Last night we wrapped up our NYC history class in Dumbo, going over some of the history of the various buildings along the skyline. Here's a super quick summary of the highlights, and huge thanks to everyone in the class for their ridiculously thorough research.
1. Staten Island Ferry Terminals - I don't think the buildings themselves are terribly interesting, but the Ferry itself is full of good facts: it carries 21 million passengers annually on its 5.2 mile route and until 1997 you had to pay for it ($.50). Back in the 1700's, the first private ferry service took you to Bay Ridge, and it mostly helped farmers get their stuff to the market.
2. Woolworth Building - The Woolworth Building's old - 1913 - and was the tallest building in the world for a bit. Back then, architects still weren't really sure what a tall building should look like, so they looked back at other tall buildings from the olden days. Some made their buildings look like columns, but Cass Gilbert went with Gothic and it makes total sense in this case. The Woolworth Building also gets the prize for the most obvious/appropriate nickname Downtown: the "Cathedral of Commerce."
3. South Street Seaport - In the '80's, this building company thought the best way to get people to come to the downtowns of their various empty cities was to build huge malls, euphemistically termed "festival marketplaces." And they built them everywhere; you've probably been to a few of them at some point - Faneuil Hall in Boston, Bayside Marketplace in Miami, National Place in DC.
Well, 25 years later, everyone's waking up to the fact that South Street Seaport's kind of a lame place only tourists go, and they decided to build a big fancy new tower, except then the Landmarks Preservation Committee said you can't really do that in a historic district and then the company went bankrupt. So we'll see about that.
4. City Municipal Building - This was McKim, Mead & White's first skyscraper (1914), and the whole thing has always seemed a little off balance to me. Regardless, it was hugely influential in civic building, where Classical architecture remained relevant way after everyone else took up Modernism. Fun fact: 28,000 people are married here each year!
5. Brooklyn Bridge - Since there's way too much to actually say about the Brooklyn Bridge, here's just a few random facts I cobbled together from Wikipedia and the internet.
*It wasn't until 1885, two years after it opened, that someone decided to jump off the Bridge.
*The granite to build it came all the way from Maine.
*Its suspension cables are 16 inches in diameter.
6. Verizon Building/375 Pearl - I've always wondered why this building was so ugly. Turns out because it wasn't built for people but for telephone switching, which you apparently needed skyscrapers for at one point. The plan now is to put a new facade on it so it isn't quite so offensive to the Brooklyn Bridge.
7. One Wall Street - Just to make this building extra expensive, the entire thing is clad in limestone. It's kind of gorgeous though, and a really nice example of Art Deco architecture. Apparently the inside's amazing too. Lots of gold and red mosaics.
8. 60 Wall Street - A newcomer to the skyline, 60 Wall topped out in 1990 and is oh-so-Postmodern. You can't tell well from the picture above, but the top is full of abstracted classical columns, all aglitter in glass. Check out the lobby, feels a bit like a Las Vegas casino!
9. 70 Pine Street - Another Art Deco skyscraper, like One Wall but with a big spire, the coolest thing about 70 Pine is that is has double decker elevators, to reduce the number of shafts needed. At the moment, it's the third tallest building in the city at 950 feet.
10. Freedom House/120 Wall Street - Here's a textbook example of the skyscraper style that NYC perfected in the 1920's, all the result of some zoning laws. Before 1916, you could build as high as you wanted on your plot of land, whatever the effects on the street below (i.e. plunging it into darkness and shadow and making it an entirely unpleasant place to be.)
After this happened a few too many times, the city decided to impose some zoning regulations, known as the setback laws. Only on 25% of your lot could you build as high as you wanted. Otherwise, once you reached a certain height, the building had to step back from the street to let more light in. You can find these buildings all over the city, and they're a pretty incredible example of public policy influencing aesthetics.
11. Beekman Tower - And now something from Frank Gehry. This'll be 76 stories of apartments, with a big public school and a hospital too. Early reviews are pretty positive, but I think the most interesting thing is that Gehry really has no control over the inside of the building, because real estate developers have their own ideas of what apartments should look like and there's really no changing that.
12. One Chase Manhattan Plaza - Pretty much everyone agrees this is a masterpiece of the International Style (built in 1969), though it was only officially landmarked in 2008. This picture of it is amazing.
13. One New York Plaza - You can identify this building by its strange/cool beehive facade pattern. It also has a wickedly large cornice at the top which makes it easy to tell apart from any other building way down at the tip of the island. Before One New York Plaza was built, the city tried to acquire the land in order to build housing projects here.