The History of Reade Street

Credit: New York Public Library

Reade Street is named after Joseph Reade (1694–1771), a political and social bigwig in colonial New York City. Joseph Reade was a warden of Trinity Church and a member of the governor’s council. The name of Reade Street appears on maps from as early as 1797.

Included within the boundaries of the Tribeca South Historic District are the two blocks of Reade Street between Broadway and West Broadway. The land in this area was originally part of- the holdings of Trinity Church popularly known as the “Church Farm.” Reade Street was mapped and released to city jurisdiction in 1761. In 1796, the street was regulated and paved between Broadway and the Hudson River.

Prior to the close of the Revolutionary War most of Reade Street was undeveloped; however, in 1773 Trinity. Church set aside a plot at the northwest corner of Church and Reade Streets as a burial ground for members of the church that remained in use until 1802. Today, you can visit the African Burial Ground National Monument.

By 1802, the church had begun to offer house lots on both sides of the street for rent on a twenty-one-year lease. The first buildings on the street were modest houses and workshops of artisans who lived and worked in the area. In the 1820s and 1830s, Chambers Street, between Broadway and West Broadway, was redeveloped with elegant town houses. The wealthy merchants who built these houses also frequently acquired lots on the south side of Reade Street for stables and other service buildings. The north side of Reade Street remained residential, but the houses on the street were relatively modest.

During the 1840s and early 1850s, as Chambers Street was commercialized, most of the former stable buildings on Reade Street were converted to stores and manufactories, and former dwellings became tenements and boarding houses with commercial space at the ground story.

In the 1850s and early 1860s the buildings from these earlier development stages were almost completely obliterated, and Reade Street was rebuilt with handsomely decorated five-story store and loft buildings that created remarkably striking and cohesive streetscapes. On the south side of Reade Street many developers erected through-the-block buildings with primary facades on Chambers Street. This is especially true on the block between Broadway and Church. Five of the six surviving mid-nineteenth-century through-the-block store and loft buildings have brick facades (above cast-iron storefronts) which are designed in simpler, more utilitarian versions of the stone facades used on Chambers Street. Contributing to the cohesiveness of the Reade Street streetscape are the many buildings that were developed in pairs or groups, often with consideration to providing artful variations on a design or, in other cases, to uniting two or more buildings into one overall design.

The Cary Building, an individually designated landmark, and 93 Reade Street (1857) are two of the oldest surviving cast-iron-fronted buildings in the city. While there are only two full cast-iron fronts on Reade Street, cast-iron storefront framing members were used for virtually every structure. Most buildings on Reade Street retain their original cast-iron columns, piers, and lintels, many with ornamental capitals and cornices. Many of the bays have iron transom bars and wood-framed transoms. The preservation of such historic fabric at the buildings bases is a factor which contributes to the district’s sense of place. How special to stand on a street and be surrounded with both new developments and old-world charm.