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How Much From A Little Information?

Above, a photo of a rainy day on the west side. The shack on the left is a restaurant’s outdoor seating, still hanging in three years after Covid made this idea possible. I took the picture because of the building ghost past the parking lot. I was curious to see how much I could tell about the building without looking it up. Here’s a close-up of the ghost:

First, the condition of the big loft building’s wall suggests that nothing bigger than the ghost was ever there. Most likely, the ghost building and whatever was next to it were demolished for the parking lot.

The general size and shape of the outline very strongly suggest a rowhouse, which also fits with the history of the west 20s streets. The typical rowhouse would have two lines of chimneys, one serving fireplaces in the front rooms and one serving the rear rooms. The front chimney is quite clear, about ten feet back from the sidewalk. The slightly different color of the brick below the roof line is where the flues were removed and infilled with new(er) brick. There’s a small chimney just about in the center of the building, which was probably a boiler flue installed later, when the building was converted to a modern (i.e., steam) heating system. I can’t see the rear chimney line, but the FLATIRON/NOMAD banner is perfectly placed to block where it should be.

You can see where some of the joists used to pocket into that wall. There’s a line of whiteish filled joist pockets just to the right of the PARK sign with the big red arrow. Based on the elevation that should be the joists supporting the third floor of the house. The second- and fourth-floor joist pockets are visible below and above. The second floor joists are rather high, which suggests that the house had the normal New York stoop, putting the first floor about half a floor above grade. The reddish-brown paint at the base of the wall, almost certainly put there to cover graffiti, covers the area where the first-floor joist pockets should be.

There’s a geometry problem: the floor elevation suggest a full-size stoop, but the front of the building is at the property line. In the nineteenth century stoops were often built on the public sidewalk, past the property line, but there’s no room on the sidewalk. The way to fix that problem is to say that the driving lanes of the street were widened in the 1900s by making the sidewalks narrower, which was, again, common in this neighborhood.

The front corner of the building shows very large toothing of the brick. This is an artifact of the rowhouse construction process, where the side walls and joists were built together and then the front and rear facades added later. It was too difficult to tooth each course of brick, so the brick was toothed five or six courses at a time.

Finally, the ghost building was not the end of the row. There are ties for the old wall to the steel frame of the left building (visible as short vertical lines) that tell us the wall was incorporated as the side wall of the newer loft building when it was built. This not only would likely not have been performed if the ghost building was the end of the row with an independent wall, it would have been illegal to leave that wall in place when the house was demolished. On the other hand, it that was a party wall (and the houses west of the ghost were demolished in the 1920s to build the loft building) then incorporating the wall would be expected (although not necessary) and keeping the wall when the ghost was demolished would have been absolutely necessary.

That seems like a decent amount of history for one photo of a building that isn’t even there.