99 Prince Street

(northwest corner of Mercer and Prince streets)
1887‒1888, William Schickel & Co., architect

vault light installation

Circular glass lenses, through which natural light can pass to illumine the basement, are embedded in cast iron sidewalk panels and stairs in front of a large Romanesque Revival masonry building. This is likely the largest surviving vault light installation in SoHo.

These vault light stoops and platforms served a dual purpose. Shoppers could stand out of the way of pedestrian traffic, and look closely at the goods in the store. The basement below could be expanded into a working or storage area. Note how the application of asphalt sheets on top of some panels suggests that despite the obvious rehabilitation of these assemblies in the past, the building owner faces continuing challenges in maintaining them. When vaults are irreparably damaged or owners are no longer willing to maintain them, the most common treatment is to cover the feature with diamond plate (see the panels to the left of the building entrance at
147 Mercer Street).

In 2011 the space below the sidewalk, illuminated in part by the vault lights, was in use as a dining room for the Mercer Kitchen restaurant.


vault light illustration from Daniel Badger's catalog

vault light illustration from Daniel Badger's catalog

A sophisticated drawing from Badger's 1865 catalogue shows how a commercial building might have several basement levels—not only under the building, but beneath the sidewalk and extending out under the roadway. Heavy fluted iron columns supported the main iron facade at the sidewalk™s edge. Glass paving blocks, or vault lights, embedded in a wide area of the sidewalk, allowed light to filter into the basement. Lesser columns, extending almost to the middle of the thoroughfare, supported the paved street above. The open iron grilles, seen here as dark squares on the floor of the first basement, indicated the existence of a sub-basement. Natural light filtered through these grilles to the second basement level. This system gave the building owner a lot of useful hidden space under the city™s sidewalks—and even under its streets—for wrapping, storing, and preparing merchandise for shipping, as well as for coal storage. (Illustrations of Iron Architecture, 1865) | Creator: Margot Gayle and Robin Lynn View File Details Page

Street Address:

99 Prince Street, New York, NY [map]

Cite this Page:

Margot Gayle and Robin Lynn, “99 Prince Street,” Tours, accessed August 8, 2020, http://tours.hpef.us/items/show/39.

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