact one of the fastest-growing industrial areas in the entire world.
New York City remained the country’s leading manufacturing center throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. While domestic and international trade continued to play a part in the success of the city’s manufacturing operations, it was the explosion of the city’s own population during this period that proved to be the most important factor in maintaining Manhattan’s industrial preeminence.10
Immigrants, both foreign and domestic, provided the raw power necessary for the city’s manufacturers at a time when the industrial sector still relied primarily on manual rather than mechanical labor.11 In addition to providing the power for Manhattan’s industrial operations, the growth of the city’s population also created a huge local market that ensured a steady demand for manufactured goods. The construction industry—which by the 1850s was producing over 2,000 buildings annually as the city’s boundaries expanded northward—was a particularly important customer for New York’s manufacturing businesses.
The Far West Village was no exception, and historic maps from the period confirm that a large number of the neighborhood’s industries were directly related to the building trades.13 Lumber yards were particularly prominent among area businesses; the land that would later be occupied by the F.W. Devoe & Co. Factory was purchased in 1845 by Garret and Edward Green as an extension of their lumber operation at the northeast corner of West and Horatio Streets.14 This concentration of construction-related industries made the Far West Village a logical place to site a paint factory, and in 1855 the firm of Raynolds & Devoe—predecessors of F.W. Devoe & Co.—bought their first parcels of land on the south side of Horatio Street between West and Washington Streets.
F.W. Devoe & Co.
F.W. Devoe & Co. traces its origins to 1754, when William Post founded a paint shop on Manhattan’s East River waterfront just south of Burling Slip.16 Post was initially engaged as a painter and glazier but soon moved into mercantile operations buying and selling pigments imported from Europe. At this time, Post’s business was primarily commercial rather than industrial, although some light manufacturing was inevitable.17 Unlike his primary competitor, Gerardus Duyckinck—who supplied fine arts materials and was an artist of some note himself—Post focused more on the pragmatic side of the paint business, selling mainly to house- and shipbuilders. In 1798 Post admitted his sons, William and Gerardus, as partners in the business and changed the name to Post & Sons, Paint Store. When the elder Post died in 1800, the firm became William & Gerardus Post.
Over the course of subsequent decades, the Post brothers came to be amongst the wealthiest merchants in New York.18 Census records indicate the Post family owned several slaves during this period.19 Gerardus Post died in 1833 and his brother retired from the paint business two years later. The company was subsequently taken over by Francis Butler and John E. Barker—both of whom had worked with the Posts—as the firm of Butler & Barker, Paints and Dyestuffs. They actively expanded the scope of the business, selling their goods to wholesalers as far away as Texas and South Carolina (indicating the company’s willingness to do business in the antebellum South).20 Barker left the firm in 1845, and in 1848 Butler took Charles T. Raynolds as a partner. Butler retired in 1851, and a year later Raynolds made Frederick W. Devoe partner in the newly-renamed firm of Raynolds & Devoe.21
The pair soon began a substantial reorganization of the firm. They moved their offices to a new location at 106 and 108 Fulton Street in 1855 and acquired several lots that same year on Horatio Street in the Far West Village for the expansion of its manufacturing operations.22 The pair also brought in several promising young hires to help manage the business. J. Seaver Page was given substantial responsibilities over the sales department and helped negotiate several important deals with the rapidly growing railroad companies, while James F. Drummond, a trained chemist from Boston, was charged with overseeing the new manufacturing operations at the Horatio Street works. Perhaps most important was the appointment of Charles Pratt, who had joined the firm from Schank & Downing in 1854 and was made partner in 1858. Pratt was especially interested in the emerging petroleum industry and in the 1860s he helped oversee the creation of the Devoe and Pratt Manufacturing Company—later the Devoe Manufacturing Company.
This subsidiary operated an oil refinery on the Newtown Creek in Queens. Its special “Patent Cans” were particularly well suited to exporting kerosene lamp oil and other products to warm climates such as the Far East, and its brand was recognized throughout the world. Pratt eventually struck out on his own, establishing the Astral Oil Works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.23 Upon Pratt’s departure, Raynolds and Devoe divorced their business interests and formed the separate companies of C.T. Raynold & Co. and F.W. Devoe & Co. Raynolds retained the store at 106 and 108 Fulton Street and acquired a manufacturing plant in Brooklyn, while Devoe kept the Horatio Street works and found a new retail location diagonally across the street from Raynolds at Williams and Fulton Streets.
Business expanded rapidly after the close of the Civil War—during which the company supplied paint to southern businesses on very favorable terms—likely due to F.W. Devoe & Co.’s aggressive expansion of its product line. By 1869 the firm had introduced its first ready-mixed paint, one of the earliest in the country, and a few years later began manufacturing paint brushes and fine arts materials.24
The company subsequently undertook a major expansion of its Horatio Street works. In the early 1870s the firm acquired a number of lots adjacent to their existing facilities—including the land on which the F.W. Devoe & Co. Factory now stands—and filed several building permits with the city for new factory buildings.25 By the mid 1870s, the Horatio Street complex had evolved from a relatively modest white-lead factory producing primarily ground pigments, to a large paint works manufacturing everything from ready-mixed paint to the cans in which it was sold.
