Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 5.34.33 PMscaled
This is Tribeca’s Tipping Point

What you see in this image is before and after photographs of 43 Park Place (Block 126, Lot 8). It is the north side of Park Place. The photo on the left was taken in the late 1880’s. It showcases the final business home of the wholesale operations of the famous grocery store, Duncan’s and Son’s. David Duncan, a Scot immigrant of 1830, opened a store at 407 Broadway and later at Union Square. (The 407 Broadway site would later be sold to a bank, profiled in a separate posting).

Duncan’s was a kind of 19th century Dean and Delucca’s. According to the Times, it was “one of those places where everything in the way of delicacies from all parts of the world seems to be collected…from pate de fois gras, fresh from Stasbourg, and the rarest kinds of sauces and curries from India, China, Japan, and Assam…, rice from the finest growth from the southern States, tapioca from the tropics, edible moss from Iceland, oranges from Spain and Florida, dates from Arabica, and dried fruits and meats from every quarter of the globe” (NY Times, Dec. 30, 1875). Most likely, all of this food was off-loaded at the wharf opposite nearby Washington Market.

Duncan’s also had an interesting monopoly: they were the sole distributer of Lea & Perrins’ Worcestershire sauce. An early bottle, with a Duncan’s stamp on the bottom, is shown at the bottom of this essay, as well as an early Duncan’s ad for the sauce.

Although this building and block were part of the original historic district request of the Tribeca community in the late 1980’s, the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the time (under David Todd) refused to include this block in Tribeca South Historic District. At the time, insiders speculated that pressure from downtown real estate titans was exerted upon the commission. The real estate titans wanted Tribeca South for themselves as a real estate toy, not for the Tribecans who lived there. Wall Street North remains a real possibility on this block unless Tribecans rise up with some pitchforks. Skyscapers are being proposed every day. As the photo on the left clearly shows, 43 Park Place fell into the hands of a series of unsympathetic owners. Note how nearly all the window ornamentation has been stripped (although the cornice is amazingly intact). A fire escape was added at some point. To add insult to injury, the ground floor façade was subjected to the marble mausoleum effect you see before you in this 2014 photograph.

From an architectural point of view, as well as from a social and economic history one, this block is unequivocally part of Tribeca. Good luck trying to prove otherwise. However, the block has suffered some painful blows. The building to the left of 43 Park Place was torn down for the hideously ugly structure – one that I hesitate to call actual architecture — next to it. But the rest of the block, despite abuse, is still full of excellent, tragically neglected and abused masonry architecture, all of which has important business history behind it. Were this stretch to become part of the Tribeca South Historic District it could easily be restored (without costing a crippling fortune) and would provide an essential Hadrian’s Wall separating the glass-curtain wall universe of big real estate to the south of it and the lower-rise, pre-1930’s masonry world of Tribeca.
Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 5.20.26 PMscaled

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 5.21.39 PMscaled