SoHo – Cast Iron Buildings – Vault Lights – More


Many of you come to New York City and spend some time in China Town and  Little Italy. Just a hop skip and a jump from there is SoHo –  the home for high-fashion, cast iron buildings and cobblestones.   Just roaming the streets and popping into the many boutiques can be a fun experience. I will note that the prices may also be a subject of dinner-time talk as well.

Since it impossible for me to accurately describe what a shopping experience would be like, I will try to give you a picture of this neighborhood and its uniqueness to NYC.


SoHo is filled with intricate, yet simple, cast-iron architecture.. Walking along streets like Mercer, Greene, or Wooster you will notice cobblestone streets
lined with cast iron buildings. (A few of you may recognize this area as the backgrounds in many commercials,most notably auto ads.)

SoHo began as an area for manufacturing or department stores, it was built before electricity was invented so they built buildings IMG_2230with giant-scale windows, allowing daylight to enter the basement and the far reaches of the storefronts.

Also, cast iron is a stronger product than other irons (such as wrought iron), so it allowed  buildings to span greater distances. The material could be prefabricated offsite and quickly put up on site. It also allowed the delicate designs of the time to be mass-produced. In order to go higher the buildings store fronts were supportedby columns rather than brick.


Along with the many stores there are living spaces above with giant windows, tall ceilings, and expansive living spaces. A great place to live.

Cast iron columns are hollow, enabling architects2012_march_11_Marshall_Vill_008_Ato build higher without the thick walls previously required to construct brick buildings.

IMG_2277Foundry stamps were often placed at the base of cast-iron buildings.

Many stores have loading docks close to the buildings. They were designed at that height to lift people up and out of the walkway, as well as to come closer to the structures so they could window shop.

A magnet will stick to cast-iron, but not other building materials. Bring one with you as you wander the SoHo streets. 

Small circular glass bulbs dot the sidewalks of Soho–are they chic street stylings or art?

Many of the sidewalks in New York are hollow but especially in this area. In many of the older buildings the basements extend beyond the building’s footprint- opening up to a “vault” space under the sidewalk. The glass bulbs are actually tiny windows–called “vault lights” or deadlights–to allow sunlight into the basement factories before the introduction of electricity.They permitted daylight to reach otherwise dark basements (or “vaults”) that extended out beneath the sidewalks this created more useable or rentable space for building owners.


Here is a collection of some items you can see in SoHo

2 comments on “SoHo – Cast Iron Buildings – Vault Lights – More

  1. Beautiful photographs, Thom! I love your tour. I love this section of New York. Vault lights? What a interesting historical tidbit. And I also love your cast iron-magnet test. Thanks for another fabulous stroll!


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