The final component of the Horatio Street complex, the large, six-story factory building at 110-112 Horatio Street, was completed in 1882-83. An article in Scientific American published in 1884 described in detail the operation of the Horatio Street works, noting, “their manufacture includes colors of all kinds, either dry, ground in oil or water, or in pulp, ready-mixed paints, colors in japan for coach and carriage and railway car painting, and fine varnishes and japans, with every variety of brushes, artists’ materials generally, and mathematical and surveyors’ instruments.”26 While the article failed to note what operations were contained in each building within the complex, later records indicate that the structure at 110-112 Horatio Street housed the brush making department, facilities for grinding colors, and areas for storage and shipping.
F.W. Devoe & Co. continued to grow during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A Chicago branch with the name Coffin, Devoe & Co. was established in 1882 under the direction of Charles C. Barrett. In 1892, the firm recombined with C.T. Raynolds & Co. and changed its name to F.W. Devoe & C.T. Raynolds Co.28 A number of major organizational changes followed Frederick W. Devoe’s death in 1913. The New York City and Chicago branches were consolidated in 1917, and the firm soon after became a publicly traded company. In 1918, F.W. Devoe & C.T. Raynolds Co. sold its Horatio Street works and moved its manufacturing operations to larger facilities in Brooklyn, Chicago, and Newark, New Jersey.
Industrial Architecture and the Design of the F.W. Devoe & Co. Factory Building29
For the larger part of the nineteenth century, the vast majority of industrial buildings—by some accounts more than 90 percent—were designed not by architects but by shop managers, builders, or other personnel with specific knowledge of an enterprise’s space requirements, machinery, and stock.30 F.W. Devoe & Co.’s Horatio Street works was no exception and all but one of the building permits filed by the firm during its major period of expansion in the 1870s fail to list an architect of record.31 Instead, it appears that the design of the factories was determined in collaboration between the owners and the contracting company that erected the buildings.32 An artists’ rendering of the complex from 1870s advertisements shows that these buildings were modest brick structures embellished only by the rhythmic placement of simple rectangular window openings.
It is therefore notable that in 1882, F.W. Devoe & Co. engaged a prominent architectural firm to design their latest and largest factory building at 110-112 Horatio Street. It is likely that this decision was influenced at least in part by the personal familiarity of James F. Drummond—manager of the Horatio Street works since the 1850s—with Kimball & Wisedell, whom he had commissioned to renovate his residence on West 22nd Street in early 1882.34
While Kimball & Wisedell were not primarily industrial architects, the firm’s design for the F.W. Devoe & Co. Factory shows a clear understanding of industrial architecture as its was practiced in the final decades of the nineteenth century.35 The factory at 110-112 Horatio Street follows the typical plan of the urban industrial loft, a building type characterized by its multi-story construction, open floor plans that allowed for a variety of uses, and large, regular window openings that provided light and ventilation to the structure’s interior.36 The exterior design of the factory possesses many of the elements of the America Round Arch style—an interpretation of the Rungbodenstil developed in Germany during the 1830s and 1840s and subsequently brought to the United States.
While the building lacks the round- or segmental-arched windows that give the style its name, it does have many other characteristics including vertical brick piers and horizontal bands that divide the façade into a regular grid, relatively elaborate brick corbelling and brick work, and a corbelled brick and terra-cotta cornice containing a series of round arches.37 The notable regularity of the façade—each bay of three windows is essentially identical to every other bay—and relative lack of applied ornamentation especially demonstrate Kimball & Wisedell’s familiarity with the emerging trends in industrial architecture.38
The F.W. Devoe & Co. Factory building is also significant as an early example of the second American phase of architectural terra cotta. While a number of architects had attempted in the 1850s to use architectural ornament of terra cotta in New York, it was revived as a significant interior and exterior building material in the United State after the Chicago and Boston fires of 1871-72.39 In New York City, Kimball & Wisedell were among the pioneers in this rediscovery, employing terra cotta especially brilliantly in their opulent theater designs. James Taylor—a Superintendent with the Boston Terra Cotta Company—claimed, “the introduction of highly ornamental terra cotta [in New York City] was begun by F.H. Kimball and Thos. Wisedell about 1880, when they designed the New York Casino.”40
The firm was much more restrained in their use of the material on the F.W. Devoe & Co. Factory, yet the subtle decoration of the building is executed almost entirely in red terra cotta produced by the Boston Terra Cotta Company.41 The decorative cornice consists of a corbelled terra-cotta band supporting a series of blind round arches, surmounted by another stringcourse. The brick piers separating the three bays of windows are capped with simple terra-cotta capitals with an ornamental cartouche placed immediately above depicting symbols related to the paint industry. The window lintels are also of terra cotta, although they have been scored and pointed to look like brick. The brickwork itself it also notable, as it is composed of Philadelphia pressed brick laid in stretcher bond—which at the time was characteristic of high quality construction.
