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The late 19th century saw the coming of age of skyscraper design as steel-framed buildings with non-load-bearing facings, rising in great numbers all over the expanding city. The visual form of these late-19th and early 20th century buildings was still very much tied to the revivalist forms of the bygone century, inspired by Gothic, Renaissance and Classicism.


Tower Building
New York World Building
American Tract Society
Bayard-Condict Building
Park Row Building
Flatiron Building
Times Tower
Thames Twins - The Trinity &
   U.S. Realty Buildings
90 West Street

19th Century Skyscrapers &
Skyscrapers 1900-1925
Images from the Boston College archives.

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THE TOWER BUILDING (50 Broadway, demolished)
[Bradford Lee Gilbert]
was built in 1888-1889 as an office tower, the first steel-framed building in New York City.

Built on a Broadway plot front only 6.5 meters wide -- the back lot on New Street side was wider -- the site ruled out the use of massive masonry walls, prompting Gilbert's offer to design the building using the new method of skeleton steel frame. After months of convincing, the city finally approved the design and the work could start.

The 11-storey, 39.5-meter building had an internal steel frame as the load-bearing structure, and the architect reserved the two top floors for his own use to take away any suspicions that the new owner might have about the strength of the building. The success of the design -- as well as the extra $10,000 the saved wall space gave in rents annually -- prompted a boom of steel-framed construction in the city and by the end of the century the title of world's tallest building was brought to (and retained in) NYC.

The neo-Romanesque building had a three-storey arched entrance that led to the larger portion of the plot at the back. The pyramidal top was flanked by smaller ones at the top corners.

The building was demolished in 1914.

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[George B. Post]

or the Pulitzer Building, was built in 1889-1890 for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World newspaper.

The building was located opposite City Hall, on the "Newspaper Row" (image), a concentration of turn-of-the-century newspaper high-rises along Park Row. At best there were about 15 daily newspapers located near the potential news sources, City Hall and Theater District. Later both the theatres and newspapers moved uptown.

The World's intense rivalry with William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal in publicizing sensational rubbish coined the term "yellow journalism", derived from the comic figure "the Yellow Kid" appearing in the first comic strip in the world.

Started in October 1889, the building was officially opened exactly 14 months later. When completed, it became the tallest building in the world at 94 meters, also for the first time exceeding the Downtown (in this case, literally downtown, city center) landmark Trinity Church (image). The "intermediate" period structure extended the steel frame also within the traditional masonry outer walls, both acting as load-bearing members. Eiffel Tower, a genial free-standing wrought-iron tower in Paris, of course, had reached 300 meters the previous year and dealt with frame stiffening through its curved frame only.

The building was a narrow neo-Renaissance tower of approx. 18 stories with tiers of arched windows and clad in red sandstone, brick and terra-cotta. A tall drum supported the crowning dome, complete with a golden finish.

The building had the heavy printing presses in the basement and lower floors, as usual, but the space not taken up by the newspaper's other staff was used as rentable space, utilizing the building's great height also for direct financial gain. Like with the later Chrysler Building, the crown of the building housed the magnate's private office, the tallest in the city.

Architect Post designed also the next world's tallest, the nearby St. Paul Building, which exceeded the height of the World Building by just one meter.

The building was demolished in 1955 to make way for the new Brooklyn Bridge approaches and street re-arrangements, such as widening of Frankfort Street and rerouting of Park Row.

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[Robert H. Robertson]

was built in 1894-1895 as an office building for the American Tract Society.

The society was founded in 1825 to print and publish religious literature and replaced its old premises with this office building that was to provide it income in the form of tenant rents. The society left the building in 1914 and lost it shortly thereafter.

The 23-storey neo-Renaissance building was designed with a U-shaped plan and a light court on the south side. The facades have a rusticated base with narrow, arched windows, a mid-part with strong horizontal portioning and, above the cornices, the west wing rises to a colonnaded top with large arched windows and a hipped roof. The steel-framed building is clad in gray granite, gray brick and light terra-cotta.

