Brief History | 213-215 Water Street | Designed by Stephen D. Hatch (1839-1894)
This Italianate cast iron and stone warehouse was designed by the renowned New York City architect Stephen D. Hatch in 1868 for Alexander and William A. Thompson of A. A. Thompson & Co. Before the warehouse was built, this lot was occupied by two three-story buildings, originally part of a 1750 water lot grant, on what would have been considered one of the principal streets in New York City. Throughout the 19th century, the area was occupied by wholesale grocers and commission merchants, iron dealers, warehousers, and mechanics connected with the shipping business.
Stephen D. Hatch became one of New York’s well known architects in the last quarter of the 19th century. Hatch designed mostly mercantile buildings, and his most famous accomplishments are the Murray Hill Hotel (1884) and the Boreel Building (1902) on Broadway. When Hatch began to practice architecture in 1865 he was named Architect of the U.S. War Department and given the job of constructing all of the military posts in New York. It is probable that 213-215 Water Street was one of Hatch’s first civilian commissions.
According to the building application No. 482 submitted by Stephen D. Hatch on June 9, 1868, the new buildings were to be “Five storey warehouses for tin and metals. Bottom made of driven piles three feet from centres, with rough timbers laid in concrete. […] Marble columns and 8″ ashlar with 12″ brick backing, about the lintel course.” In actuality, the upper stories of this Italianate building were built of limestone, and the entire facade is contained within two vertical rows of quoin blocks.
Initially used for decorative and structural purposes, cast-iron became a popular architectural material for facing commercial buildings in the mid-to-late 19th century, particularly in New York City. Compared with other building materials, cast-iron was paintable, inexpensive, easy to assemble, and allowed for the repeated production of decorative features. It was also thought to be fireproof, a belief that changed following the 1879 New York fire that destroyed several rows of cast-iron buildings.
Image above left: 207-217 Water Street, late 1960s. South Street Seaport Museum Archives.
Image above right: 207-217 Water Street, ca. 1990s. South Street Seaport Museum Archives.
The first alteration of 213-215 Water Street took place in 1902, when the lessee, Berlin Aniline Company, installed a new elevator shaft, framed the old hatchways on all floors, and replaced one of the ducts/chimneys with a built-in one. In 1917, architect Emery Roth (1871-1948) extended the stairway with a walkway to the roof and installed a new fire escape in the front of the building.
The buildings passed between a few hands, and in 1973 the City of New York leased it to the Seaport Museum. In the mid-late 1990s the Seaport Museum recreated the missing cast-iron ground floor facade, which had been removed at some point over the years, and transformed the wooden column-filled first floor into an art gallery.
The Thompson Warehouse is currently closed in anticipation of renovations beginning in December 2020. The project will transform the building into an education hub for the Museum and a gathering space for the local community, that will include new elevators, climate control systems, and full ADA accessibility.
Learn More About Buildings in the District
Learn more about some architecturally significant buildings in the South Street Seaport Historic District in a recent blog post where we explored the stories of many of these 18th- and 19th century structures found around the district.