vault lights

History, Landmarks Preservation Commission, Policy, Soho, Tribeca

Thaddeus Hyatt, Hyatt Patent Lights, vault lights history, glass sidewalks NYC

Vault lights in Soho, via WooJin Chung for 6sqft

“Viva Vault Lights!” wrote the Historic Districts Council in response to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision to backpedal on its rules amendments, which called for “more oversight by LPC staff but less time for public review” in proposals for alterations to historic buildings. HDC’s celebratory sentiment is in response to one of the now-moot stipulations that Soho and Tribeca’s vault lights–historic, industrial-era sidewalks made from small circular glass bulbs–could be removed by building owners and replaced with modern sidewalks.

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History, Landmarks Preservation Commission, Policy, Soho, Tribeca

Thaddeus Hyatt, Hyatt Patent Lights, vault lights history, glass sidewalks NYC

Vault lights in Soho, via WooJin Chung for 6sqft

Last week, 6sqft outlined the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s series of new proposed rules, which “calls for more oversight by LPC staff but less time for public review” in proposals for alterations to historic buildings. But these rule changes extend further than buildings–right down to the sidewalks. As Treehugger first pointed out, one of the LPC’s new rules pertains to the removal of vault lights–historic sidewalks made from small circular glass bulbs that are seen throughout Soho and Tribeca. As 6sqft previously explained, “the unique street coverings are remnants from the neighborhood’s industrial past when they provided light to the basement factories below before electricity was introduced.”

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History, Soho, Tribeca

Thaddeus Hyatt, Hyatt Patent Lights, vault lights history, glass sidewalks NYC

Vault lights in Soho, via WooJin Chung for 6sqft

In many parts of Soho and Tribeca, the sidewalks are made from small circular glass bulbs instead of solid concrete. Known as “hollow sidewalks” or “vault lights,” the unique street coverings are remnants from the neighborhood’s industrial past when they provided light to the basement factories below before electricity was introduced. These skylight-like sidewalks first came about in the 1840s when these neighborhoods were transitioning from residential to commercial and when their signature cast iron buildings first started to rise.

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