Nosy Neighbor: What’s That Thing at W. Broadway and Leonard?

I’ve walked past this structure for years and still have no idea what it is. Any insight? —R.

It’s Con Edison’s Leonard Street Substation. Upon realizing that you might want to know what a substation is—and because I wasn’t 100% sure myself—I dug up this Wikipedia page. Like so many Wikipedia pages, however, its usefulness is dubious: “A substation is a part of an electrical generation, transmission, and distribution system. Substations transform voltage from high to low, or the reverse, or perform any of several other important functions. Electric power may flow through several substations between generating plant and consumer, and its voltage may change in several steps.”

So I called media relations at Con Edison, and I spoke with a very helpful representative. “The substation steps down the electric voltage for distribution in the local area,” he said. “The Leonard Street substation serves the area between Broadway [to the east], West [to the west], and Spring [to the north]; the south is a crooked boundary along Duane, Thomas, and Worth. It serves about 8,500 Con Edison customers (and many more people than that). It provides a peak load of around 109 megawatts—that usually peaks about 4 p.m.” He also sent the diagram above (click to enlarge), “keeping in mind that all the electricity in Manhattan is underground.”

He confirmed that you (or more likely I) shouldn’t ever walk in when the doors are open, as much as we might want to; security is tight. You might, however, find this photo interesting. I took it while visiting an apartment at 6 Varick.

And here’s the Google Maps satellite view….

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