Preservationists Steamed! IRT Powerhouse House Makes Seven to Save List

2010 03 30 irtph thumb Preservationists Steamed! IRT Powerhouse House Makes Seven to Save List

Architecture and detail as fine as this is a thing of the past! (Courtesy of Wired News York)

The Preservation League of New York State has added the former New York IRT Powerhouse building to its Seven to Save list. Activists hope the recognition will help open the facility to the public, wresting at least part of it from the hands of Con Ed, which uses but a fraction of the grand McKim, Mead & White-designed building for steam generation.

Opened in 1904, The former IRT Powerhouse building holds a dear place in the history of the New York City, having served as a power generator for the first subway line and helped revolutionize transportation throughout the following decades. Stanford White designed the city block wide building in 1902 and set it on par with other notable buildings such as the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal and the Metropolitan Museum of Arts.

“The powerhouse is a perfect illustration of Stanford White’s determination to transform every corner of New York from a featureless sea of brownstone into a capital worthy of a Renaissance prince,” Samuel White, grandson of the architect, said in a release. “Here, hierarchy, scale, proportion, color, and ornament are harnessed to celebrate the power—not of a despot, however enlightened—but of technology in the service of civilization.”

The waterfront along 11th Avenue and 59th Street has experienced rapid growth lately, with Durst to the South and Extell to the north, leaving open the possibility  that the historic building might succumb to development pressures and be demolished, like most of New York’s old powerhouses. ConEd has already demolished four of its historic powerhouses within recent years.

The Preservation League recently launched a blog, Save the IRT Powerhouse, to to help raise awareness of the building’s significance as well as aid in conversation with local advocates, which  the league will also pursue through other venues.

“With this program, we provide targeted support to seven of New York’s most important and endangered historic resources,” said Erin Tobin, the league’s regional director for technical and grant programs, commented, “Whether sites are threatened by insensitive, ineffective or insufficient public policies, general neglect, and, in some cases, outright demolition, we have a proven record of working with community advocates to save a number of significant properties.”

The league has worked on city projects such as the South Street Seaport in 2010 and the Gansevoort Market in 2002, all of which have seen significant preservation efforts after the threat of over development. It also named the South Village to the Seven to Save list for this year.

mewing@observer.com