Architecture, Photography, and Graydon, Oh My!

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When Graydon Carter gets involved in a building rehabilitation effort, people tend to pay attention. People like the New York Observer ‘s Eliot Brown, who chatted with numerous allies in the Vanity Fair EIC’s personal battle to help save the IRT Powerhouse building (currently housed by ConEd) on the far west side of Manhattan. Preservationists led by the Hudson River Powerhouse Group have been pushing to designate the McKim, Mead, and White building as a historic landmark since last summer after previous attempts fell flat in 1979 and 1990. Carter’s idea is to turn the 1904 classical-turned-industrial power station into a new home for the International Center for Photography. Museum director? Who knows, even Graydon’s got to retire someday…

One small hitch, however: ConEd still occupies the building and has stated it’s position as “unchanged” According to spokesperson Chris Olert, quoted in the article, “We want it to remain a steam-generating plant.” Architecture fans and historic preservationists can’t get over its “magnetic” facade, however, arguing that the edifice deserves more respect than a half-empty repository for mechanical equipment. We’ve heard previous whispers about a Gotham branch of the Tate Modern for the West Side and extra space for John Jay College.

Architectural detailing on the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) Company Powerhouse, which takes up an entire city block from West 58th to West 59th Streest and 11th to 12th Avenues in Manhattan.

At the very least, the IRT is in no immediate danger of demolition, like the long-bemoaned Penn Station, another iconic McKim, Mead, and White design that was razed in 1963. Without landmark status, however, the city and its historically-concerned citizens are powerless to stop any amendments to the old building: the power company, for example, has removed the six original smokestacks and the cornice (pictured below).

A vintage illustration of the IRT Building after its construction in 1904. In his book on the construction of the subway system, “722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York”, author Clifton Hood called the IRT powerhouse “a classical temple that paid homage to modern industry.”