The 90 West Street Building is an extraordinary building – for its architecture, and for surviving 9/11.
But to begin at the beginning: The West Street Building was built as an office building for shipping and rail companies – West Street in 1907 was on the Hudson Riverfront. The architect, Cass Gilbert, was a master of the tripartite design commonly used for tall buildings, but the West Street Building was different. Gilbert de-emphasized the base, emphasized the vertical lines of the shaft, and finished with a “Gothic fantasy” capital, including a three-story mansard roof. (Gilbert’s initial plans included a five-story tower at the top.) Where Gilbert’s earlier Broadway Chambers Building used terra cotta ornament in its upper stories, the West Street Building was almost entirely clad in terra cotta. Even the inside of the building used terra cotta, for fireproofing.
The building changed hands in 1923, and was modernized in 1933 – including a new Gilbert-designed lobby. In 1998 the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the West Street Building a landmark. It was still in use as an office building on Sept. 11, 2001, when debris from the South Tower of the World Trade Center rained down on 90 West Street.
The north (Cedar Street) facade was gashed, the roof was destroyed, and eight floors of the building were gutted or heavily damaged by fire. Although the building changed hands several times and was in limbo until 2003, the new owners were able to restore the shell thanks to the terra cotta fireproofing.
The three-year restoration converted the offices to 410 rental apartments. Contractors had to replace 75 percent of the north facade’s granite, and 7,853 pieces of terra cotta. Explore the Suggested Reading links for the full story on the restoration.
90 West Street Building Vital Statistics
- Location: 90 West Street between Albany and Cedar Streets
- Year completed: 1907
- Architect: Cass Gilbert
- Floors: 23
- Style: Gothic Revival
- New York City Landmark: 1998
- National Register of Historic Places: 2007
90 West Street Building Suggested Reading
- Wikipedia entry
- NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report
- City Realty review
- Cass Gilbert Society page
- The Masterpiece Next Door blog
- Boston Valley Terra Cotta website
- Building Maintenance Technology Symposium 2006
- Facade Maintenance Design (FacadeMD)
- 90 West Street website