While I was researching buildings for The Structure of Skyscrapers, I read a lot of nineteenth-century descriptions of buildings, both informal (in journals) and formal (in Department of Buildings records). Something I came across quite a bit was the word “irregular.” It was always used in the same way: to denote the back of a building being not a simple rectangle. The dimensions of a building or a lot were given as the street frontage and then the depth perpendicular to the street. If the lot or building was not a rectangle, some dimension would be driven for the depth, with “irregular” tacked on. At first, I wasn’t sure what that meant, until I went and looked at some of the surviving buildings.
The picture above was taken from the north end of Union Square, looking a bit south of east. I took it because I was looking for the Con Ed building, but I accidentally captured something else, specifically the building in front of it with the two orange-stuccoed, almost blank walls. Here’s a close-up:
The building has a blunt L shape with the top on the building’s west side (the narrow facade to the right of the orange and in front of Con Ed) and the toe of the horizontal on the north, facing 16th Street. Here’s a fire map from about when the building was built in 1903:
It’s the tan building at 189 Fourth Avenue/32 Union Square and 104-106 East 16th Street. It was fireproof construction, and the rest of the block (except 105-107 East 15th Street, which I’ll be talking about tomorrow) was not. The building’s plan on the map looks just like the picture, including the two different facade locations (one bay at the property line, one bay set back) on 16th Street. This is “irregular”: there’s no way to describe that hammerhead plan using just two or three numbers.
Note that the bank at the corner, abutting the building on both inside sides, was 6 stories high, but the building at the corner today (either something newer or, more likely, the old building cut down and reskinned) is two stories. If you look at the blow-up picture, you can see some ghosts of the old party wall on the right, just below the tree branches.