Saturday, February 25, 2012

One Times Square

At first glance, this building almost appears to be the Flatiron Building, but it's actually a building that people see way more often, but few would recognize. This photo was taken in 1908, four years after the building was completed, and a year after a tradition was started by dropping a ball at the top of the building to signify midnight on New Year's Eve. Today, the building is still the site of the ball drop on New Year's Eve, but it looks a little different:

When the building was first built, it was the headquarters for the New York Times, hence the name Times Square. Prior to then, it was known as Longacre Square. The Times only kept their headquarters there until 1913 though, and used the building as a branch office until they sold it in 1961. In 1963, Allied Chemical bought the building and extensively modified its exterior. They sold it in 1996, at which point it was decided it would not be economically feasible to upgrade the interior, since the narrow building had such small floors. So, instead of renting the interior, the owners decided to rent the exterior, by adding 26 billboards that cover almost the entire building and bring in more money than renting the office space inside would.

Today, the building, which was once the second tallest in the city, and once towered over Times Square, is now dwarfed by taller buildings on virtually every side, including the 47-story Times Square Tower directly behind it, and the Condé Nast Building, visible on the left-hand side of the picture. However, it retains its place as a central part of Times Square, even if it is literally just a shell of its former self.

Woolworth Building

During the time period that this blog covers, 1880-1920, there were seven skyscrapers in New York City that held the distinction as the world's tallest at some point. The Woolworth Building, shown in the picture above around 1913 when it was nearing completion, was the seventh and final building to hold the title during this time period. It did so from its completion in 1913 until 1930, when the nearby 40 Wall Street building (at the time called the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building) surpassed its height to briefly hold the record. Interestingly, the above photo also shows the Park Row Building and the Singer Building, both of which had held the record for the world's tallest skyscraper.

Shown in this night photo from between 1913 and 1920, the Woolworth Building fit in with the skyscraper architecture of the time, having a large base and a relatively narrow tower reaching to the top. The building directly beneath it in the foreground is the City Hall Post Office and Courthouse, which was demolished in 1939 to extend City Hall Park.

Today, the Woolworth Building still looks much the same as it did nearly 100 years ago, and at 792 feet high it remains one of the tallest buildings in the United States. By way of comparison, the John Hancock Tower in Boston, the tallest building in New England, was completed in 1976, and is "only" 790 feet tall. As of 2012, the Woolworth Building is the 16th tallest in New York City and the 44th tallest in the United States.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower

The next building after the Singer Building to hold the record for the world's highest was the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, located in Midtown Manhattan at Madison Square. It held the title from 1909 to 1913, around the time when the above photo was taken.

The photo above, taken between 1909 and 1920, shows the tower at night, with Madison Square in the foreground.

Although the tower was built in 1909, the rest of the building was older. The above photo, taken around 1900, shows the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building (built in 1893) prior to the construction of the 50-story tower. The tower was built at the site of the church on the left-hand side of the picture, Madison Square Presbyterian Church.

The company later built another building just to the north in order to add office space for the growing company, and in the 1950s the original 1893 building (but not the tower) was replaced by the current building.

This view of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, taken from the Empire State Building in January 2011, shows the 1909 tower just to the right of center. Notice that just beyond the tower, at the base, is the building that replaced the original 1893 office building in the 1950s. On the other side of the tower, in the center of the photo, is the North Building, which was completed in 1950. These buildings served as the headquarters of Met Life until 2005. As of now, there are plans to convert the tower into a hotel.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Singer Building

Taken between 1910 and 1920, this photo shows the Singer Building, the next building in New York City to hold the record for the tallest building in the world. It held the record for only two years though, from 1908 to 1909, before being surpassed by the Metropolitan Life Tower in Midtown. It was the world headquarters for the Singer Manufacturing Company, of sewing machine fame.

Unlike most of New York's other early skyscrapers, the Singer Building was constructed with a large base, but a relatively narrow tower. This went along with the common architectural technique of building setbacks for skyscrapers, but it also meant that the 35-story tower above the 12-story base was tall, but had very limited office space.

