Who doesn’t love a fairy tale? Even pragmatic New Yorkers could not resist referencing the architecture of European nobility in the earlier days of the city. While many country mansions and manor homes outside of the city have a more overt reference to castle architecture, here in New York City there’s quite enough fairy dust to keep us curiously looking for more castles in our daily commute.
1. Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital
A good number of castle-like architectural structures in New York City can be traced to engineer James Renwick, Jr., who was born in Manhattan. He was not formally trained as an architect but was heavily influenced by his travels abroad. His Smithsonian Institution Building in Washington D.C., is actually nicknamed “The Castle,” and spurred the Gothic revival movement in American architecture. In New York City, Renwick may be most famous for St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, but his landmarked ruin on Roosevelt Island, built originally as a smallpox hospital may be the most castle-like.
This hospital was only in operation for nineteen years, from 1856 to 1875, located here because Roosevelt Island was originally considered far enough away from civilization to quarantine smallpox patients. It was later used as a nurses dormitory and was abandoned by the 1950s. It is the only landmarked ruin in New York City, and you can visit the site en route to FDR Four Freedoms Park.
2. Castle Belvedere, Central Park
This may be the most well-known castle in New York City and unlike many others, actually has “castle” in its name. Castle Belvedere is located in Central Park between the Great Lawn and the Ramble. It was built in 1869 out of Manhattan schist, designed by Central Park architects Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. The National Weather Service measures the official temperature in Central Park off the tower, which is the highest point in the park. Belvedere Castle’s pristine condition today belies a long history of abandonment and disrepair, documented in these photos from the 1980s.
For another castle-like structure in Central Park, don’t miss the Arsenal, and join us for our upcoming tour of the Secrets of Central Park:
3. Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Not all castle architecture in New York City has a Gothic inspiration. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York takes cues from Italian palazzos, like the Medici Riccardi palazzo in Florence with a rusticated lower facade and arched stone windows. Inside, there’s a gold vault containing the world’s largest depository of gold, about 10% of the world’s total. The Fed guards this gold on behalf of other countries, states, residents and more. Recently, Bangladesh accused the Fed of losing $100 million in a possibly questionable bank transfer to the Philippines.
4. NYC’s Armories
There are several dozen armories around New York City, built for the volunteer militia of the city. It made sense to design the architecture like fortified castles, not only for protection but also to send a message to the public about the rule of law. While some still function as active National Guard posts, others have been converted into new uses. The Troop C Armory 101st Artillery is, above in Crown Heights, Brooklyn was built in the style of a “castellated armory, and housed equipment for cavalry, making it different from other armories in Brooklyn. There is still a National Guard unit here today.
Bedford Union Armory
Above, the Bedford Union Armory, was built in 1903 and was used continuously until 2011. It is currently undergoing redevelopment into a mixed-use space that will include residential apartments, a sports center, community space, and commercial space. See many more of the city’s castle-like armories here.
5. 56 Nassau Street
56 Nassau Street was once a quaint little mortgage company, just a few floors high but today’s building from 1986 is 27 floors of commercial and office space. It is one of the many buildings in Manhattan that include a privately owned public space, managed by the building, and constructed in exchange for height bonuses. As such, walking on the street, you’ll probably miss the castle-like details in this very elongated modern castle but at the very top you’ll see four medieval style turrets.
6. Ocean View Cemetery on Staten Island
We passed by the bucolic Ocean View Cemetery on Staten Island recently, which is over a century old. At the entrance is a castle-like house and gate, that leads into this non-denominational cemetery that is the final resting place for over 50,000 people. The architecture, with its facade of large individual stones is reminiscent of Hempstead House in Sands Point, Long Island that was built by Howard Gould and often featured in films locations.
7. 455 Central Park West, Former New York Cancer Hospital
The former New York Cancer Hospital, the first institution in the United States dedicated to the disease, is located on 106th Street and Central Park West. The multi-turreted architecture, more reminiscent of a French chateau departs from the more popular Gothic castle style. The hospital was converted into a luxury condo in 2005, with amenities fit for New York City’s royalty.
8. Cadman Plaza Post Office
This large complex in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza, near Brooklyn Borough Hall, contains the United States Post Office Building, built in 1885 to 1891. It was designed by Mifflin E. Bell, supervising architect of the United States Treasury. A northern extension was added in 1930 to 1933 (on the right side of the photograph), designed by James Wetmore, Acting Supervising Architect of the United States. Today, the complex also contains the courthouse for the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York.
9. Erasmus High School
Now tucked between stores on Flatbush Avenue is Erasmus High School, the oldest secondary school in New York State, founded through the generosity of founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Prolific architect C.B.J. Snyder, the Superintendent of School Buildings in New York City, designed this stunning campus filled with Gothic architecture and stained glass. Nearby, you’ll find other architectural treasures, including a Dutch Reformed church, as the land for Erasmus High School was donated by them.
10. Fonthill Castle in the Bronx
This medieval-style mansion was built by Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest in 1852 overlooking the Hudson River. Now situated in the Bronx, the castle has served many functions under the jurisdiction of the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Built of cut stone masonry that the Landmarks Preservation Commission called “of the finest quality ,” the Fonthill Castle has five towers that surround a main central tower.
Bonus: City College of New York
The City College of New York on 138th Street in Manhattan is a neo-Gothic campus built in 1907 from the Manhattan schist excavated from the construction of the subway system. The buildings are replete with white terra cotta ornament numerous grotesques, making this campus very castle-like indeed.