Tag Archives: 1910

Liberty Tower

Even if Liberty Tower wasn’t a beautiful and distinctive landmark building – a soaring white Gothic tower with acres of terra cotta – it would be significant. Significant because the building is in its second life (third, if you count the $5 million post-9/11 restoration), and was key in returning the Financial District to its earliest use – as a residential neighborhood.

But to start at the beginning….

The 33-story Liberty Tower was built at the same time as the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company tower at the foot of Madison Avenue, and just before the more famous Woolworth Building. The architect, Henry Ives Cobb, was an early adopter of steel construction, but adhered to historic styles throughout his career. In this case, he opted for one of his favorite styles, Gothic.

Originally known as the Bryant Building – for William Cullen Bryant, editor of the New York Evening Post which previously occupied the site – Liberty Tower was among the tallest structures in the neighborhood. The elaborate terra cotta ornament of the upper stories makes it seem that the building expands as it goes up, until capped by the steep copper roof.

The building’s north facade – facing other buildings instead of a street – is clad in cream-colored brick with terra cotta accents. Contrasting white brick patterns suggest medieval half-timbering.

The building was sold in 1916, and again in 1919 – to Sinclair Oil (of Teapot Dome infamy), which held the building until 1945 as the Sinclair Oil Building. From 1945 to 1979 Liberty Tower continued to be used for offices, but not profitably.

Second Life

Architect Joseph Pell Lombardi sized up the building’s problems – and found opportunity. As he described it, Liberty Tower in 1978 was “…an economically failed building. Substantially vacant, it was in a rundown condition with antiquated mechanical facilities and only one stair (two were required). New York was in the midst of a severe recession and soothsayers were again predicting that the Financial District would never recover.”

The building’s small floor size – 60 by 80 feet – made it too small to attract big companies as tenants. The 1916 zoning law meant that a modern replacement building on the same site would be even smaller, so that option was economically unfeasible. However, the limited floor size was an asset for residential use: apartment owners could have views in two, three or even four directions. The building’s history and beauty were icing on the cake.

Lombardi’s solution borrowed from the loft conversion concept: Whole and partial floors were sold to cooperators as “raw space” which the tenants themselves designed and built. Thus, each of the 89 apartments is different.

Since then, scores of office buildings in the Financial District have been converted to residential and other uses.

Post-9/11 Restoration

The collapse of the World Trade Center towers shook Liberty Tower, damaging some of the terra cotta blocks. Subsequent water seepage made the problems worse. Fortunately, the tenants voted to spend $5 million to restore or replace 3,200 terra cotta blocks and 202 exterior sculptures.

(If you are interested in architectural restoration and recycling, I recommend the Lombardi links below.)

Liberty Tower Vital Statistics
  • Location: 55 Liberty Street at Nassau Street
  • Year completed: 1910
  • Architect: Henry Ives Cobb; Joseph Pell Lombardi (restoration/conversion)
  • Floors: 33
  • Style: Gothic
  • New York City Landmark: 1982
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1983
Liberty Tower Suggested Reading

Google Map

Casino Mansions Apartments

Casino Mansions Apartments lacks the stepped gables of its western neighbor (Heights Casino), but the brickwork is distinctly Flemish bond, and the stone detailing aligns perfectly. No coincidence – the apartment building stands on the site of the Heights Casino’s former outdoor tennis court, land that was sold with the condition that the new building blend in with the old. It helped that the same architect designed both: William A. Boring.

As built, the luxury rental building had one eight-room/two-bath and one nine-room/three bath apartment per floor. Among the “best modern conveniences and improvements” reported by The New York Times in 1910 were steam clothes dryers, sanitary garbage closets, electric plate warmers, porcelain-lined refrigerators, and wall safes.

The apartments are now co-op, with units going for $1 to $3 million.

(Also see Heights Casino.)

Casino Mansions Apartments Vital Statistics
Casino Mansions Apartments Recommended Reading

Google Map

Whitehall Building

Whitehall Building is actually two buildings: the original 1904 20-story structure facing Battery Place, and a 1910 32-story annex directly behind that, facing West Street.

(A third building, added to the complex in 1972, is not included in this gallery. Now named One Western Union International Plaza, that 20-story office building was built in a completely different style and is now under different ownership.)

Whitehall Building was a little bit of a gamble – its location was two blocks off Broadway, the most desirable address. But the park across the street guaranteed unimpeded views; with lower-than-Broadway rents, the building was an immediate success. The owners, Robert and William Chesebrough, started buying up adjacent lots for an annex even before the first building was completed. (Robert Chesebrough was the inventor of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly.)

Henry J. Hardenbergh was the architect for the Whitehall Building. Among his prior commissions were the Dakota Apartments (1884), the original Waldorf (1895) and Astoria (1897) hotels, and the Western Union Telegraph Building (1884). His design for the Whitehall was quite colorful for the times and the location, including five different shades of brick and stone in the Battery Place facade.

The records don’t say why Hardenbergh wasn’t selected to design the annex – but it may have been because he was busy designing the Plaza Hotel. In any case, Clinton & Russell was selected for the job. Their annex, Greater Whitehall, was much larger than Whitehall Building; in fact, it was the largest office building in New York at the time.

The upper floors (14-31) of both buildings have now been converted to rental apartments – Ocean Luxury Residences.

Whitehall Building Vital Statistics
Whitehall Building Recommended Reading

Google Map

Harperly Hall

Harperly Hall, briefly infamous as Madonna’s residence and dance studio, is notable as a rare (for New York) example of Arts and Crafts style in architecture.

Henry W. Wilkerson, the architect, partnered with several other creative types to develop the building as a cooperative – the first on Central Park West.

The building has a T-shaped courtyard on W 64th Street, with three entrances at the top of the T. An iron fence and gatehouse guards the courtyard.

Harperly Hall Vital Statistics
Harperly Hall Recommended Reading

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