It’s hard not to love New York’s holdout buildings

A holdout building is a piece of property that refused the wrecking ball. Instead of bowing to threats of eminent domain or accepting an offer to sell, the building’s owner holds their ground and forces developers to change plans.

In New York City, that doesn’t seem to usually stop developers; they simply build around the holdout. and that leads to some pretty incongruous streetscapes, like this one above. Here, a late 19th century tenement continually gets the squeeze from two postwar towers on East 79th Street between First and York Avenues.

Some holdout buildings stood their ground decades ago. This yellow brick walkup was probably part of a long line of once-fashionable townhouses on East 20th Street near Fifth Avenue in the mid- to late 1800s. Tall loft buildings replaced them in the early 1900s…but the set-back holdout at number 34 remains.

Was this holdout in the Diamond District on West 47th Street once bright white and glorious? That balcony makes it look like a palace flanked by two dour bullies.

This skinny holdout (only wide enough for one window per floor!) was built in 1865, when West 46th Street was near the magnificent Croton Reservoir at 42nd and Fifth. I imagine this was another block of residences slowly replaced by tall loft buildings after the turn of the century…except for this one.

Nat Sherman Cigars operated out of this townhouse for years before closing up shop in 2020, a casualty of the pandemic. Though the townhouse itself wasn’t built until 1971 at 12 East 42nd Street, a previous holdout building stood its ground between these bigger guys, reserving the space.

This last one is a holdout mystery. The photo was sent to me years ago, and I’ve had no luck tracking down where exactly it was taken. In any event, it’s hard not to love the little cabin and the walkup behind it (those shutters!), both almost swallowed up by the cityscape around it.

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29 Responses to “It’s hard not to love New York’s holdout buildings”

  1. boxwoodbooks Says:

    This reminds me of the 1942 children’s book – ‘The LIttle house’

  2. fmlondon Says:

    I want to know where that little cabin is located!!!

  3. Tom B Says:

    I always thought the Russian Tea Room was a great hold out. Situated on W 57th St, between The Metropolitan and Carnegie Hall Towers. It almost runs the whole block back to W 56th St.

  4. Ted Says:

    I think the last one was on West 110th Street. I’m pretty confident of that and am sure I’ve seen it in a book somewhere.

  5. Larry Gertner Says:

    Check out the building at the SW corner of of Third Avenue and East 22nd Street. It overhangs its low-rise neighbors on the avenue. Locals call it the “Tetris” building. Wish I could include a photo…

  6. Kelly Says:

    The Third Ave and 55th Street PJ Clark’s building is a holdout. The then owner (deceased now??) told me the story in the early 1980’s.

    There was the holdout at 134 East 60th Street. One rent controlled tenant refused to leave. Everyone else vacated from 59th to 60th but she remained. Newsworthy at the time due to its location across from Bloomingdale’s.

    Lastly, the two men that hired attorney David Rozenholc to fight the Hudson Yards developer. It’s funny, they actually lost in court but according to news reports settled for $25 million PLUS a lifetime apartment in the new development because they feared Rozenholc would cause delays for years.

    Amazing things happen in New York City.

    • erictb Says:

      E60 St. was made apart of the new building, rather than simply built next to.

      Then there are the corner buldings at Rockefeller center; 49th and 50th Sts, 6th ave. The one on 49th still has its original masonry on the top floors, and the one on 50th has an all new brick cladding but is still the small scale (3 stories) of an older building. I don’t know if these wer eholdouts, or if Rockefeller cEnter just decided to keep them, for the novelty.

  7. fmlondon Says:

    This is a new topic, unrelated. I am interested in the various incarnations of the Polo Grounds. Polo Grounds II (or III depending on your definition, the second location anyway) was abandoned in 1891, as the Giants moved into Brotherhood Park, right next door, and renamed it the Polo Grounds. The older park (by a few months) was renamed Manhattan Field. It was used for other sports, especially college football, over the next 20 years. When the ‘new’ Polo Grounds burned down in April of 1911, Manhattan Field was still standing, still controlled by the Giants, and they deliberately chose not to play in it, but to play in Hilltop Park as tenants of the Yankees, until the last Polo Grounds opened in June. In 1919, Babe Ruth, playing for the Red Sux, hit a home run out of the Polo Grounds and into Manhattan Field, which was, by then, a vacant lot. Some time, between 1911 and 1919, Manhattan Field was razed.

    There must be photographs somewhere, even insurance maps, which could help narrow down the destruction of Manhattan Field. Can anyone suggest a source for such photographs? I no longer live in New York, so I would need online sources. The parks were literally close enough for a home run to leave one park and land in the other, as occurred in a game in 1890 and, of course, Ruth’s home run in 1919.

  8. Sally Fenley Says:

    Love this post!! I’m going to save it and visit all of them. 🙂

  9. richardlowellparker Says:

    I was a taxi driver in New York City in 1975-76 and I remember there was on lone brownstone still standing in the middle of a very large cleared city block. I wish I had knocked on the door of that place and talked to that owner. There were a few places like that on the West Side as well. I’m sure they are long gone by now.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’m a big fan of lone brownstones and tenements. They’re still around, just not downtown.

    • Larry Gertner Says:

      Are you remembering 179 West Street? If so, there was a “Forgotten New York” entry on it a long time ago; maybe it’s still findable. It was there all alone 1979-2003!

  10. Matt Brown (@mattbrowndev) Says:

    Here’s the location of the last one: https://www.google.com/maps/@40.8028205,-73.965337,3a,75y,18.43h,87.68t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sdWXllN-ZsClGdTjSNfJpzw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

  11. muglug Says:

    The last building (221 W 109th St) was occupied by John Courtsounis, who sold peanuts at Columbia University.

  12. mitzanna Says:

    163 West 79th St. is another one. Google maps show scaffolding in front which might be gone by now. It’s a beautiful little house.

  13. Christopher McIntyre Says:

    One of my favorite hold outs is the shed near Lexington Ave on on the north side of E 28th. The buildings immediately around it have maintained smaller scale so it still feels appropriate.

  14. Maxine Cary Says:

    These buildings are part of the charm of New York.

  15. velovixen Says:

    Forget Trump Tower or the Plaza. I’d live in one of those buildings!

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