Tag Archives: Robert H. Robertson

Park Row Building

Park Row Building was a beginning and an ending: A beginning of really tall buildings, on new iron and steel frames; an ending of horizontal divisions in skyscraper design.

When it was completed in 1899, the 30-story Park Row Building was the tallest building in New York City and the tallest office building in the world. Architects of the day were still undecided on what style to use for skyscrapers. Commercial structures until then had been given a layered look, with cornices and other horizontal bands of decoration. But in the 1890s a consensus was growing that skyscrapers should be designed like a classical column, with a substantial base, a relatively plain shaft and an ornate capital.

Robert H. Robertson, the Park Row Building’s architect, seems to have a foot on both sides of the design chasm.

On one hand, the Park Row facade has three distinct vertical sections, which emphasize the building’s height, and a substantial limestone base and ornate crown. On the other hand, it also has six horizontal divisions, which diminish the building’s height. Robertson himself wrote that he had tried to make the building “look less than its real height,” according to The New York Times.

The real height was impossible to hide: it was two or three times taller than its neighbors. The twin copper-domed cupolas made the building more distinctive. Park Row Building held 950 offices, in which 4,000 employees worked daily. Ten elevators, arranged in a semicircle, each week carried 100,000 people and traveled about 1,000 miles according to one real estate journal. Among the building’s prominent first tenants were the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) and the new Associated Press.

The developers picked a heck of a place to be conspicuous: The site was in “Newspaper Row,” the center of the newspaper industry from the 1840s to the 1920s and rich in professional critics. And the critics found faults. They complained that the Park Row Building had completely plain side and rear facades – no applied styling at all. The light courts facing Ann Street and Theatre Alley were braced with exposed steel beams. The shape of the building itself – dictated by the odd conglomeration of seven adjoining lots – made the tower ungainly.

In May of 1920 the Park Row Building found more notoriety: Andrea Salsedo, being held by the Justice Department in connection with a seven-city anarchist bombing spree, fell from the 14th floor. The anarchist version: He was pushed. The police version: He jumped.

Fast Forward

In 2002 the Park Row Building was converted to mixed use. The bottom 10 floors remain commercial – most being used by electronics retailer J & R; the top floors have been converted to 210 apartments. Conversion plans included turning the three-story cupolas into triplex apartments.

(Robert H. Robertson earlier designed the 20-story American Tract Society Building, two blocks away, and the seven-story Lincoln Building on Union Square West and a dozen other notable structures of all types.)

Park Row Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 15 Park Row, between Ann and Beekman Streets
  • Year completed: 1899
  • Architect: Robert H. Robertson
  • Floors: 30
  • Style: Classical Revival
  • New York City Landmark: 1999
  • National Register of Historic Places: 2005
Park Row Building Suggested Reading

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American Tract Society Building

If you don’t like the American Tract Society Building, blame the sinners of 1824 New York. The building is here because the ATS’ Rev. William Allen Hallock believed that the religious publisher should be headquartered where it is needed most – in “the great wicked city of New York.”

Fast forward to 1894: The ATS decided to erect an office building on their land, as an investment. They chose Robert H. Robertson – prominent for his churches and religious institutions – to design the building.

Like his later Park Row Building (15 Park Row, completed 1899), the American Tract Society Building mixes styles: Romanesque and Renaissance Revival. This structure also mixes construction types: the facades are part self-supporting masonry, part curtain wall.

When completed, the American Tract Society Building was among New York’s tallest structures – tallest, by full floor count (20). But Robertson, who did not really like tall buildings, designed this one in layers that de-emphasized the structure’s height.

Alas, the building had more than its share of bad luck. For starters, during construction a plasterer’s assistant fell 14 stories to his death. ATS declined to help the worker’s family despite the glare of publicity – even banning an alms box on the site. In the first year of operations, three elevator accidents injured passengers. Then in 1897 another elevator dropped 19 floors, killing two people.

The elevator accidents contributed to poor rental performance, and by 1913 ATS was unable to meet the mortgage. Mortgage holder New York Life Insurance Company resold the building in late 1919, but it was in default again by the end of 1936. The building has changed hands several times since – including a 15-year span under Pace University, which owns two neighboring buildings. The American Tract Society Building is now a residential building, except for retail space on the ground floors (the lot slopes steeply toward the east so that the basement level is exposed in the rear).

The elevators appear to have been totally replaced.

American Tract Society Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 150 Nassau Street at Spruce Street
  • Year completed: 1895
  • Architect: Robert H. Robertson
  • Floors: 23
  • Style: Romanesque and Renaissance Revival
  • New York City Landmark: 1999
  • National Register of Historic Places:
American Tract Society Building Suggested Reading

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McIntyre Building

McIntyre Building is one of New York’s quirky oddities. For starters, people can’t agree on its architectural style, because architect Robert H. Robertson mixed several styles in the design. People don’t always agree on the building’s name – it was built by Ewen McIntyre, but the lobby mosaic spells it “Mac Intyre” – and the typo is how many refer to 874 Broadway. The owner was a druggist, but he never used the building – the ground floor was occupied by a now-defunct bank.

Over the years, occupants sometimes blurred the lines. In the ’60s, people started to live in the building – though it didn’t have a residential occupancy permit. A seventh-floor nightclub, Cobra Club, operated illegally in the ’70s. The club’s trademark snakes reportedly escaped the glass terrariums from time to time, and live snakes were reported on the loose for years after. It’s currently a co-op – and one that’s spent big bucks to preserve the McIntyre Building’s unique style. The residents even paid to restore century-old wooden windows rather than replace them with modern metal sashes.

McIntyre Building Vital Statistics
McIntyre Building Recommended Reading

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