New York puts stone back into Stone Street

Manhattan byway is resurfaced with Deer Island granite

January 26, 2001|By David W. Dunlap | David W. Dunlap,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - They've put the stone back in Stone Street.

For half of its entire length - that is to say, two blocks - one of the oldest roads on Manhattan Island has just been resurfaced with chunky Deer Isle granite paving blocks bordered by smooth New York bluestone sidewalks.

"This street has such historic consequence," said Carl Weisbrod, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, which undertook the newly completed $1.8 million streetscape renovation. "But it was really a back alley filled with graffiti, a garbage pit; used for low-level drug dealing."

It seems like only 3 1/2 centuries ago that they were saying much the same thing along Stone Street. In a petition to the burgomasters of Nieuw Amsterdam in 1655, residents of what was then Brewers' Street asserted that it was "becoming more and more unfit for public use." Their answer? "Pave the said street with round stone on the first favorable opportunity."

1655 petition

Though Stone Street is often called the oldest paved street in New York, the 1655 petition said the cobblestone project ought to "follow the general rule relative to paving," suggesting strongly that it was not the first.

This time, the stones are intended to spur commercial investment.

The alliance, which runs the lower Manhattan business improvement district, is trying to break an impasse that has long hampered redevelopment of the low-rise patch between Hanover Square and Broad Street into what could be a beguiling enclave, a mix of sober counting houses from the early 19th century and fanciful evocations of the Dutch Renaissance and Tudor England.

While the government waited for the Stone Street landlords to do something, they waited for the government. "The owners said, `Why should we fix up our buildings when the city hasn't maintained the streets and sidewalks around our buildings?'" said Suzanne O'Keefe, vice president for design at the alliance. "The infrastructure was in terrible shape."

23,000 paving blocks

About 23,000 new paving blocks have been installed, along with lampposts that look like gas lights, in a project that is supposed to turn a back alley into a jewel, Weisbrod said, "a little engine that could."

"Very much a little engine."

Little known, too, even though it is a stone's throw from Bowling Green and the New York Stock Exchange. Contributing to its isolation, Stone Street was closed between Coenties Alley and Broad Street in the 1980s to permit construction of the giant Goldman Sachs headquarters at 85 Broad St.

In a novel concession, the crooked path of Stone Street was retraced in 4-by-4-inch tiles through the lobby of 85 Broad St. as a public amenity. But last year, Goldman Sachs installed security turnstiles at either end, with the city's permission, according to a new study, "Privately Owned Public Space."

In time, Stone Street's remove from Wall Street bustle may be one of its chief charms, drawing residents as well as tourists and investment bankers.

Renovation plans

Encouraged by the streetscape project, several owners said they would undertake their own renovations in the Stone Street Historic District, which includes Pearl and South William streets, Mill Lane and Coenties Alley. The district was designated in 1996 by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in concert with the alliance's streetscape project.

The former Lehman Bros. annex, a lacy, Gothic building at 9 S. William St., has reopened as the 46-room Wall Street Inn.

Goldman Properties plans to open the Wall Street Kitchen Express at 17 S. William St., a take-out version of its 4-year-old Wall Street Kitchen and Bar at 70 Broad St. Goldman will also open a jewelry store called Fragments at 53 Stone St.

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