214 Lafayette Street: Searching for the Substation
Last night, I was lucky enough to accompany a friend to an event at 214 Lafayette Street. Like so much of the real estate in New York City, this building has been drastically changed from its original state, and now apparently rents as a single-family home for $100,000 a month. Given the location, intimate views of SoHo, and impeccable renovations, the price tag doesn’t really surprise me- but here I’ll focus on the glimpses I caught of the building’s industrial past.
Constructed in 1922, 214 Lafayette used to be a Consolidated Edison substation. In addition to its sprawling electric plants, ConEd also erected smaller power stations on regular city streets, next to existing buildings, which provided electricity to the subway system. Just as many of the subway’s ventilation shafts were built to blend in as much as possible with the surrounding neighborhood, 214 Lafayette was made to look like just another stone-and-brick building on the block.
Today, the machinery is long gone. Walking past the building, it’s easy to ignore- it still blends in, perhaps even looking a little shabby. But as soon as I walked in to the ground floor space, with walls painted black, I saw a bright blue glow coming from the back- and realized it was a window looking into a swimming pool, with a small underwater band:
Of course, we went up to the second floor pool level. On this level, which was left the most open, it was easy to imagine the hulking machines that used to be there.
Note the exposed brick and the iron beams running along the ceiling.
A view into the adjoining courtyard.
What’s that weird white thing? Wtf is going on with this decor…?
Oh, a spiral staircase! Obligatory shot, because I am obsessed with them. This reminds me of the servant staircases you sometimes find in old homes- if any part of this staircase is original, it would have been a convenient way for workers to reach the lower level without having to run all the way to the stairs at the front of the building.
Moving up to higher floors, I paid special attention to the windows. Based on photos I’ve seen of the building from the 1930s, I think the windows and their original casings have all been replaced. The rectangular windows are decent, and have a nice opening mechanism that at least harkens back to what they would have looked like.
I wasn’t as happy with the arch window. It was gorgeous, but the metalwork seemed cheap and flimsy on inspection. I think if they had made the bars a bit thicker and textured, more like the original iron, it would have been a better match for the rustic look of the exposed brick.
Finally, I want to point out that despite the price tag, the building still has to contend with the idiosyncrasies of New York City heating:
An exposed baseboard heater, just hangin’ out. These ran along the walls of most of the rooms.