70 Pine Street

Although never the tallest building in the city, the skyscraper at 70 Pine Street is one of the most striking on the Lower Manhattan skyline. For many years (between 1932 and 1972), it was the third tallest building in Manhattan and the tallest in Lower Manhattan.

Rising to a height of 952 feet tall, 70 Pine was completed in 1932 for the Cities Services Company, an oil company that later merged with Citgo. It was designed by the firms of Clinton & Russell and Holton & George. Perhaps in using two architectural firms, the building gained its unique gothic-art deco hybrid style—said by some to resemble a mountain. It was the last major skyscraper built in Lower Manhattan from the Great Depression until the World Trade Center was constructed in the 1970s. After Cities Services moved their headquarters, the building was the headquarters of AIG until the financial crisis in the mid-2000s.

Today, the building is being converted to high end residences. A hotel is also located within the building. Seventy Pine can be seen on the “Foundation of New York” tour of Lower Manhattan conducted by Sights by Sam. Additionally, this is the type of information you will learn on a Sights by Sam tour of New York.

One Bryant Park

At the northwest corner of Bryant Park is one of the more recent additions to the New York City skyline. Built by the Bank of America, the Bank of America Tower (One Bryant Park) has a distinctive profile. It is also known for many ecologically-friendly features.

Built by the architectural firm of COOKFOX, One Bryant Park was completed in 2009. The building is LEED certified as it has systems in place to capture and reuse rainwater, special glass that helps to keep the building warm in the winter and cool in the summer (without using climate control systems), and also has ventilation systems that can sense how warm and cold the building is. This is in addition to standard environmental systems such as waterless urinals and energy-efficient lights. The building has an LED system that can project a multitude of colors at night.

One Bryant Park has become an important addition to the skyline since its completion. The building is among one of the five tallest in the city. This is the type of information you will learn on a Sights by Sam tour.

Metropolitan Life North Building

At Madison Square Park is the 700 foot Metropolitan Life Tower, that is topped by the “Light that Never Fails” (to symbolize that the company would always protect its customers). To the north of this landmark is the stub of what was to be the world’s tallest tower.

In the late 1920s, Metropolitan Life sought to construct an annex to their headquarters that would have been the tallest building in the world. Harvey Wiley Corbett was the lead architect on this project, which would have built a 100-story Art Deco tower—among the tallest in the world. Construction started in 1928, but the building was far from complete by the time the stock market crashed in 1929. Work was stalled until the early 1950s, when Metropolitan Life decided to halt construction at its current height of 451’ and 28 stories.

For many years, the building was used as archives for Metropolitan Life and was also used as a location for many films due to its eclectic style. It now houses offices. This building can be seen on a Sights by Sam tour.

Skyscraper Museum

Perhaps no other invention typifies New York more than the skyscraper. This invention was the result of the dual inventions of steel and the safety elevator. Before these inventions, people could only tolerate walking up six flights of stairs to live and work (think about older buildings in the Lower East Side and Chinatown). Only the spires of churches and some other large items (the Brooklyn Bridge towers) rose above several stories. Although Chicago lays claim to the first skyscraper in the U.S. and the world, New York was the most eager adaptor of this new building type. The limited space on Manhattan coupled with hard rock on the island that made buildings easy to securely anchor led to a proliferation of skyscrapers that created the manmade canyons known the world over.

The Skyscraper Museum in Lower Manhattan is the perfect place for lovers of tall buildings. In addition to captivating changing exhibits, the permanent collection of the museum has details about the tallest buildings in the world and famous skyscrapers in New York. Given the location of the museum in Lower Manhattan, the museum has made an exhibit about the World Trade Center twin towers part of its permanent collection, celebrating these marvels of engineering and giving pause to their demise. Predictably, the museum also has a first-rate gift shop for everything tall buildings.

This museum is a must for fans of Manhattan’s most recognizable architectural form. Participants on Sights by Sam tours are guaranteed to receive detailed explanations of skyscrapers and other sights worth seeing on every tour.

The Race to the Top

In large clusters in Lower and Midtown Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and Long Island City in Queens, there are skyscrapers.  The quintessential New York architectural form rises up all over the city.  A casual observer can tell the era a skyscraper was built in by its height and ornamentation.  This entry will give a basic history of the skyscraper.

The skyscraper is a perfect building for New York as it rises vertically from a sometimes small parcel of land.  It also allows a company to locate its offices together and for a landlord to rent out to many tenants to collect more rent for one building.  The invention of the safety elevator and steel in the 1800s allowed structures to rise higher than six or seven stories (what the average person can tolerate walking).  Other advances in mechanical technologies such as pumps to bring water up and sewage down, as well as more recent technologies such as solar panels and water recycling systems make the skyscraper desirable.  New York is also geologically fortunate in that there is good bedrock to anchor these massive towers into the Earth.

The first skyscrapers were built in Chicago after that city’s great fire.  The skyscraper first appeared in Lower Manhattan with many newspapers building skyscrapers along Park Row near City Hall.  Others, such as the Equitable Life Building in Lower Manhattan was one of the first to have features of being a skyscraper; the structure had elevators and a high floor count.  Many, including this building, had a Gilded Age/Beaux Arts style to them.  This structure stood from 1870 to 1912, when it burned down.  The company would build a much taller and larger building that would lead to a distinctly New York style.

The new Equitable Building was completed in 1915 and covered an entire city block, rising up to 40 stories and 538 feet.  It ended up casting a shadow over the surrounding blocks.  In response, the New York City Council passed the Zoning Ordinance of 1916, which required that skyscrapers adopt setbacks until the floor area matched 1/4 of the building’s site.  At this point, the 1/4 segment could rise as far as was feasible or profitable to build.  Many art deco-era skyscrapers in the city such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building apply setbacks in their form. This same era saw a “race to the top” where skyscraper builders competed to have the world’s tallest building.  Since the end of World War II, there has been a trend toward glassed-in International Style and contemporary-style buildings.  Many of these rise straight up as they do not occupy the entire plot of land they are on (in compliance with the 1916 law) and have windows that reflect light down onto the streets below.

Although major building of skyscrapers still continues today, the tallest buildings are now located in the Middle East and Far East, where other countries are trying to pierce the heavens with taller and taller buildings.  With this said, New York is still graced by some of the tallest buildings in the world, including 1 World Trade Center, the tallest in the Western Hemisphere.  You will be able to see skyscrapers on any Sights by Sam tour.