This week has been full of celebration for preservationists and historians alike. Yesterday, we learned that East New York’s Empire State Dairy building — a facility that once processed milk and made ice cream — was declared a New York City landmark after a year-long designation process. It’s one of two recently landmarked buildings — the other being the IRT Powerhouse, a former power station of the Interborough Rapid Transit System, which was designated after a public meeting yesterday.
According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the vote to designate the power station was unanimous. The decision clears a 41-year-old item off of the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s “to-do” list, officially completing Backlog 95. Over the years, the power station has been heard for designation on multiple occasions: first in 1976, then in 1990, 2006 and again in 2015-16, as noted in a press release from LANDMARK WEST!
Located on 12th Avenue and 59th Street, the IRT Powerhouse is a stunning 1904 city-beautiful, Beaux-Arts style building, designed by Stanford White of noted American architecture firm, McKim Mead and White. When it opened over a century ago, it was the largest powerhouse in the world, providing electricity to power the first subway line, which ran along the west side of Manhattan.
“With one glance at the Powerhouse, it is easy to see it is already a landmark, and deserves official recognition to ensure its survival,” the Historic Districts Council noted. “This monumental structure is a remarkable example of Beaux-Arts design applied to a utilitarian building; its architectural grandeur meant to convince the public to embrace the subway, a major new mode of transportation back in 1904. Designed as a showpiece, it now stands as a monument to progress and rapid transit.”
Although the IRT Powerhouse no longer has its original smokestacks, the structure still commands a lofty presence thanks to its mammoth size, pivotal location and stunning architecture. It is for these reasons that developers have been eying the site over the years, seeking to re-adapt it as a space for public events, recreation, performances and more. The landmark designation will now ensure that the powerhouse will be protected.
Next, learn more about New York’s ‘Temple of Power’: the 59th Street Powerstation and see our previous coverage of the Empire State Dairy building.