Friday, September 08, 2006

Boring Postcards

[Posted by Callimachus]

Here is a ghost that haunts me.

This was the Singer Company headquarters, a 612-foot-high tower of Beaux-Arts brick and steel at Broadway and Liberty streets in Manhattan. The architect, Ernest Flagg, loathed the skyscrapers then surging up to claim the profile of New York. Rather than build straight up from the lot lines, Flagg said, why not raise up graceful shafts out of lower-profile buildings? By doing so, he wrote, "we should soon have a city of towers instead of a city of dismal ravines."

The Singer tower, on the remodeled company headquarters, captured that vision. But few followed it.

When the tower was finished in 1908, it was the tallest building in the world. Here's what Manhattan looked like when the Singer was king.

It only held the "world's tallest" designation for about a year, but it remained a famous New York landmark. Singer sold it in 1963, however, and it was torn down to make way for the U.S. Steel Building (now 1 Liberty Plaza). The flaw in Flagg's vision of a city of towers was a simple one of profit and numbers: The total area per floor in the Singer building was just over 4,200 square feet; the floors in 1 Liberty Plaza, a conventional big box skyscraper, measure about 37,000 square feet. Square feet = big bucks.

Demolition of the Singer began in August 1967, just as the new king of skyscrapers, the World Trade Center, was rising up a few blocks to the west. And that's when the Singer building acquired another, temporary, world record. It was, at that time, the tallest building ever to be demolished. That record held until Sept. 11, 2001.