Located at 214 Lafayette Street in the heart of SoHo is a five-story 12,00 square foot historic townhouse that originally served as one of New York City’s first power stations. In the late 19th century, New York homes were illuminated by gas, much of which was provided by the Consolidated Gas Company, a group of the area’s six largest gas providers formed in 1884. Soon after, everything changed with the creation of Thomas Edison’s Edison Illuminating Company which quickly brought electricity to residents across the city. By 1920, what was once the Consolidated Gas Company had merged to form the Consolidated Edison Company.
With countless enormous brick edifice power plants, easily recognizable for their towering smokestacks, erected along the city’s rivers, Consolidated Edison Company became the city’s leading power supplier. Rather than construct utilitarian factory-looking substations which mirrored their power plant designs, Consolidated Edison melded them into the city’s street environs with Beaux-Arts and Neoclassical facades that disguised the colossal machinery hidden inside pumping energy into the city’s subway system and thousands of homes.
One such substation was constructed at 214 Lafayette Street in 1922 as a lofty six-story brick and stone building that borrowed its design from the rusticated bottom of the then-common carriage house or firehouse. Its central section was defined by a grandiose three-story arch while on the sixth story, above a handsome bracketed cornice sat a shallow Greek temple. The building was also rumored to have at one point housed all of the power lines that provided energy to the entirety of downtown Manhattan.
When it was no longer of use to Con Edison, the building became a warehouse space in 1975 and fell into disrepair. A few years later in 1981, 214 Lafayette was converted into galleries by a group of artists moving into SoHo’s old loft buildings. By 1983 the building was home to the Protech McNeil Gallery, which displayed exhibitions by modern artists such as the 1983 show of Alice Aycock‘s “stratagems of metal” sculptures. In 1997, the Artificial Gallery had made its way into 214 Lafayette, hosting a 27-year retrospective of Jamie Reid’s satirical collages that same year.
As SoHo slowly transitioned from a haven for factories into one of the city’s premier shopping districts, celebrities and movie stars began moving into the area. In 1996, 214 Lafayette was purchased by film director Marcus Nispel who began a 12-year-long conversion project that finished in 2008. While much of the building’s industrial character was preserved in its facade, its interior gives away little in regards to its power station origins—hosting a number of unusual features such as a dungeon-like basement, drop-down cinema screen, and 20-foot ceilings.
Immediately upon entering the house, a window can be seen looking directly into a 40 by 12 foot pool. Other antique finishing touches include a 15th-century stone fireplace from a collapsing château in the south of France reassembled by hand to ensure the element remained in its original form.
A private terrace also adorns the building, measuring 925 square feet—larger than most Manhattan apartments. Other decorations scattered throughout the building range from massive headlight lamps in the main living area dug up from the Hudson River to an original BBQ sign from Texas Chainsaw Massacre hanging in the library and Blade Runner props that have been turned into light fixtures. Today, 214 Lafayette is managed by Hush Events and has been the filming location for Inventing Anna and Mr. Robot., as well as Beyonce’s hit single Halo.
On May 31, join Untapped New York for a tour of 214 Lafayette during which participants will learn more about its history as an art gallery during the 1980s and catch a glimpse of an original Keith Haring subway drawing. The event is free for Untapped New York Insiders. If you’re not a member, join now (and get your first month free with code JOINUS). The tour of 214 Lafayette will be led by P.S. Ives and Sara Altobelli of the Ruby Collective.
Tour of 214 Lafayette
Tour of 214 Lafayette
Next, check out The Substations of NYC’s Subway System!