214 Lafayette Street was built in the 1890s as one of New York’s first power substations. The original power stations built in New York had extreme limitations; By creating only AC current, the power stations were only able to power a small radius, and the closer to the station you were the stronger the signal. Substations solved these problems, by converting AC to DC, which was far more efficient and useful. As a replacement to the local power plants, the first substations were built to serve as links between remote generation and local consumption, using transformers to reduce high voltages and rotary converters to convert AC to DC.
At one point in history, 214 Lafayette distributed power to the subways below the streets of Soho and to surrounding areas. The original facade and foundation of the building had to be extremely dense to allow stacking heavy turbines from floor to ceiling. Over the years, these power stations became obsolete. More effective, efficient and economical forms of power distribution became more prevalent. The building at 214 Lafayette deteriorated.
In 1981, aspiring artist Max Protetch, whose uptown gallery was too small for the scale of work he hoped to showcase, saw the possibilities of the raw space in an otherwise decrepit location.
In an article published in The NY Times, January 8, 1982, by John Russell “Other exhibitions of interest: open storage space” (Max Protetch Gallery, 214 Lafayette Street):
Max Protetch in his uptown gallery runs art and architecture in tandem. Given his liking for large-scale environmental work, it is not surprising that the visitor to 37 West 57th Street sometimes feels as if he were walled up inside the art and will never make it back home again.
To let air into this situation, Mr. Protetch has lately opened a large storage space at 214 Lafayette Street. Neither warehouse nor gallery, but something in between, it allows him to show work of all sorts and siz es. At one extreme there are diminutive architectural models by John Hejduk and a wall relief by Farrell Brickhouse. At the other is an elaborate construction by Vito Acconci that allows us to bring four female figures from a horizontal to an upright position by the mere act of sitting on a swing. There may well be a public for whom this will fulfill the cravings of a lifetime.
The ground floor was made into a large exhibition space, an uninterrupted expanse 200 feet long, 27 feet high and 22 feet wide.
At some point over the next 14 years, the 200-foot open space was cut into two and 214 Lafayette was sealed off as a 100-foot building. In 1996, 214 Lafayette was purchased by the current owners. They were drawn to the history and possibilities of 214 Lafayette; they envisioned the perfect space to build a one-of-a-kind home.
After 12 years of design and renovations, the current design and layout were completed. A great combination of original details and modern luxury, 214 Lafayette stands today as New York’s most unique rental property.