The mysterious working men on a Soho building

It’s Labor Day weekend, an appropriate time to showcase some lovely and mysterious bas reliefs.

They’re of artisans and workmen, and they decorate a Lower Sixth Avenue building at Watts Street.

The images line the facade. They depict men using pre-machine age tools to measure, mix, and sharpen.

Each one is certainly a testament to humanity’s ingenuity. But why here?

A little digging reveals some background. Designed by architect Ely Jacques Kahn in 1928, the 14-floor Art Deco loft was originally known as the Green Building.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any record of previous early tenants that would shed light on why the bas reliefs were carved there.

A chemistry company? Toolmakers? Fabricators? Tthe images are striking and inspiring, especially in this no-man’s-land of West Soho.

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4 Responses to “The mysterious working men on a Soho building”

  1. S.S. Says:

    It would be unlikely that the building’s developer (which I believe is Trinity Realty) had signed tenants at the time the artisans were carving these reliefs. Those leases come later usually.

    I always thought they were just artwork extolling the many professions of labor. That area at the time had many printing and chocolate companies and tool companies, but, not a load of chemical companies, although a chemist is depicted in one relief.

    When this building was built, likely in the 20s, that kind of art, extolling the workers, was prevalent. Think the Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton murals that decorate buildings, which are not dissimilar to these works of art.

  2. Maury Schott Says:

    It’s also possible the building was originally a home for one or more unions. Until a few months ago the newer building across the street was home to SEIU (Service Employees International Union). It’s possible they or another union was in 100 6th Ave previously.

    • Sean Sweeney Says:

      Hi Maury,

      It’s possible it was a union buildig, of course, but I recall that building was always manufacturing, even before Gus Bevona, the crooked boss of Local 32-B/J (to which I used to belong), built the hideous building across the street in the 90s.

      The windows of the Green Building reflect that industrial use and the AIA Guide states it is a “loft” building. Further, at the rear on Thompson Street, are several large loading docks, again indicating an original manufacturing use.

      In fact, about twenty years ago, Trinity stopped renewing the lease of the manufacturers and other industrial uses in the neighborhood. The lobby of the building got a facelift about ten years ago to attract a more upscale renter.

      For example, the empty, little lot directly to the south of this building was an automotive station that used to house my mechanics who had been there for decades until Trinity refused to renew their lease and forced out this thriving business.

      The upcoming so-called “Hudson Square” rezoning should be fun.

  3. RED DAVE Says:

    I remember that on the first floor of the building was an appliance store called Lafayette Radio. The link below gives the skinny on them.

    By the way, I work a block west of this place at 1 Hudson Square. Rezoning and redeveloping in this neighborhood is probably going to outstrip the old Meatpacking District one of these days.

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