The top housed a penthouse overlooking Broadway and City Hall Park under a steep hipped roof rising to the height of 89 meters. After the height of the New York Times Building at Park Row, behind which the Tract Society rose, was raised in 1905 (when the newspaper had already left the premises for the Times Tower in Midtown), the penthouse was demolished due to a blocked view from the apartment.

The semicircular lobby with its elevator cars arranged along the arc, has marble decor and a coffered ceiling, as well as a manually operated elevator, one of the last of its kind in NYC.

The building, designated as a landmark in 1999, is one of the many Downtown office buildings converted into apartments: the 2003 conversion is called Park Place Tower and features 125 apartments.

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[Louis Sullivan and Lyndon B. Smith]

was built 1897-99 by Silas Condict as the Condict Building, a manufacturing loft building in NoHo.

The 13-storey building is the sole work in New York by the influential Chicago architect Sullivan, the father of the "Chicago School" style. As a full-bred representative of the style, it has the typical vertical accentuation by pilasters (here even enhanced by the unbroken vertical mullions) ending in an extruding cornice at 49.5 m.

The entrance, spandrels and the ornamental frieze atop have ample decoration in white terra-cotta featuring articulate foliage decoration (details 1 2). The terra-cotta facing consists of some 7,000 parts in an expensive layout. Cost of the facing was partly due to the ornamental terra-cotta being first normally molded and then further augmented by carving the deepest details by hand. Although Sullivan expressed satisfaction with the result, the six angels underneath the cornice were added over Sullivan's complaints. The three other facades, facing back alleys and, potentially, other buildings is much more spare and utilitarian with its bare brick walls. The building's location at the end of Crosby Street saves the main facade from being totally unappreciable within the narrow Greenwich Village streets.

Built over the building's steel frame, the facade follows its spacing by placing the terra-cotta piers where the frame columns are located. The thin mullions between the piers, however, end at the third floor level, indicating their non-load-bearing role.

The 10,000 m² building was later converted into offices and renamed the Bayard Building. In 1975, it was designated as a landmark and in 2003 the building owner Shulsky Properties made a $1.2 million facade restoration with Wank Adams Slavin Architects and Sawicki & Tarella Architects. In the renovation some 1,300 terra-cotta parts were cleaned and repaired. The base retail front now consists of a clear glass curtain wall superimposed on and between the old first floor columns.

As a sidenote, the first floor column capitals from the building have been moved to Brooklyn Museum as showpieces.

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[Robert H. Robertson]

was built in 1896-1899 by a group of financiers led by William Mills Ivins as an office building across the street from City Hall Park.

The Ivins Syndicate Building, as it was also called, was built on a site combined from seven plots and at 119 meters took the title of the world's tallest building from the neighbouring, 26-storey St. Paul Building of 95 m (image), completed to the "Newspaper Row" only a few months earlier. It remained the world's tallest until the Singer Tower rose higher a few blocks away in 1908.

Originally, the 30-storey building incorporated 950 offices for such early tenants as the Associated Press and the Interborough Rapid Transit subway company. IRT opened the city's first subway line in 1904, terminating at the lavish City Hall (Loop) station (link), now long abandoned, its construction site (started in 1900) visible from the building towering above.

The main facade, clad in limestone, has its center part recessed -- more prominently at the top six floors of the mass -- and horizontally divided as the rows of pilasters between windows terminate at ornamental ledges at intervals. The facade is further decorated with balconies and features such as four female sculptures on the rusticated base.

The building is topped by twin 4-storey turrets, originally functioning as observatories and office space, whose domes are topped further by smaller, copper-clad lanterns with caryatids.

The main facade aside, the building is clad unceremoniously in brick. The irregular plot and two wings pointing diagonally from the mass to the south, enclosing two light courts, gives the plan no less than 24 corners.

The building exterior was designated as a landmark in 1999 and in a 2002 conversion into a mixed-use building, the 1,000 replacement windows had to be approved by the city's Landmarks Commission. The residential conversion by H. Thomas O'Hara turned 15 floors into 210 rental apartments and a health club with a total of 17,800 m². The building's first 10 floors, incorporating 32,500 m², continue to be used as offices. There are also two basement floors.

