The Puck Building
303 Lafayette Street
This month, the New York Nolita neighborhood’s historic Puck Building— the original home of Puck magazine and J. Ottman Lithographic Company and a 19th century survivor of the city’s old printing and publishing district— welcomed its first retail tenant: national outdoor co-op Recreational Equipment, Inc., a.k.a. REI.
The enormous 35,000-square-foot, atrium-like space, which stretches over three levels connected by a central staircase, underwent a thoughtful renovation process involving an architectural historian and preservation experts at the Smithsonian. Leading the design team was the New York-based architecture firm Callison, who strived to incorporate elements reclaimed from the Puck Building into REI’s signature naturalist décor. The original brick walls, wooden-beamed ceilings, and antique steel columns were exposed to bring the building’s 1890 features back to life; joints removed from the floor were used to create new, modern stair treads; over 100 lithograph tablets excavated from the printing remnants were put on display or repurposed in the store design; wood from the original structure was recycled into almost everything in the retail space, from the cashier counters to the signage; and two original chandeliers were locally refurbished by artist Robert Odgen.
While the co-op is known for its community-minded programming and partnerships with local non-profits (a New York partner will be Friends of the High Line), REI’s occupancy of the historic building yields another unforeseen benefit: its public accessibility enables the retail store to double as a small museum. Among the various historic artifacts on display throughout the retail space, the most noteworthy are the two 14-foot flywheels from the building’s original steam engines, increasingly rare relics of New York’s industrial past.