2006_05_14_Starrett-Lehigh.jpg

Real estate disputes are, almost by definition, never pretty and no matter what somebody is going to come out of them looking bad. In the case of the landmarked Starrett-Lehigh Building on 26th street and 11th Avenue the bad looking people would be the buildings owners, 601 West Associates, and one famous tenant whose name starts with "M" and ends with "artha Stewart".

To wit: yesterday Ask Gothamist got this self-answering question in our inbox:

Who is more important to Manhattan: Martha Stewart or a light manufacturing company?

When Martha Stewart moved into the Starrett-Lehigh building, she began complaining that Irving Fox's family-run company - - established 58 years ago to do high-end die-cutting for pharmaceutical companies and deluxe beauty products - - was making too much NOISE.

After fighting in court for the right to keeping working in the building, octogenarian Irving Fox will move out on June 1, 2006.

When we saw that Irving Fox's ABC Die Cutting Corp. ("At what point between $6 and $40 [per square foot] did I start making too much noise?") had finally thrown in the towel and is leaving the space he's been in for nearly 20 years - unfortunately directly above Stewart's offices - we have to admit we were saddened. The fights that have been boiling within the Starrett-Lehigh building since the Queen of Mean sold it to 601 West Associates in 1998 and the Queen of Domesticity moved in a few years later have been well documented (like the time the owners cut the number of freight elevators in the building from 5 to 3 to give the light industry tenants another reason to get out or when they offered to buy a tenant out for $85,000 and then stopped paying up after $50k).

A bit of history on the building:

Rising above the ordinary commercial structures along the waterfront is the Starrett-Lehigh Building, a much heralded modernist experiment in industrial architecture. Completed in 1931, this massive factory-warehouse offered a novel solution to freight distribution and a dramatic example of curtain wall construction. With tracks leading directly from the piers into the building, freight cars carried by boat from New Jersey could be moved in 30-foot elevators to truck pits on upper floors. The horizontal bands of windows and cantilevered concrete floors sweeping around the perimeter of a huge city block gave New Yorkers an indigenous example of the new International Style in architecture.

Although architecturally innovative, the Starrett-Lehigh Building never fulfilled its promise. With the Holland Tunnel (1927), Lincoln Tunnel (1937), and George Washington Bridge (1931), the Hudson River waterfront yielded its commercial activity to long-distance trucking.

And now the building, like so much of Manhattan, is almost completely removed from its original purpose, a landmarked shell whose soul has moved on.

Progress kids, progress!

Photo of the Starrett-Lehigh Building from j o s h's flickr stream.