17 June 2009

Inside the McGovern-Weir Greenhouse

There are many old structures in the good old City, but among those edifices that just plain look incredibly old, I would have to nominate the McGovern-Weir greenhouse on the western border of Green-Wood Cemetery. (There used to be many greenhouses near the entrance of the cemetery, as you might guess.)

It was built by James Weir, Jr. (son of founding florist James Weir), in 1880, at the corner of 25th Street and Fifth Avenue. Architect Mercein Thomas designed the glass and wood building. Fifteen years later, Weir hired architect George Curtis Gillespie to enlarge the greenhouse. The sign at top was once visible from a long way off. Buildings were shorter then. Weir and his two sons, James E. and Edward, all lived on 25th Street near the greenhouse. Cozy.

It is the only Victorian-era greenhouse left standing in New York.

The Weirs owned the greenhouse until 1971, when they sold to the current owners (McGovern, I assume). I stepped foot in the place for the first time this past weekend. My God, the thing is ancient. (Does the Landmarks Commission prevent the owners from giving the building a new coat of paint?) In a world of steel, it's completely wooden structure comes as something of a shock. Reminded me of the Cyclone, somehow. The spiderweb pattern of the domed roof is awe-inspiring. The rusted, chipping windows are less so. They belong in a haunted house.

There's a building next door that was obviously once part of the greenhouse. The architectural style is the same and it appears to be of the same era. The windows are boarded up now. But there are some awfully curious, designs etched into the vertical timbered, once painted green.

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