Kimball & Wisedell
The partnership of Francis H. Kimball and Thomas Wisedell, established in 1879, was short-lived but highly productive. The firm’s first commission was the remodeling of the Madison Square Theater and the pair soon developed a reputation for innovative theater designs. Amongst their most famous works is the Moorish-style, terra-cotta-clad Casino Theater at Broadway and 39th Street (1882, demolished). This design demonstrated Kimball & Wisedell’s mastery of ornamental terra cotta and prompted architecture critic Montgomery Schuyler to claim, “the building exhibited a prodigality of detail in terra cotta which had no precedent here at the time of its erection, and has not had many equals since, and none of them has equaled it in the idiomatic treatment of material.”
The firm’s theatrical commissions also included Haverley’s Theatre in Chicago, the remodeling of a former church into a new home for Harrigan and Hart’s Theatre Comique, interior renovations to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as well as opera houses in Yonkers, New York and Springfield, Massachusetts. In addition to their theater work, Kimball & Wisedell designed a number of residences in New York and Connecticut, including one for Rudolph Aronson, director of the Casino Theater. Schuyler noted that several of the firm’s houses in Connecticut were “of no style and which yet [have] style, and that is one of the rarest and one of the most desirable attainments of the modern architect.”44 The firm dissolved after Wisedell’s death in 1884.
Francis H. Kimball was born in Kennebunk, Maine in 1845. He entered the Boston office of Louis P. Rogers, who later formed a partnership with Gridley J.F. Bryant. Rogers & Bryant entrusted Kimball with the supervision of two important projects in Hartford, Connecticut—the Charter Oak Life Insurance and the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Buildings. This work led to Kimball’s preparation of an entry for the Connecticut State House competition and, more importantly, to his appointment as supervising architect for Trinity College (1873-78). In the latter capacity, he traveled to London to consult with William Burges, the designer of Trinity’s new buildings. Ultimately, Burges’s designs were only partially executed and much altered by Kimball. In 1879, Kimball moved to New York and established a partnership with Thomas Wisedell. After the latter’s death in 1884, Kimball practiced alone for nearly a decade—excepting a year in 1886 when he partnered with Henry S. Ihnen in the firm of Kimball & Ihnen.
In 1892 Kimball formed a partnership with George Kramer Thompson that soon became a prominent and pioneering firm in the design of skyscrapers. Their richly decorated Empire Building at 71 Broadway (1895-98, a designated New York City Landmark) is a prime example of this period of skyscraper development. Kimball resumed independent practice in 1899. During this period, he designed the Gothic-inspired Trinity and U.S. Realty Buildings at 111 and 115 Broadway (1904-07, both designated New York City Landmarks). In 1916-17, Kimball practiced in the firm of Kimball & Roos. He died in 1919.
Thomas Wisedell was born in London, England in 1846 and apprenticed with local architect Robert J. Withers. Wisedell was eventually introduced to Calvert Vaux—who maintained a partnership with Robert’s brother Fredrick Clarke Withers—and immigrated to the United States in 1868. He worked in the firm of Vaux & Withers for over a decade, during which time he assisted in the completion of Prospect Park in Brooklyn (a designated New York City Scenic Landmark)—particularly the Concert Grove area—and the park system in Buffalo, New York, overseeing construction of the grand Parade House.45 Wisedell also worked with Vaux’s frequent collaborator, Fredrick Law Olmsted, on the landscaping and other improvements to the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. With both Vaux and Olmsted, Wisedell appears to have been primarily a draftsman and architectural assistant who helped elaborate the designs of the more established architects.46 In 1879, Wisedell established his own practice in partnership with Francis H. Kimball.
He died suddenly in 1884, just as he was proving himself an accomplished architect in his own right.4
The character of the Far West Village began to change at the turn of the twentieth century as the city sought to discourage active manufacturing operations in the neighborhood. Between 1894 and 1910, New York City’s Department of Docks undertook a major reconstruction of a large section of Manhattan’s western shoreline, erecting the massive Gansevoort and Chelsea Piers between West 11th and West 23rd Streets. The area soon became the busiest section of the city’s port and many of the existing manufacturing businesses were dislocated as warehouses and other shipping-related activities moved to the neighborhood. The new management of F.W. Devoe & C.T. Raynolds Co. felt the pressure of rising real estate prices in the neighborhood and in 1918 sold off the Horatio Street complex to Amalgamated Warehouses, Inc.