The main entrance is framed in a black marble portal. The lobby has its original marble walls, checkered floor and coffered ceiling, along with the old passenger elevators, arranged in an arc and tapering accordingly. However, of the nine originals, two were removed in the residential floors to make room for laundry rooms and waste chutes.

A six-storey post-modern, contextual addition to the J&R; retail emporium -- that occupies the three floors of retail spaces as well as the office floors -- has been added to the triangular Ann Street corner plots.

Building official site
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[Daniel H. Burnham & Co.]
was completed in 1902 for the George A. Fuller construction company, one of the most notable in NYC history.

This 95 m tall building became immediately a Midtown landmark with its 22 storeys and a unique triangular shape at the diagonal crossing of Broadway and Fifth Avenue.

The building has a steel frame which is covered with a non-load-bearing limestone and terra-cotta facade built to resemble a classical column with protruding and ornamented base and top. The mid-facade undulates slightly with a vertical wave pattern of decorative protrusions. Above the arcaded top floors a continuous, triangular cornice runs around the whole building.

The building's lobby is located in the middle of the long facades, with entrances from both sides. Along with the elevator banks, the first floor is divided into retail space.

When opened, the building was equipped with an electric generator to provide it with its own electricity and heating as well as the early-type hydraulic elevators. The building had, however, no specific ladies' rooms; restrooms on alternate floors were designated to opposite sexes.

Originally called the Fuller Building, after the Fuller Construction Co. that built it and originally occupied the building (later the firm moved to the Fuller Building in Midtown), the triangular shape gave the building its nickname "Flatiron" and subsequently the name stuck. (Contrary to a popular belief, the Flatiron has never been the world's tallest building.)

The building originally housed a restaurant and an observation deck on the 21st floor, now long gone. The single-pane glasses of the original type are, however, still used, due to the landmark status of the building.

Great Buildings Collection entry
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THE TIMES TOWER (1 Times Square)
[Eidlitz & MacKenzie]

was built in 1903-1905 for the New York Times newspaper to replace its previous premises in Downtown.

The 25-storey, curiously tapering building of 110.5 m between Broadway and Seventh Avenue rose to the Long Acre Square, an area that only a little earlier had begun its transformation from a stablery neighbourhood (named after London's carriage district) with the building of the first Broadway theaters.

When the city's first subway line, IRT, extended from Grand Central Terminal westward to Long Acre Sq., the new building was suitably high-profile to give its name to both the new station and the neighbourhood. The name change was, in fact, machinated by August Belmont of the IRT, rather than the newspaper itself. So, on April 8, 1904 Mayor McClellan signed the resolution to change the name of the crossroads, although for some reason, the rival newspaper NY Herald, with its own square at 34th Street, referred to the area as Long Acre for several years afterwards...

A curious feature resulted from the building of the Broadway subway: the pressing plant in the second basement floor was located below the subway station, with the first basement alongside and the first floor above it -- the frame columns of the building go through the station.

The newspaper signified its change of address with a display of 1905 New Year's fireworks -- with the tradition of celebrating the New Year at Times Square continuing to date -- although the paper officially moved its headquarters, along with its presses, from 41 Park Row on the next day.

After only occupying this building for less than a decade, the N.Y. Times moved to the nearby building at 229 W 43rd Street, next to the Paramount Building, in 1913 (from which the paper also acquired office space after its theater was gutted).

In 1928 the famous "running" electric sign at the base of the building was lit for the first time, to announce the results of the 1928 Presidential elections. Running around the whole building, the sign had originally 14,800 lamps along its 120-meter length.

Bought in 1963 by the Allied Chemical, the building's facade underwent two years later a major update by Smith, Smith, Haines, Lundberg & Waehler. The original intricate granite and terra-cotta decor was then replaced by concrete panels with integrated marble facing, forming a sheer wall on most of the tower portion and an arched window curtain wall on the wedge-shaped lower portion facing Times Square.

