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The Last Of The 71st Regiment Armory

I need one last look at this picture. I find that a lot of the time, investigating a building – whether in detail for a project, superficially for a blog post, or somewhere in between – requires a fair amount of time thinking about small details. As I discussed yesterday we’re looking at the east side of Park Avenue between 33rd Street (on the right) and 34th Street (the wall on the left) in 1906. The armory was at that time only three years old: the original armory had burned in 1902 and was replaced by a larger building in a roughly similar fake-castle style. With, for some unknown reason, a 236-foot tall tower. By 1902, a building that height was far from remarkable in New York, and it seems badly out of place on the otherwise low and hulking building.

The building was demolished in 1971 but there is a reasonably-well-known remnant. If you go on the north staircase for the northbound platform of the 33rd Street station of the Lexington Avenue local (the 6 train), you see some badly-out of place masonry:

It’s not hard to find a reference to this being the last piece of the armory. So far, so good. But there’s something funny going on. If you look at the subway entrance kiosk in the top photo, it’s not immediately adjacent to the building. Here’s a close-up of that potion of the old photo:

Not only is there some sidewalk between the far side of the kiosk and the building, the flat wall of the building faces an areaway (there to allow for cellar windows) rather than the sidewalk. Two pieces of information make it clear what’s going on: (1) the sidewalk grade was raised in 1916, and (2) you can see some architectural detail of the wall in the old masonry:

That’s a window sill on the upper left and some kind of belt course of stone at the bottom. If you look at the close-up, there’s a belt course the right distance below the first floors windows, and it projects out further than the stone below at the armory cellar, making it easy to run the new subway tile over the cellar masonry. Most descriptions of the remnant call it a piece of foundation wall, but it’s not: when the subway entrance was rebuilt in 1916 because the street grade was raised, the stair was moved slightly east to abut the old first-floor masonry, now below grade.