“Seeking New York” is the title of an incredible book about architecture and buildings in different areas of Manhattan. Written by Thomas Miller, with bright illustrations, clear drawings and simple lines created by Jenny Seddon and with many photographs, the book is organized according to different neighborhoods that make reading it a very pleasant and easy experience. The text is well written and contains the most wonderful anecdotes about some of the buildings or houses around them as well as some of the stories behind them, like the Theodore Roosevelt House in Gramercy for example. Even before ever having the book in my hands, I had loved Tom’s blog “Daytonian in Manhattan”. I loved his blog as soon as I discovered it, because of the details included in each entry about the date of construction and the moment of creation of every building.
Tom Miller moved to New York City in 1979 from Dayton (Ohio, USA) bringing with him a passion for buildings. For years his involvement with the New York Police Department has afforded him the opportunity to see the city’s seemingly endless variety of buildings. In 2009 he began a daily blog, which has now reviewed over a thousand buildings, statues, and other points of interest. Throughout the book, he seems be focused on smaller buildings rather than on some of the best known in Greenwich Village, Lower East Side, Tribeca, Chinatown or Battery Park City, for example. Engagingly presented, the book shows details about each architect, dates, and styles, and Tom Miller reveals the joys, tragedies, and scandals of those who lived within. Published in 2015, “Seeking New York”, is one of the best books I have ever seen about the architectural history of Manhattan.
Tom Miller spoke with AZUCAR MAGAZINE about his fascinating book, ideally written for people who love NYC history.
NI: I understand that the first buildings in New York were built about 1800. Where does American architecture come from?
TM: The earliest buildings in New York were built by the Dutch in the 17th century. The earliest surviving structures in Manhattan date from the mid-1700s. Most were destroyed in three devastating “Great Fires” in 1776, 1835 and 1845.
NI: Why do houses in New York have basements considering Manhattan is an island and there is a river nearby?
TM: The houses in New York do have basements. The problem of Manhattan’s bedrock made excavating basements a challenge, and the earliest houses sat on what was termed “English basements”, which meant that they went into the ground only six feet or so, and the rest of the basement was above ground. That is why the first floor was access by the high ‘stoops’ or stone stairs we see throughout the city today.
NI: What are the types of architecture that co-exist in New York today?
TM: There is a broad variety of architecture in New York. We have the Dutch and English architecture from the 1700s; Federal-style buildings from around 1810-1830; Greek Revival rowhouses and churches from the 1830s until about 1850; Italianate rowhouses and commercial buildings starting around 1845 or 1850; Gothic Revival churches which began appearing in the 1840s; Beaux Arts mansions in the latter part of the 19th century, and 20th century styles like Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, Art Moderne, etc.
NI: Which is the origin of use the emergency staircases outside buildings?
TM: In the 1890s the “Reform Movement” developed in large cities which sought to improve living conditions and safety. Ventilation, lighting, and escapes from fires, etc. were addressed and made law. Overcrowded buildings like tenements were forced to install auxiliary means of escape in an attempt to prevent disaster and loss of life.
NI: Why are there so many places called Fulton in NY?
TM: Robert Fulton was an important inventor and engineer in New York City. His success, especially in developing the steam boat, made his nearly legendary. After his death he was honored with many re-named locations.
NI: Which are the oldest buildings in NY?
TM: The three oldest Manhattan buildings are: The Morris-Jumel Mansion (1765), St. Paul’s Chapel (1766) and The Dyckman Farmhouse (1784).
NI: How many buildings have NY now?
TM: Wow. I have no idea how many buildings are in New York City. A lot!
NI: What are the 5 most wonderful places in Manhattan for you?
TM: The Central Park, The New York Public Library, The Woolworth Building, Old City Hall and The Chrysler Building.
Title: Seeking New York: The Stories Behind the Historic Architecture of Manhattan – One Building at a Time
Author: Thomas Miller
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Universe (March 10, 2015)