477 Broome Street - Vault Lights

glass vault lights in front sidewalk

glass lenses set in cast iron frames allowed light into basement spaces beneath the sidewalk

Look down! You are walking on a unique lighting system patented by Thaddeus Hyatt in 1845. Thick glass discs (“lenses”) within iron grilles covered the sidewalk area so natural light could pass through the translucent circles and illumine the basement. In a pre-electric era, this made the workspace in the basement less vulnerable to fire and noxious fumes from gas lighting.

As you walk through SoHo, notice that some vault lights have damaged or missing lenses, causing small holes in the pavement and allowing views into basements. Because of leakage, vault-light covers have in many cases been replaced by metal plates or concrete. The vault light panels at this address show signs of rehabilitation with new glass lenses and grout.

See the tour entry for 99 Mercer Street (the northwest corner of Mercer and Prince streets) for more information about vault lights.


vault light panel

vault light panel

An example of a cast iron vault light found throughout the historic district. In this building near Broome and Green streets, the panel is located on the lower section of the facade, perpendicular to the sidewalk. | Creator: Leslie Schwartz Photography, 2011 View File Details Page

Thaddeus Hyatt's 1845 patent for a vault light cover

Thaddeus Hyatt's 1845 patent for a vault light cover

Hyatt had numerous patents for cast iron and, later, concrete panels perforated with glass lenses (or "bullseyes"). The lenses were later given a saw-toothed profile on the underside so that they directed daylight into the inner recesses of the underground basement or "vault" space. | Source: Google Patents View File Details Page

Street Address:

477 Broome Street, New York, NY [map]

Cite this Page:

Margot Gayle and Robin Lynn, “477 Broome Street - Vault Lights,” Tours, accessed September 18, 2020, http://tours.hpef.us/items/show/7.


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