Bounded by Front Street, Maiden Lane, South Street, and Pine Street, 180 Maiden Lane provides a well-appointed enclosed public space that was a mandatory lot improvement for Parcel 20Q of the 1973 Special Manhattan Landing Development District, one of the City’s special purpose zoning districts, repealed in 1998. The idea behind such districts is that a more fine-tuned, site-specific planning and zoning approach is needed in certain geographic areas in the city, particularly with regard to pedestrian amenities and circulation systems. For this district, the City mapped an intricate network of improvements, never fully realized, within a narrow strip along the East River from the southern tip of Manhattan north to the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.
This enclosed public space is the best fully indoor privately owned public space in downtown Manhattan. Most likely entered from the intersection of Front Street and Maiden Lane, the space lays out as a multistory, multifunctional atrium bathed in reflected gold tones. The tubular support frame glistens against the enveloping glass walls, and the brasslike cladding on interior columns is actually painted wood, an architectural trompe l’oeil. Tall trees illustrate the substantial scale and, along with the several planters, foster a calm, natural ambiance. The bamboo trees at 590 Madison Avenue’s covered pedestrian space in midtown Manhattan are brought to mind. Escalators and stairs rise from the middle of the space to the private lobby above.
Of equal importance to the space’s felicitous appearance is its functionality. On the Maiden Lane and Pine Street sides are seating areas replete with black wire movable chairs and tables, as well as polished stone planter ledges. The Pine Street side is also well programmed, with a portable platform set up for regularly scheduled performances and special events, a video wall with multiple television monitors, a food kiosk, and public restrooms. Underneath the private lobby is an art gallery exhibition area.
For a space that does not lack for things to see and do, its hours of operation, weekdays from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, are sadly constrained. At night, the potential user feels like the classic outsider, nose pressed against glass, enviously watching the glistening lights and private happenings that take place from time to time. But it must be emphasized that the hours of operation are legally approved and even make sense for a downtown that tends to clear out once the workday is done. Still, with substantial visitation at nearby South Street Seaport, and with new efforts to increase the number of downtown residents underway, this space could be enjoyed during evening hours in ways that may not have been anticipated when the hours were originally established.
The outdoor public space is a strong complement to the indoor space during summer months. The area along Front Street has six backless polished stone benches, angularly shaped and alternating with two rows of trees. The waterfall at the 88 Pine Street special permit plaza to the southwest is less than a stone’s throw away, across Front Street.