In 1961, Singer sold the building and moved their headquarters uptown. Because it had such limited office space, it was demolished in 1968 and replaced with 1 Liberty Plaza, a nondescript 54 story skyscraper with much more space, but much less aesthetic appeal. Located directly across from the World Trade Center, 1 Liberty Plaza received light damage when the Twin Towers fell. Incidentally, the Singer Tower set the record for the tallest building ever demolished, a record that was only broken when the Twin Towers fell in 2001. The Singer Tower remains the tallest building ever peacefully demolished.

Park Row Building

After the New York World Building, the next highest building in the world was in, of all places, Milwaukee Wisconsin. However, their city hall was the tallest building only for a few years until this building, built in 1899 and photographed in 1912, the Park Row Building. Right up the road from the World Building, it was 390 feet high, and stood as the tallest building in the world until 1901, and the tallest office building in the world until 1908.

This photo, taken from New York Harbor between 1899 and 1901, shows the Park Row Building (center) towering over the previous tallest skyscraper in the world, the New York World Building (the dome-topped building to the left).

Today, the Park Row Building still exists, although it has been extensively renovated to turn most of the building into apartments. At over 100 years old, it is one of the oldest skyscrapers in the city, and it is the oldest one to have once held the title of the world's tallest building.

New York World Building

The Equitable Life Insurance Building was the tallest in the world for 14 years, until it was overtaken by the Home Insurance Building in Chicago. However, that building, in turn, lost its title to the New York World Building in 1890, which at 309 feet was over twice the size of the Home Insurance Building. In the foreground in the 1905 photo above is New York City Hall, and the World Building is directly across Park Row, which was also known as Newspaper Row because of the number of newspapers that were headquartered there. The World Building was, obviously, owned by the New York World, the newspaper owned by Joseph Pulitzer (for whom the Pulitzer Prize is named). It is also argued by some that the World Series was named after the newspaper.

This photo, which appears to have been taken the same day as the one above from approximately the same spot, shows City Hall Park with the "Newspaper Row" buildings in the background. From left to right, they are the New York World Building, New York Tribune Building, New York Times Building, and the Potter Building, which was built on the site of the World's former headquarters.

Now, the last question is, what became of this early pioneer of skyscraper architecture?

It was demolished in 1955 to expand the approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge. It would have been in the right hand side of this photo, which was taken February 2012.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Equitable Life Assurance Building

This photo, taken around 1906, shows Equitable Life Assurance Building, which was built in 1870 and is sometimes considered to be the world's first skyscraper. Topping out at 130 feet and seven stories, it is tiny by modern standards, but when it was first built, it was the tallest non-church building in the world, and the first office building to include passenger elevators. It remained the tallest non-church building in the world until 1884, when it was surpassed by the Home Insurance Building in Chicago. Today, the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa, is about 21 times the height of the Equitable Building. Today, there is another Equitable Building on the same site as this first one, at 120 Broadway. But, what happened to this majestic edifice, once promoted as a "fire-proof building"?

Naturally, the "fire-proof building" was gutted by a fire on January 9, 1912. The firefighting efforts were ineffective because of the cold temperatures, and the water ended up just freezing to the building, clinging to the hollow remains. The site, as mentioned above, was rebuilt in 1915, and that building still stands on Broadway today.

Lost Manhattan

While looking through some old photos of New York City on the Library of Congress website, I came across a panoramic view of New York City from around 1908. The view was taken from somewhere in New York Harbor, from about the same angle from which I took pictures of Manhattan, from the Staten Island Ferry last weekend. I wondered how many of those buildings, which dominated the skyline 100 years ago, still existed. Then, as I continued going through the Library of Congress photos, I came across hundreds of other Manhattan landmarks from the same time period of 1900-1920, some of which still exist, and others of which have long since been demolished.

My goal in this blog is not only to highlight some of the photos that I found on the Library of Congress website, but also to fill in the details of what has happened in the intervening 100+ years to the subjects of the photos. When possible, I will also include my own photos to show what the subject or site looks like today.