Ed Lederman

55 Thompson Before & After

By Bob Esnard

Just after World War I an unusual building – “The Tunnel Garage,” was built at 55 Thompson Street on a rectangular corner parcel of approximately 14,000 sq. ft. bounded by Broome Street and Thompson Street. The garage was a two-story brick faced structure specifically designed for automobiles.
The building had a gasoline service station on the first floor with a two car entrances, one on Thompson Street and another on Broome Street. The second floor was designed exclusively for off street parking and without columns for easy driving and had its own entrance ramp directly to Thompson Street separate from the 1st floor building service station entrances. The first and second floors were built of reinforced concrete with the second floor roof supported by long span curved wood lattice trusses and roof skylights for natural light.

The building was one of the first indoor auto service stations that combined automobile parking facilities in a multi-story building. The façade was decorated with an intricate pattern of brick stone lettering at the cornices and a curved corner at the intersection of Broome and Thompson Streets. When constructed, the building fit in the manufacturing area it was located in with large industrial style glass windows on both street fronts. The building also had art work of a 13 foot diameter mosaic medallion depicting a car driving in a tunnel at the curved corner on the top of the building.

After the Second World War the building was converted to parking use exclusively. Unfortunately, over time the structure deteriorated due to water damage and the lack of maintenance. In the 1960’s there was a roof fire and the roof had to be re-supported with steel and concrete structural elements in an attempt to continue the buildings’ life. As the building aged, the surrounding neighborhood was “transformed” from a manufacturing and auto neighborhood into a “hip” mixed use residential, retail and hotel area catering to artists, writers and young professionals.

The Tunnel Garage was purchased by the current owners who after evaluating the building realized that continuing to operate the two-story garage was physically and economically not feasible. Four years ago the decision was made to create a unique “contextual” residential building that would be both architecturally and functionally neighborhood appropriate.

Manhattan Skyline is finishing construction of this modern nine-story rental residential building that includes 38 large apartments containing one, two and three bedrooms as well as a three-bedroom townhouse with a private entrance on Sullivan Street. At street level there will be a residential building lobby and retail stores in keeping with the character and activity of the blocks that surround the new 55 Thompson Street - once known as “The Tunnel Garage.”