Holdout buildings that escaped the wrecking ball

If most developers had their way, contemporary New York’s skyline would probably consist of an unbroken chain of modern monoliths reaching into the sky.


Luckily, thanks to real estate owners who refused to sell their smaller-scale carriage houses, tenements, and humble 19th century walkups, the cityscape is filled with lovely low-rise reminders of a very different Gotham.

The slender, circa-1893 beauty (above) at 249 West End Avenue beat the wrecking ball because the widow who occupied it refused to sell—even as the four identical homes on either side of hers were demolished in the 1920s, according to Daytonian in Manhattan.


Streeteasy says that this dollhouse-like carriage house (above) at 407 Park Avenue was built in 1910. The tie shop on the ground floor is dwarfed by its Midtown neighbors.


This wide, four-story yellow row house was probably the prettiest home on East 57th Street near Sutton Place when it was built. Now, it’s sandwiched between two handsome apartment towers.


Also on East 57th Street but closer to Midtown are these two very typical 19th century tenements, nestled inside a 1960s white brick apartment house.


This little red charmer on West Broadway looks like it comes from the 19th century. According to Streeteasy, it was actually built in 1950. That’s okay—it keeps the two modern monsters on either side of it at a nice distance apart.

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23 Responses to “Holdout buildings that escaped the wrecking ball”

  1. Newportcarl Says:

    Thank you thank you thank you. This always makes my week. I love this site and all the work you put into this.!

  2. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    I don’t have anything of interest to enlighten on this presentation. I just want to say how much I admire ‘the hold-outs’ for their fortitude and to note how lucky NYC is to have these wee jewel-like buildings sprinkled along the by-ways there. They help to bring a more simple, human-scale back to neighborhoods, preserve the history of the area and they are just darn nice to look upon when bookended by monster structures that seem made of heartless metal and glass. THANKS for your wise-eye in spotting them!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you Audrey! I meant to include a rather famous holdout building–the one that houses the Russian Tea Room on West 57th Street, wedged between two towers. My photo just wasn’t up to par.

  3. John Lynch Says:

    I always enjoy the posts. I thought it surprising tho that you refer to the two modern monsters in the bottom photograph. They aren’t that bad, although the one on the left seems to not know if its cast iron or not, but still interesting. Why does modern get such a bad rap? I live in the Seaport District, and there are a number of modern buildings that fit in very well’ LPC did their job well.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Point well taken JL–I confess I’m just biased toward any NYC building that dates back to the 18th or 19th century.

  5. Andrew Porter Says:

    These tiny buildings must be appreciated by the surrounding buildings, because they can then have windows on the lot lines, instead of blank masonry walls.

    • Rick Wagner Says:

      I agree.

      Whenever I see these types of posts, my mind always turns to those in the adjoining high-rises who would be living with windowless kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms without these holdouts.

      Also, if the holdout had sold, that’s no guarantee that the adjoining buildings would have been bigger, it would just have meant a narrow skinny high-rise would have been there. After all, this is New York.

      • Bob Says:

        Many of these little buildings are not holdouts, but light protectors specifically purchased by the adjacent developer for the window protection and air rights.

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Another good point. But I wonder if they wouldn’t have the extra real estate rather than views.

    • Bob Says:

      It is not the views they want, per se. Rrsidential developers who leave “light protectors” typically need the light and air from these side windows to have legal bedrooms, kitchens, or other living space in that portion of their new development. The more legal bedrooms, etc. makes the apartment more valuable, especially when there are strict legal rules in condo declarations as to the number of legal bedrooms, etc. Since lot line windows can be blocked by a neighbor in the future, Department of Buildings would not approve bedrooms, etc. with “lot line windows” in the absence of a (permanent) light and air easement agreement signed by the neighbor.

      Developers who own the light protector (or the air rights) do not forfeit the “extra real estate” above the light protector because they can build a taller building on the rest of their property using this same square footage, i.e., the FAR (floor area ratio) allowance from the little light protector building. They still own the square footage within the light protector, so nothing is forgone.

  7. Tom Hakala Says:

    Excellent post. There has always been two sides to the story of ‘holdouts,’ some arguing that they halt progress, others, as above, that they help to preserve a human scale in the City. I lean to the latter as I like them as reminders of what was once here. They help you imagine what the City was like in those long gone years.

    Does anyone have further information about 407 Park? I have had my office in 400 Park for about five years and look at 407 everyday. It would be good to know the story of that building.

    • Bob Says:

      It’s not a holdout, but a light protector left by the developer of the building to the north at 417 to protect his south facing windows providing code required light and air.

  8. Tom Hakala Says:

    Pardon my grammar: …There HAVE always been two sides…

  9. trilby1895 Says:

    In addition to my most primary fantasy (time-traveling back to Manhattan during 17th, 18th, early 19th centuries) my other salient fantasy is being phenomenally wealthy ONLY so that I could purchase every single existing “old” building to be saved forever The glowering and hopeless frustration of “developers” who would be foiled would be an additional reward.

  10. Ruth Rosenthal Says:

    Thank you again, ephemeral. I walk around the city and take note of the “holdouts” and I’m always happy to see them.

  11. Timothy Grier Says:

    I always thought the most powerful examples of holdout buildings are the townhouses that bracket Rockefeller Center on 6th Avenue between 49th and 50th. The Rockefellers wielded considerable clout but were unable to dislodge those landowners. Also the holdout building at the corner of 34th and Broadway that prevented Macy’s from occupying the entire block.

  12. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    BLAME TIMOTHY!!! He mentioned such amazing sounding structures…and welllllllll, so have a few others in the readership comments.

    I wanna see allllllllllllllllllllllllll these buildings! WOW – wow – wow!
    Someone grab their camera and get on some walk’n shoes this weekend and take a few extra snaps to help EPHEMERAL out a bit on this task. This is fascinating to see how many like-minded folks did not cave to OPPORTUNITY KNOCK’N & NO DOUBT WAVE’N BIG BUCKS!

  13. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Audrey, you might start a movement here in NYC!

  14. 2/8: Golden Girls cafe arrives, Times Square attack, Queens tops priciest ZIPs | SpotCorner Says:

    […] Holdout buildings that escaped the wrecking ball Thanks to real estate owners who refused to sell their smaller-scale carriage houses, tenements, and humble 19th century walkups, the cityscape is filled with lovely low-rise reminders of a very different Gotham. (Ephemeral New York) […]

  15. Bob Says:

    The red building on West Broadway was an American Railway Express office built in 1923. It is in a Landmark district. The condo building to the right was built on the parking lot which had formerly been the Railway Express freight yard.

    On this subject I recommend the book “New York’s Architectural Holdouts” by Andrew Alpern and Seymour B. Durst (Dover Publications, 1996)

  16. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Ah, so Streeteasy had the date wrong, I should have known. Thank you Bob.

  17. Alexei Says:

    Regarding photo # 2 of 407 Park Avenue I used to work next door in the 1980s, that was a Federal Express store back in the 80s. Even back then I wondered how that small building survived to exist between two large buildings on Park Avenue.

  18. A 21-story condo subsumes a Yorkville tenement | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] I don’t think I’ve ever seen a holdout building quite like the tenement that appears to be subsumed by its newer neighbor at 408 East 79th Street, […]

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