80 N Moore Street, 1972–75

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Greenwich Street sharply divides Tribeca into two distinct areas. While the masonry warehouses to the east mostly date from the last decades of the 19th century and are now part of the Tribeca West Historic District, the blocks to the west date to mid-1970s, during the era when the World Trade Center was rising. For more than a century Tribeca had been home to the gritty Washington Market, the city’s primary wholesale food distribution center. When the market closed and suppliers moved to the Hunt’s Point section of the Bronx in 1967, the Washington Market Urban Renewal Area was born – a 38-acre mixed-use development site extending 12 blocks, from Barclay to Hubert Street.

Independence Plaza North was one of several ambitious residential complexes in Lower Manhattan that were originally planned as affordable housing. Financed by the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program with a low-interest government mortgage and subsequent tax abatements, Independence Plaza was sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Pulp Sulphite & Paper Mill Workers, who agreed to accept a limited return on their investment before selling the 1,300 unit development in 2003.

Construction was completed in 1975, just before the start of the U.S. Bicentennial, commemorating the American Revolution. The twin super blocks incorporate three 39-story apartment towers, standing on or near Duane, Harrison, and N. Moore Streets. These residential towers are linked by plazas, bridges, elevated walkways, town houses, and street-level commercial spaces. Though maligned by some critics, Independence Plaza is a late, somewhat watered-down example of the mid-20th century modern style called Brutalism. Typical features include cantilevers, exposed and textured concrete, open and closed terraces, and broad stairways leading to elevated semi-private plazas.

Despite the height of the towers and the conspicuous use of modern materials, the architects Oppenheimer Brady & Vogelstein did take the adjacent neighborhood’s historic character into consideration. Not only are the facades brick and the scale of some of the lower structures similar to what one finds in the adjoining historic district, but the project also funded the preservation of nine Federal-style houses on Harrison Street and what was formerly Washington Street. This unexpected L-shaped enclave gives us a sense of what the Tribeca waterfront was like during the early years of the American Republic and before the opening of the Erie Canal. Though the two-story brick facades are heavily restored and much of the woodwork is new, two of the larger houses were moved from sites on Washington Street and are historically significant: 25 Harrison Street (1797) and 27 Harrison Street (1819) are attributed to the prominent American architect John McComb Jr., who was responsible for designing New York’s City Hall, as well as Gracie Mansion and Hamilton Grange.

– Matthew A. Postal