All but two of the paint firm’s old industrial buildings were subsequently demolished and replaced with a commercial vehicle garage, while the building at 110-112 Horatio Street was converted into a public storage warehouse.50 The area remained a thriving commercial district through the mid-twentieth century and many of the old factory buildings prospered as warehouses and storage facilities.
During the 1960s, maritime commerce along Manhattan’s Hudson River waterfront went into a steep decline as shipping located elsewhere in the metropolitan region. Plans were soon advanced to redevelop the neighborhood, and in 1961 Mayor Robert Wagner announced an urban renewal plan for the Far West Village that would have included the blocks bounded by West, Christopher, Hudson, and West 11th Street.
The explicit intention of this project was to “remove the industrial buildings, warehouse and trucking depots” and to replace them with housing.51 While the government-sponsored project was eventually abandoned, market realities have since accomplished much of its original goals. In 1974, the Miller Elevated Highway was closed to traffic and was subsequently demolished in the 1980s. The buildings along West Street, formerly in the permanent shadow of the highway, were exposed again. While a New York Times writer in 1986 still disparaged the character of West Street as “a gritty mixture of auto garages, shuttered sex clubs, truckers’ coffee shops and flurry of construction,” buildings along West Street had begun to be redeveloped or demolished as the area became increasingly acceptable for residential uses.52
As early as 1968-69, the Bell Telephone Laboratories at West Street between Bank and Bethune Streets had been converted into Westbeth, a residential complex for artists. Farther north, immediately across Horatio Street from the F.W. Devoe & Co. Factory Building, the Manhattan Refrigerating Co. complex was renovated and converted as the West Coast Apartments and opened in the 1980s (the complex is located within the Gansevoort Market Historic District). The former factory at 110112 Horatio Street was itself converted to an annex of a new apartment building erected immediately adjacent in 1984. The pace of redevelopment increased in subsequent years, and by 1999, the New York Times observed the Far West Village’s “developers’ gold rush” to convert structures and construct new high rises along the West Street corridor.53 Most of the industrial buildings that once dominated the neighborhood have now been replaced by modern apartment buildings or have been significantly altered during their conversion to residential use. The F. W. Devoe & Co. Factory is therefore a rare—and because of its high degree of physical integrity, an important—reminder of the Far West Village’s industrial past.
The F.W. Devoe & Co. Factory occupies a mid-block lot on the south side of Horatio Street between West and Washington Streets. The six-story, three-bay wide structure is clad in red brick with similarly colored terra-cotta details. The upper floors are separated from the ground floor by a pressed metal cornice. The bays of the ground floor are separated by substantial pilasters, while the bays of upper floors are separated by simple brick piers. The ground floor has been partially reconfigured with new brick infill between the columns separating the bays. Each ground floor bay has a set of three rectangular window openings set above simple limestone sills, with a band of brick corbelling terminating the infill below the second-story pressed metal cornice.
The right-most ground floor opening contains a pedestrian entrance. Each bay in the upper floors contains a set of three rectangular window openings separated by thin brick piers. Each window openings is topped with a radiating lintel of terra cotta that has been scored and pointed to resemble brick and that has a scrolled leaf pattern at each end. Above the window lintels and spanning the width of each bay is a two-course-high sawtooth pattern of brick. On the third through sixth floors, a continuous plain stone still runs the width of the bay under the window openings. All of the original six-over-six windows have been replaced with non-historic one-over-one aluminum windows. The left-most windows in the left bay, the left and right windows in the central bay, and the right-most windows in the right bay all have vent louvers for air conditioning units.
The brick piers separating the bays terminate in simple terra-cotta capitals at the level of the sixth-story window lintels. Decorative cartouches are inset into the brickwork above these capitals. Two of these panels depict items manufactured by F.W. Devoe & Co., including paint brushes, an artist’s easel, and mathematical instruments, while the other two panels portray an allegorical profile of a man’s face. Above the sixth-story window lintels and inset in the bays between the brick piers is a corbelled terra-cotta cornice composed of a horizontal band course topped by six blind segmental arches within each bay. The building terminates in another corbelled band of terra cotta surmounted by a non-historic metal parapet. A small portion of the east side façade is visible from street level; it appears to be a brick wall that has been parged.
An ornamental metal tie rod in the shape of a star is in the upper corner of this elevation and a wooden fence encloses a rooftop terrace. Portions of the south rear and east side facades are also visible from Jane Street at time of designation; these elevations appear to be simple parged brick walls with bays of segmental-arched and rectangular window openings. Some of the windows on these side and rear elevations have green shutters, and some have through-wall air conditioning units installed beneath the sill. Several ornamental tie rods in the shape of a star are visible on the west side façade and a wooden fence encloses a rooftop terrace.
- From the 2008 NYCLPC Landmark Designation Report