August 16, 2013

100 Years Young: New York City’s Centennial Buildings

  • By: Katherine Flynn

Grand Central Terminal. Credit: Definitive HDR Photography, Flickr.
Grand Central Terminal, New York City.

New York City’s iconic Grand Central Terminal turned 100 this past February, kicking off a year-long centennial celebration complete with throwback prices for cups of coffee and shoe shining services (5 and 10 cents, respectively,) as well as live music, speakers like Caroline Kennedy, and a Transit Museum exhibit titled “Grand By Design” recounting the terminal’s storied history.

Below, we highlight five other New York buildings that have reached, or will soon reach, the 100-year mark in style.

The Woolworth Building

The regal Woolworth Building, located at 233 Broadway in Manhattan, was the tallest in the world upon completion in 1913. The price tag was $13.5 million, which Frank Woolworth, head of the F.W. Woolworth Company, paid in cash. In 1930 the 792-foot Neo-Gothic structure was surpassed in height by the 70-story 40 Wall Street, now known as the Trump Building, but the one-time “Cathedral of Commerce” still holds a special place in the hearts of history and architecture-loving New Yorkers. The building, one of the oldest skyscrapers in the United States, made news last year when development company Alchemy Properties announced that they planned to turn the top floors into about 40 luxury apartments, including a 5-story penthouse in the cupola.

Original use: Corporate headquarters for the F.W. Woolworth Company, which only took up a floor and a half. The rest of the space was rented out to companies like Columbia Records and the Irving Trust Bank.

Current use: An office building to companies such as prestigious SHoP Architects, and future home of luxury apartments that could cost as much as $3,000 a square foot.

Woolworth Building. Credit: laverrue, Flickr.
The Woolworth Building.

James A. Farley Post Office Building

After opening for business in 1914 and undergoing several name changes, this majestic Beaux-Arts structure in Midtown Manhattan was officially christened the James A. Farley Post Office Building in 1982, after the esteemed 1932-1940 Postmaster General of the United States. The building occupies two city blocks and was open 24 hours a day until 2009, when budget cuts forced the U.S. Postal Service to shutter the service windows at 10 p.m. on weekdays. Conceptualized to compliment the original Roman Classic-style Pennsylvania Station across the street on 8th Avenue, this structure remains an iconic piece of New York architecture. Much of the post office will find new life as a concourse for Amtrak, to be named the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Station. Phase One of the project is scheduled to be completed by 2015.

Original use: Post office building

Current use: Entrances to train platforms are being built in the northeast and southeast corners, along with other infrastructure upgrades. Post office windows will remain.

James A. Farley Post Office. Credit: Xoundbox, Flickr.
James A. Farley Post Office building.

World’s Tower Building

With an exterior of ornamental white terra cotta and windows outlined in shiny bronze, the World’s Tower building on West 40th Street was, at the time it was built, exceptional for having fully-developed façades on all four sides. The Gothic structure was also the tallest building in the world constructed on a plot only 50 feet wide, or the width of two residential plots. Built by real estate mogul Edward “Daddy” Browning, notorious for his scandalous relationships with two child brides, the World’s Tower was completed in the spring of 1913 and housed tenants such as the Motor Boat Publishing Company as well as film and entertainment companies. In 2008 the building was renovated and the exterior restored, prompting the New York Times to praise the restoration for making the fragile terra cotta look good as new.

Original use: Office building, particularly for film companies

Current use: Office building

World's Tower. Credit: Alice Lum.
World's Tower.

Colony Arcade Building/Refinery Hotel

Located in the heart of New York’s garment district, the three-block-long Colony Arcade Building was recently transformed into the luxurious Refinery Hotel. The Neo-Gothic structure originally housed men toiling away in hat factories on the upper levels and women stopping in for lunch at a “tea room” (known for its libations, especially whiskey) on the ground floor while shopping on Fifth Avenue. Stonehill Taylor, the architecture and design team behind the new hotel, took particular care to preserve and incorporate historical aspects of the original structure, from using the same quatrefoil pattern found on the exterior façade in interior designs to furnishing guest rooms with desks modeled after sewing tables.

Original use: Hat factory and Prohibition-era tea room

Current use: Luxury hotel

Colony Arcade. Credit: NJFPR.
Colony Arcade/Refinery Hotel.

The Jane Hotel

Built in 1908 as a hotel for sailors, complete with rooms that bear a striking resemblance to ship cabins, the Georgian-style Jane Hotel in New York’s West Village claims to stay true to the building’s tradition of hosting guests with “more dash than cash” (original prices were 25 cents a night for seamen). Designed by William A. Boring, the architect best-known for his design of the immigration station at Ellis Island, the hotel also housed survivors of the Titanic after the ship’s sinking in 1912. In 2008 the building, which became a venue for rock shows in the 80’s and 90’s before falling into disrepair, was converted into a trendy and affordable hotel that pays homage to the structure’s unique past.

Original use: Sailor hotel

Current use: Luxury hotel

Jane Hotel. Credit: Sheryl Yvette, Flickr.
The Jane Hotel.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.


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