New York City is steeped in the history of the skyscraper. Since the completion of the 348-foot World Building in 1890, the love affair NYC has had with iconic buildings has spanned over a century. With man’s desire to reach unyielding heights brought into view an ever-changing skyline.
The World Building (348 feet)
Since 1890, eleven structures have been cataloged as the world’s tallest building. From the 1910s to the 1930s,16 of the city’s tallest buildings were built: the Woolworth, Bank of Manhattan Trust Building (The Trump Building – 927 feet), the Chrysler Building (1,046 feet), and the Empire State Building (1,250 feet) among them. At the time each of these skyscrapers were erected, they were the tallest of their day. Today, these high rises along with three of their contemporaries represent an iconography that’s unmistakably New York.
Woolworth Building (792 feet)
A little known fact about the Woolworth Building: The bicycle storage area in the basement once led into the NY subway system. According to Jason Crowley, a building tour guide, the doors led to a “[…] passageway under Broadway to the BMT and IRT subways. The BMT is now the City Hall R stop and the IRT is the now closed off City Hall stop where the 6 turns around.That passageway was completely filled in under Broadway and no longer exists.”
Designed by Cass Gilbert and completed in 1913, the Woolworth was named after its owner in 1910, F.W. Woolworth. Woolworth bought the site for $1.65 million. Built to resemble Gothic cathedrals, the building was nicknamed “The Cathedral of Commerce” by Reverend S. Parkes Cadman. The 800 light bulbs to commemorate the opening of the tallest building of its time were turned on by then President Woodrow Wilson to great public aplomb.
Since then, the building has been a National Historic Landmark since 1966 and a NYC landmark since 1983.
Bank of Manhattan Trust Building (now Trump Building – 927 feet)
Now known exclusively as the Trump Building, the 927 foot structure was originally designed by H. Craig Severance et al. Construction of the Bank of Manhattan Building began in 1928, with a planned height of 840 feet. In an effort to be the tallest building in New York, the plans were designed specifically to be two feet taller than the Chrysler Building. Upon completion in 1930, the building was indeed the tallest, but the victory was short-lived once Walter Chrysler topped off the Chrysler Building with a stainless steel spire that had been secretly assembled. Once in place, the Chrysler Building’s height stood at 1,046 feet, defeating the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building for tallest.
Chrysler Building (1,046 feet)
Though the Chrysler only carried the title as the world’s tallest building for less than a year, it remains the tallest brick building in the world. With its Art Deco design and steel frame, it is an undeniable nod to the automobile industry. The sleek, powerful design continues to cut a striking figure across the NYC skyline. Initially intended to stand at 807 feet, designer Van Alen’s designs proved to be too grand to stand at anything less than 1,046 feet. Van Alen’s vision and Walter P. Chrysler’s auto industry money collaborated to create a pinnacle in modern architectural design.
The Empire State Building (1,250 feet)
The Empire State Building is synonymous with New York City. Like the Chrysler, the Empire State was built in the Art Deco Era fashion. Named as one of the Seven Wonders of the World by the Society of Civil Engineers, the building is a National and NYC Landmark often a favorite in Hollywood depictions of the NYC skyline.
The building was built in 1931 and was New York’s tallest until the erection of the North Tower in 1972 which stood at 1,368 feet. After the Twin Towers were destroyed during the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Empire State once again became New York’s tallest structure until the construction of One World Trade Center in 2012.
The Twin Towers (North Tower 1,368 feet, South Tower 1,362 feet)
The entire World Trade Center complex consisted of seven buildings with the “Twin Towers” being the most visible. Upon their completion in the early 1970s, the towers were the tallest buildings in the world. Located in Lower Manhattan, the two colossal buildings shown as two giant figures of industry and finance with 3,400,000 square feet of office space. The two buildings were tragically destroyed after the 9/11 terrorist attack; the other buildings in the complex were all severely damaged by the collapse of the twin towers, and were eventually demolished.
One World Trade Center (1,776 feet)
Also called One WTC or the “Freedom Tower”, the building has the same moniker as the North Tower of the original World Trade Center. One WTC is the current record holder of the tallest building in New York, the United States, and the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth-tallest building in the world. One World Trade Center began construction in 2006 and was completed in 2013. This skyscraper stands on the northwest corner of the World Trade Center.
The building takes up a 200-feet square, with an area of 40,000 square feet almost identical to the area the original Twin Towers inhabited. Constructed with glass and steel, the structure acts as a prism reflecting light and air across the skyline.
Today, New York is home to approximately 8.406 million people and 6,125 skyscrapers that stand over 600 feet. As of April of this year, almost 500 high rises are either proposed for or under construction in New York City. Throughout history, New York’s reverence of architectural design and height have colored its skyline as one of the most unique and alluring in the world.
Curious about the list of New York’s tallest buildings today? Read on here…