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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Cable Building

I hated the Cable Building. It was gray and grim, as were the spaces and long hallways ringing the interior atrium. Everything about it was unappealing to me, even its location at 611 Broadway and Houston Streets, now a prime shopping district.

But when I needed commercial space, my conversations with brokers invariably led to the Cable Building, where, any day of the week, small spaces were readily available at reasonable rents. The mention of "611 Broadway" made me cringe. The idea of traveling through the building's long serpentine corridors for use of water and a shared bathroom was very unappealing to me. The only real way of securing these amenities en suite was to rent an entire floor of a building, which I finally did.

Much as someone who has to work through a childhood fear of dogs, it has taken me decades to shake off my feelings about the Cable Building. All so ironic - anyone visiting today would be incredulous that I would reject or have misgivings about this historic structure.

One of the most difficult things to communicate to those who have no experience of New York City prior to 1980 is how rough a state this city was in. SoHo was a no man's land, the East Village uninhabitable. Everyone I know had personal experience with being mugged/robbed. Car alarms provided music. Graffiti painted subway cars were the norm. Glass shards on the street from auto break-ins would be a daily sighting.

Running a business in New York City has all the typical expenses - salaries, insurances, holiday and vacation pay, staffing, etc. Operating in New York does, however, present things which make it even more onerous - high rents, problems parking or standing for delivery vehicles or visiting customers, freight which will have to be taken to its destination by elevator - generally only retail stores can afford ground floor space. At one time, ground floor industrial was common. No longer.

When possible, working from home, sans employees, solves many of these problems. I did this for many years. But time came, as it does for many, that working from home was no longer viable - there were just too many activities inappropriate in a residential building for a business of my nature - receiving supplies, shipping goods and seeing customers meant excessive traffic and noise. So I was forced to shop for commercial space.
Moving was not the worst prospect - working at home is not the dream life many think. Yes, there is no commuting, but working alone every day takes its toll for anyone with any modicum of social needs. I have met some who are happy to work alone. The question is whether you can do this on a full time basis.

One big problem in looking for space is that I had been severely spoiled by working at home. The ambiance of a residential building and the amenities of a home, i.e. a kitchen and private bathroom, are all very different in a commercial building. I needed small space and a building that permitted light industrial use - this is a challenge anywhere, including the suburbs.

My office is only two blocks away from the Cable Building, and I often visit Crate and Barrel on the second floor - as much to enjoy its beautiful space and views as to peruse the merchandise.
Try as I may, there's no getting away. My fate seems to be intertwined with the Cable Building :)

Note about the building: The Cable building was built in 1893 and designed by McKim, Mead & White. Its name hearkens back to its brief history (less than 10 years) as a power plant for a new cable car system in Manhattan, extending from Bowling Green to 36th Street. The basement, 40 feet below street level, houses enormous steam engines, boilers and winding wheels. Read Christopher Gray's Streetscapes article from the New York Times here.


Annie said...

What a wonderful looking building. Thanks for the photo and the blurb. Always interesting.

(Wish that there wasn't a para repeated in the blurb...just in case you don't know. The second para starting "but when I needed commercial space..."" appears twice, albeit one of them a little different to the other)

Leslie said...

Great shots! I haven't noticed how elegant this building is now...I remember the depressed feeling it had before this renovation and the C&B store. Don't think I've ever seen the beautiful lobby...and I live only a few blocks away! Time for another visit.

tanyach said...

Stunning building & photo. I'm from South Africa & would love to visit New York soon.