In 1975, Gwathmey Siegel made a proposal about an all-glass exterior renovation with a large diagonal glass roof covering the whole building.

The building's 16th floor restaurant space with its arched floor-to-ceiling windows has been closed for two decades.

From 1976 on, various neon signs have been installed to the Times Square sides of the building. Along with its double on the northern side of the "crossroads", the 1580 Broadway, it is perhaps the best-known American building that is very little known when it comes to its actual architecture.

Nowadays the building -- which has only one tenant, Countdown Entertainment, that carries out the New Year celebrations -- is called simply 1 Times Square, appropriately for its role as the undoubtedly best-known Times Square building thanks to the annual New Year's Eve "dropping of the ball", first performed in 1907. (The dropping of the ball was adapted from a seaport practice of lowering a gold-painted ball to signal the time of noon.)

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[Francis H. Kimball]

were completed in 1905 (Trinity) and 1907 (U.S. Realty) as a close-knit twin office building for Trinity Church, one of the city's largest property owners.

The Trinity Building stands next to Trinity Church (link) and is connected to the neighbouring Realty Building by a roof-level walkway (image), added in 1912, that straddles the separating narrow Thames Street.

The buildings have an apperance similar to the Equitable Building across Broadway, albeit scaled down. The facades and interiors have Gothic style elements such as stained glass windows, grotesques and gilded elevator doors and ornaments. There is also a domed turret on the roof corner of the Trinity Building.

The lobbies have marble and bronze decor complemented with rib-vaulted ceilings and stained glass.

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[Cass Gilbert]

was built in 1905-1907 as the Railroad & Iron Exchange Building (later, West Street Building) for the West Street Improvement Corporation to the Hudson River waterfront.

The building was designed as an office base for transport-related companies, somewhat like the later Midtown Bush Tower.

The 24-storey building has a base of limestone facing, a vertically accentuated main facade and a top of with terra-cotta decor. The latter is extensively sculpted in French Renaissance themes above a terminal point of arcaded windows. To enhance the effect of the decor, the top floors of the building are illuminated at night.

Built on the waterside, atop a landfill, the building is founded on a bed of pilings driven deep into the soil.

The massive form of the office building housing 33,500 m² of space is enabled by the -- conveniently hidden from the river or West Street -- deep lightcourt on the eastern facade. The similarly unified-looking 14 m high copper mansard roof resembling a cut pyramid is doubled on the waterfront side by the Postmodern 1 World Financial Center across West Street.

The building top once housed a panoramic restaurant, the Garret Restaurant -- the highest in New York at its time -- that has been long gone.

The building was severely damaged in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the WTC (with, moreover, two people dying in an elevator), but will be returned to use. The 30 cm thick, twin layer of facade terra cotta and, especially, the extensive tile fire-protection used in those times were notable design features that protected the building as burning columns fell from the 2 WTC.

The restoration of the building and its gutted interior is estimated to cost $50 to $100 million and the City Opera toyed with the idea of turning the building into an opera and dance center, although its sale to Brack Capital Real Estate for $12.25 million in 2003 will lead to a residential conversion of 410 apartments on 22 floors. With a price tag of $145 million, the conversion development gets $106.5 million in Liberty Bonds.

During the course of the renovation, the original lobby decor was discovered behind plasterboard walls, consisting of pilasters in terra-cotta, arches and sculptures. As for the facade, the damage suffered required an extensive $16 million rebuilding of both the terra-cotta facing and the carved granite base, with carvers from all over the world duplicating the complex patterns of the original work.

The exterior of the building has been landmarked since 1998, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission had to accept the use of granite cladding attached to steel frames instead of full granite blocks simply due to the lack of original granite material. Similarly, the destroyed metal balustrade running along the roof ridge has been replaced with a fiberglass replica.

In addition to other renovation work, over 100 new gargoyles were added to the facades, seven of them depicting actual renovation management persons, a nod towards Gilbert's Woolworth Building and its lobby gargoyle likenesses. The building was reopened in October 2005.

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lo-go © e t dankwa 29 June 2010