Hudson Square: New York’s Newest Old Submarket

by | 29 September 2016

As you may have gathered from my previous posts, I find the real estate history of New York City and its implications today to be fascinating. Recently, my attentions were caught by Hudson Square.

You might know Hudson Square as the new neighborhood where rents have shot up from the $20 per square foot range to the present giddy heights of the $70s. But we will have to return to late 18th and early 19th century New York to find where Hudson Square was originally located.

HUDSON SQUARE OF YESTERYEAR

The map below from the 1830s shows the location of the old Hudson Square (also called St. John’s Park). Fashioned after many such squares in London, Hudson Square was literally a square bordered on each side by town houses. The wealthy people who lived in those homes used keys to get into the private park to enjoy the area undisturbed.

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Source: Astor Papers – Maps of Real Estate Transactions 

The park got its name from St. John’s Chapel, built by the then-landlord, Trinity Church, which was on the eastern side of the square and can be seen in the engraving below. The chapel, long demolished, lives on in the name St. John’s Lane just behind where the chapel used to sit.

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Source: New York Public Library. Originally from New-York Mirror Vol. 6 No. 40 (April 11, 1829).

Hudson Square was sold in the 1860s to Cornelius Vanderbilt and became the southern terminal of the Hudson River Railroad. In turn, the area was lost in the scramble to build the Holland Tunnel that was completed in 1927 to connect New York and New Jersey.

Today, the now-inaccessible St. John’s Park is just a semi-circle of trees that you might catch a glimpse of if you’re not looking at the “Welcome to New York” sign when coming through the Holland Tunnel. In other words, the space that was once known as Hudson Square is occupied today by the exit to the Holland Tunnel.

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Source: ©Google Map data ©Google Imagery ©2016. 

You might be wondering: if Hudson Square no longer exists, how did a neighborhood full of retail, residential and restaurants come to be named after it?

HUDSON SQUARE TODAY

The origins of this contemporary transformation can be traced back to the stock market crash of 1987. The largest landlord in the area between Vestry Street in the south and Morton Street in the north is Trinity Church. The one-time farmland became known as the Printing District thanks to its proliferation of printing tenants.

After Black Monday in October 1987, the printing industry went downhill and never really recovered. Within 10 years, many of Trinity’s buildings were empty and the Church started to look for a new marketing angle. In doing so, they took note of the revolutionary move of advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi to the newly built 375 Hudson Street, which was completed in 1989 by Tishman Speyer on land leased by Trinity to the developer.

Trinity Church decided to “go with the flow” and market the empty buildings to media companies. They found the name “Hudson Square” on a map of land Trinity used to own. Thus, the area known variously as the Printing District, South Greenwich Village and West Soho received the designation “Hudson Square” from the City of New York in 2012.

Although the area is officially between Canal Street in the south and Houston Street in the north, between Hudson and Greenwich streets on the west and Sixth Avenue on the east, it is continually being stretched by people climbing on the thrilling bandwagon.  The area was even rezoned in 2013 to allow for more residential development. According to Google, the borders of the new Hudson Square are captured below.

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Source: ©2016 Google – Map data ©2016 Google

The Hudson Square of today is certainly a far cry from its origins—and a good reminder of the type of transformation that can revitalize even the sleepiest of areas.

A lawyer by training and background, Richard is Executive Director of Colliers International in New York. For the last 20 years he has advised corporate tenants globally on how to avoid the pitfalls that landlords lay in store for them. When not working with clients or thinking of innovative ways to assist them, Richard spends his time immersed in history, theater, travel and reading.

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