Tag Archives: 1913

Masonic Hall

Masonic Hall and the associated Masonic Building owe their existence to a third building, the Masonic Temple, which was demolished in 1910. The Masonic Temple was designed by by Napoleon LeBrun (himself a Mason) and erected on W 23rd Street in 1870. The Masons built Masonic Hall on adjoining property on W 24th Street as an addition to the Temple, in 1909. Harry P. Knowles, head-draftsman of Napoleon LeBrun & Sons (and also a Mason), designed the addition. The Masons then decided to replace the Masonic Temple with a loft building, to generate income to finance the lodge’s activities. This building, too, was designed by Knowles and erected in 1913.

Both Masonic Hall and Masonic Building are designed on the three-part scheme that treats tall buildings as classical columns: base, shaft and capital. Masonic Hall was designed in Beaux Arts style, Masonic Building in neo-Renaissance style; both are built without setbacks, as they were erected before the 1916 zoning law change. The buildings are interconnected via a pedestrian passage with shops and a restaurant.

Masonic Hall and Masonic Building are included in the Ladies Mile Historic District, designated by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1989.

Harry P. Knowles also designed Mecca Temple on W 55th Street – now known as City Center.

Masonic Hall Vital Statistics
  • Location: 46 W 24th Street at Sixth Avenue
  • Year completed: 1909
  • Architect: Harry P. Knowles
  • Floors: 18
  • Style: Beaux Arts
  • New York City Landmark: 1989
Masonic Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 71 W 23rd Street at Sixth Avenue
  • Year completed: 1913
  • Architect: Harry P. Knowles
  • Floors: 19
  • Style: neo-Renaissance
  • New York City Landmark: 1989
Masonic Hall & Building Suggested Reading

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Woolworth Building

The Woolworth Building is a landmark of architecture, as well as of New York, and celebrates its centennial in 2013. Take a good look while you can – new tower construction is fast crowding Cass Gilbert’s elegant tower from the west and south; City Hall Park may soon be the only place from which to see the building in all its glory.

The Woolworth Building has several claims to fame: It was the world’s tallest building from 1913 to 1929; it was officially opened by then-President Woodrow Wilson; it became the prototype “romantic skyscraper”; it is considered Cass Gilbert’s finest work; it is a New York City Landmark and in the National Register of Historic Places. However, it didn’t start out to be any of those things.

Frank Woolworth’s original plan in 1910, according to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, was for a “standard twelve- to sixteen story office building” to be shared with Irving National Bank’s headquarters. But toward the end of the year Woolworth began to raise his sights, first to build higher than his immediate neighbors, and finally to build the world’s tallest building, for the advertising value.

Architect Cass Gilbert was already acclaimed for designing “the last word” in tripartite (base-shaft-capital) buildings, the Broadway Chambers Building, three blocks north. But he abandoned that scheme to create what became known as a “romantic skyscraper” which celebrated rather than hid its steel frame construction. Gilbert used Gothic-styled terra cotta detailing to accentuate the Woolworth Building’s verticality and to emphasize the steel frame, but it was Gothic inspired by civic buildings, not churches. Gilbert was said to be annoyed with references to the Woolworth Building being a “Cathedral of Commerce.”

To maximize rental space, Gilbert’s facade minimized the use of columns, pilasters and arcades that would cast deep shadows and help define the building’s shape. Instead, he used colored accents to give the illusion of deeper shadows and strong vertical lines.

Although best known for its soaring addition to the New York skyline, the ground floor interior is every bit as inspiring – spectacular, in fact. It’s one of the few interior spaces to be designated a New York City Landmark. There are occasional tours by architectural societies. In addition, the building now permits photography (no flash or tripods) on a limited basis – for a $10 fee.

For some behind-the-scenes photos of the Woolworth Building interior, visit the photo links under “Woolworth Building Suggested Reading.”

Cass Gilbert fans will find four or five other of the architect’s landmarks within walking distance: Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse (Centre Street at St. Andrews Plaza), Broadway Chambers Building (Broadway at Chambers Street), New York County Lawyers Association (Vesey Street between Broadway and Church Street), 90 West Street Building (West Street between Albany and Cedar Streets), and – if you don’t mind a little exercise – the Alexander Hamilton Custom House (1 Bowling Green – at the foot of Broadway).

Woolworth Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 233 Broadway between Barclay Street and Park Place
  • Year completed: 1913
  • Architect: Cass Gilbert
  • Floors: 60*
  • Style: Gothic
  • New York City Landmark: 1983
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1966

* The official 60 floors requires a little fudging; the top five stories – in the pyramidal roof – are not habitable; the floor numbers have unexplained gaps (e.g., no 42nd floor).

Woolworth Building Suggested Reading

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Library Hotel

Library Hotel, a Gothic Revival sliver on Madison Avenue at E 41st Street, stands out. Literally. The building’s distinctive copper-skinned bay windows project out from the building line, so occupants can look straight up Madison Avenue.

Built in 1913, the 12-story office building was originally headquarters of the Fred F. French company, a vertically-integrated real estate/architectural/construction firm. French eventually moved to Fifth Avenue and the character (and number) of tenants at 299 Madison changed over the years, until it lay vacant in the 1990s.

In 1999 new owners converted the offices into a library-themed boutique hotel – somehow fitting six rooms into each 25-by-100-foot floor. Stephen B. Jacob Group was the conversion architect.

Library Hotel Vital Statistics
Library Hotel Recommended Reading

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Dallieu – what’s left of it – is a wonderful example of texture in architecture, designed by New York masters George and Edward Blum. The New York Times’ Christopher Gray called it, “one of the great apartment buildings of the West Side.”

Sadly, the building lost its balconies, parapet and original windows and entrance doors, which added to Dallieu’s character. And in places the owners replaced the original roman brick with common brick – mismatched in both color and shape. Still, the remaining terra cotta bands and roman brick are beautiful, often described as “woven” or “textile” in appearance.

Dallieu Vital Statistics
Dallieu Recommended Reading

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The Clebourne (Cleburne) stands out, even on an avenue of standout architecture; its ornate facade and porte-cochere give the building an elegant presence. (Alas, stanchions block what was once a drive-through entrance.)

Each floor has five apartments of six to nine rooms; layouts are old-fashioned, with some very long hallways, galleries, maid’s rooms and servant’s entrances.

Of historical note, Clebourne is on the site of a former mansion owned by Isador and Ida Straus. Isador Straus was a co-owner of Macy’s; he and his wife perished with the Titanic. A memorial to the couple is in Straus Park, one block north.

Clebourne Vital Statistics
Clebourne Recommended Reading

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