1894 & 1906: 71st Regiment Armory Buildings in NYC

These are two interesting buildings to look into. As usually, we do not have too much construction related information, but we do have a remarkable story line, which goes like this.

Following the April 1898 declaration of war against Spain, the 71st Regiment was sent to Cuba, where they would participate in the Battle of San Juan Hill. On May 4 the regiment's veterans issued a call to "the young men of this city to fill the places of the men who have gone, thus reinforcing the regiment for the protection of the city and state."

71st Regiment Coat of Arms

Enlistees were told to "apply at the 71st Regiment Armory, 34th Street and Park Avenue in NYC" The armory mentioned was a 6-year old imposing stone edifice of towers, turrets and gables sitting squarely within the Murray Hill mansion district. Inside were historic items relating to the regiment - the muster rolls of the Civil War, the flag carried in the Battle of Bull Run, the banner presented by the City of New Orleans in 1881, an oil portrait of George Washington, and another of Hernan Cortes removed from Castle Chapultepec (the "Halls of Montezuma") during the Mexican War.

Building #1 information - source.
  • Year constructed: 1892 - 1894
  • Architect: John R. Thomas
  • Status: Destroyed by fire in 1902
Building #1

Then on the morning of February 22, 1902, newspapers ran the story of the destruction of the hulking armory. Its origin was never discovered; however the high winds of the stormy winter night fed the flames. Only one wall and the entrance on 34th Street stood after the inferno burned out.
  • A newspaper reported "The actual property of the Veteran Association was insured for $10,000, and that of the regiment for $20,000. The only thing saved from both items is the tablet commemorative of the killed and wounded at the battle of Bull Run, presented by Col. Henry P. Martin." Later one other artifact was found in the ruins, the cannon captured in the riot of 1857. Although the wooden trunnion was destroyed, of course, the cast iron cannon was saved.


Articles about the Park Avenue Hotel and 71st Regiment Armory Fire that happened in February 1902.
Building #1 after Fire




The decision was made to rebuild on the site. But the new armory would not come before scandal and embarrassment for the regiment. Colonel William G. Bates and Major E. T. T. Marsh were brought up on charges by Major C. H. Smith, who accused them of fraud in reporting the losses. On December 20, 1902 the Army and Navy Journal reported that the military court decided "That their conduct in filing improper claims for losses in the destruction of the 71st Regiment Armory was indiscreet and improper and lacking in frankness." The officers narrowly escaped severe discipline when the court deemed that their action "shows no intent to defraud."
  • Among the members of the 71st Regiment was Lieutenant-Colonel J. Hollis Wells, an architect who worked with the firm of Clinton & Russell. Understandably, that firm received the commission. The History of the 71st Regiment, N. G. N. Y. explained that between Wells and Colonel Bates, "understanding all the requirements for a national guard armory, they carefully studied out and advised with the architects, thereby securing everything conceivable as necessary."
  • On April 29, 1904, the sixth anniversary of the 71st Regiment's departure for Cuba, the cornerstone was laid. A crowd of 3,000 (there would have been more, thought the New York Times journalist reporting on the event, had it not been for "the very unfavorable weather") watched as Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. tapped it in place with a silver trowel.
The completed armory cost $650,000 (nearly $18 million today) and engulfed the entire Park Avenue blockfront from 33rd to 34th Streets. The brick and stone fortress included the expected crenelated towers, romantic turrets, and a gaping maw of an entrance above a wide flight of stone stairs. All of this was overshadowed by the 236-foot tall tower which seemed a bit out of place. The New York Times later mentioned that the tower was "modeled after the famous Torre del Mangia Town Hall tower of Siena, Italy."
  • There was "not an inch of waste room," according to the 1919 History of the 71st Regiment. The vast drill room, with a separate entrance on 34th Street, was on the first floor, along with the brigade headquarters and staff. The History added, "Also provided was a large gymnasium, shower, baths, a lavatory large enough for a company at one time, library, officers' locker rooms, bowling alley, billiard room, an assembly room for entertainments, squad drill rooms; in fact, everything requisite."
Building #2 information - source.
  • Year constructed: 1904 - 1906
  • Architect: Lieutenant-Colonel J. Hollis Wells + Clinton & Russell firm
  • Status: Vacated in 1971 and subsequently demolished
  • Info: This armory was used not only for military training, but many public events such as annual stamp shows.
Building #2

The above poor quality image was chosen due to a different top and a statue crowning the building, as well as the date of 1903 mentioned at the image source. Here are a few additional photographs.





On April 28, 1929 some New Yorkers may have been shocked to read that the City Controller had been authorized to sell the 25-year old building. The Times reported "Actual demolition, in all probability, will not take place until a decision has been reached in regard to new quarters for the regiment."
  • It was most likely the onslaught of the Great Depression that halted those plans. The armory continued on as the site for athletic tournaments, boxing and wrestling bouts, and military balls. In 1938 the New York Police Department began using the drill room and other sections as its Recruit's Training School.
  • Despite its reprieve, the fate of the 71st Regiment Armory seemed bleak by the early 1960s. Whitney North Seymour, Jr., writing in The New York Times on October 13, 1963 made a plea on its behalf; saying that the armory "is now in a sorry state of repair and may surrender its ground to new apartment dwellings. But, properly cleaned up, this structure has excellent esthetic and commercial possibilities."
  • The case for preservation was not helped when built-up sewer gas exploded in the basement in June 1964, injuring 18 National Guardsmen. A few days later the Fire Department returned to find that the gas had once again filled the space.
The death knell finally came on June 26, 1971 when the venerable 71st Regiment Armory was evacuated. The Times remarked that after "the last military vehicle is driven down the steps from the drill floor to Park Avenue... the armory will be locked by the state to await demolition by the city."

In its place the city erected the Norman Thomas High School, topped by a 42-story orange brick skyscraper. designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates.

Norman Thomas High School.JPG

NYC Armories
For those interested in the fate and description of additional NYC armories you can take a look at this 1993 PDF document. The descriptions of these armories are fascinating, so I can only imagine what the pictures look like.
  • Please do not post other armories pictures in this thread. This forum has plenty of room, open a separate dedicated information-rich thread.

Sources and Links:

KD: So what do you Ladies and Gentlemen think about these (#1 and #2) Seventy-First Regiment Armories? Do you see anything weird in the narrative there? What do you think about them planning on demolition #2 building as early as 1929?

I tried to find any construction photographs for both, as well as demolition pictures for #2. No luck.
  • If you find any construction and #2 building demolition pictures, please share.
  • I was unable to figure out the exact demolition date for building #2.
Isn't it amazing how fast and beautiful they used to build stuff back in the day?