P R O P O S E D H I S T O R I C D I S T R I C T E X T E N S I O N
INTERBOROUGH RAPID TRANSIT COMPANY SUBSTATION
This handsome Renaissance-inspired powerhouse was built as part of the initial phase of construction on the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) subway. After many years of planning and discussion, work finally began on the construction of this, New York's first subway line, 1899. Electricity to run the system was generated at an enormous power plant located on the block bounded by Eleventh and Twelfth avenues and West 58th and 59th streets. The power plant was planned to generate alternating current from the burning of coal. This current was directed to eight substations located along the route of the subway line, where it was converted into direct current. the current then flowed into the third rail placed alongside the subway tracks.
The East 19th Street building is one of the eight original power substations. Unlike the main generating plant which was designed by one of the most prominent architectural firms of the era, the substations were designed by members of the IRT's own staff.
The IRT was one of the most important public-works projects ever undertaken in New York. As such, the design of the systemÕs stations, power plants, and other buildings was of great importance, and they were all designed to be architecturally distinguished. In fact, the city contract that permitted the Interborough Rapid Transit Company to build the subway included the following provision:
The East 19th Street substation is an eclectic structure. It is massed in a manner reminiscent of Italian Renaissance palazzo and it is ornamented with French Beaux-Arts details such as cartouches and brackets hung with garlands. In addition, the upper story is faced with brick laid in a Georgian-inspired Flemish-bond pattern with burned headers. The four-story building is faced with fine materials; it has a granite base, limestone midsection, and the brick upper story, and contains iron window bays and terra-cotta detail. No longer used as a power station, the building was cleaned in 1990-91 and is presently vacant.
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