Cast iron? There are cast iron buildings in New York City? Yep. Cast iron began to be used for Manhattan buildings after the Civil War. Industrialization of lower Manhattan meant factories, mills, and warehouses started moving into the area, which in turn meant that larger structures needed to be built to accommodate machinery and storage.
Used not only for a building’s structure, but also for the façade, cast iron was developed in New York. The material was not only cheaper than masonry construction, it also could span longer distances, which meant that larger windows could be used to provide more natural light. And unlike stone, which had to be transported to Manhattan at great effort and expense, cast iron could be affordably fabricated nearby. Indeed, the shorelines along the East and Hudson Rivers were ideal places to locate foundries, where shipments of iron and coal, some of the raw materials necessary for the manufacture of steel, could be easily delivered.
Alas, the days of cast iron building were short. Originally considered inflammable, the buildings were usually built with wooden floor joists and girders and, thus, could and did burn down. After World War II, areas like SoHo became slums as industry moved out of lower Manhattan.
Now, of course, lofts in former downtown factories are especially sought-after and notoriously expensive. Case in point, a triplex penthouse owned by a former fashion executive and her lawyer husband that has just come on the market on SoHo’s Greene Street. The couple purchased the loft in the 1980s for just $460,000, back in the days when Soho’s cast-iron buildings were inhabited mostly by broke artists attracted to the neighborhood by the cheap rents.
Certainly, however, this deluxe penthouse is no home to a starving artist. The decoration of the 3,121-square-foot loft is simple and spare, with swathes of soothing white that let the architecture speak for itself. The skylight-topped great room features 13-foot-ceilings, while the combo living and dining room includes four enormous windows, as well as a wood-burning fireplace and a mantel sourced from a Parisian flea market. Separate from the living and entertaining spaces, the kitchen is fitted with marble counters. Also on the main floor are several huge custom-fitted closets and storage rooms for the fashionista of the family.
Enhanced with exposed beams and another skylight, a spiral stair winds up from the kitchen to the mezzanine level, where a steel and glass wall divides a sitting area from a bedroom suite that is perfect for guests. The best part of the apartment, however, just might be the master suite, which encompasses the entire third floor and includes a polished concrete bathroom, a private study, and three beautifully planted terraces. Greenery, flowers, and fruit trees adorn the terraces, with pergolas delineating dining and lounging areas. One terrace includes a built-in barbecue and herb garden, while another offers a hot tub.
The building allows pets, pieds-a-terre, and subleases, while the location, on an antique Belgian-block street, is right in the middle of the SoHo Cast-iron Historic District.