huge, shiny, boxy skyscraper was eredted in 1960 and helped stop a
corporate exodus from Lower Manhattan and led a downtown renaissance
that led to the creation of Battery Park City and the World Trade
the same time, it created one of the world's greatest plazas as well as
one of the world's greatest sunken plazas.
the process, however, it ruined the Lower Manhattan skyline that had
been, up until its erection, the most romantic and famous in the world
because of its spindly tall towers that rose almost symmetrically in
This tower has no setbacks
and its 60 stories of 30,000-square-foot floors are topped by a roof
without skyline ornament.
from under the Dubuffet sculpture
February 10, 2009, it was designated an offricial New York City
landmark. Its designation report provided the following
with simmering panels of natural color and black-enamel aluminum,
H-shapped mullions and glass, One Chase Manhattan Plaza is among the
largest and most important 20th century skyscrapers in New York City.
The project was designed by Skidmore, Owings &
Walter Severinghaus as partner in charge, Gordon Bunshaft overseeing
the development of the design and Jacques E. Guilton as lead
designer....Chase merged with the Bank of the Manhattan Company in 1955
and the new headquarters was planned to consolidate 8,700 employees
under a single roof. David Rockefeller played a leading role
project; as executive vice president he convinced Chase to remain
downtown and hire SOM, resulting in a 813-foot-tall slab-like tower
that dramatically altered the skyline and character of the financial
district....One Chase Manhattan Plaza signaled a new start for this
historic area. Not only did it stand out sharply from its
masonry neighbors, but the planning of the site, incorporating an
irregularly shaped 2 1/2 acre plaza, established a welcome break from
the narrow, twisting streets that characterize much of the
neighborhood. Construction started in 1957 and was
by 1961. The south plaza and basement levels were dedicated
incorporated a 'Sunken Garden' by the sculptor Isamu Noguchi.
16 feet below the plaza, theis serene work of art is visibile from
above and through curved glass windows that separate it from the bank's
main branch located on the concourse level.....As hoped, One Chase
Manhattan Plaza did lay a significant cgroundwork for a downtown
reniassance in the 1960s, leading to construction to a succession of
corporate towers immediately west, from the Marine Midland Bank
Building in 1967, to the World Financial Center complex in 1985-88."
from the northeast
structure "was one of the financial district's first buildings," the
report continued, "to boldly reflect the aesthetic and planning
strategies of 20th Century European modernism, often called the
International Style....The Bank of Manhattan...first served depositors
in 1799 where 40 Wall Street stands today and Chase was founded at 104
Broadway, near Cedar Street, by banker and publisher John
in 1877. Named for Salmon Pl. Chase, secterary of the U. S.
Treasury under President Abraham Lincoln, it grew to become the largest
bank in the world by 1930. in the late 1940s, however,
City Bank and the Bank of America National Trust and
Savings....surpassed Chase ....Johyn J. McCloy was the bank's president
(1953-55), and later, chairman (1956-60). Trained as a
had been Assistant Secretary of War under President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt and headed the World Bank from 1947 to 1949. To
supervise the project, in January 1955 he promoted David Rockefeller
(b. 1915) to executive vice president for planning and development.
Rockefeller had first joined the bank as a manager in 1946.
His parents, Joyhn D. Rockefeller Jr., and Abby Aldrich
Rockefeller, were major philanthropists, having played leading roles in
the creation of many famillar New York City structures....David
Rockefeller remained associated with Chase for most of his career,
becoming its president in 1960, and chairman of the board and chief
executive officer in 1960....[He] helped found the Downtown-Lower
Manhattan Associationin 1958. Under his leadership, this
organizationn helped plan the South Street Seaport, the World Trade
Center, and Battery Park City....Rockefeller worked closely with
William Zeckendorf (1905-1976), a long-time family advisor, to find an
ideal location....It was the pending sale of the block directly north
the bank's Pine Street headquarters, bounded by Cedar, Nassau, Liberty
and William Streets, that helped finalize their decision. The
60,000-square-foot site had been occupied by a Romanesque Revival style
structure (Charles W. Clinton, begun 1882) and six other buildings
erected by the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York.
since 1950 when the firm moved to Broadway and 55th Street, the block
was currently owned by the Guaranty Trust Company of New York."
The design of the building by SOM had a recessed, 30-foot-high lobby,
which originally had a mezzanine level, and deep large floors.
Mechanical floors were on the 11th, 31st and 51st levels.
The designation report
states that "originally constructed with white marble terrazzo paving
and enclosed by a solid parapet of white travertine that was personally
selected by Bunshaft in Tivoli, Italy. The L-shaped plaza levels the
sloping site and conceals six floors of operaitons that would have been
difficult to fit into a single floor of the tower, including an
auditorium seating 800, the world's largest bank vault, and a staff
cafeteria with the capaciity to serve an estimated 10,000 meals a
dayl...Isamu Noguchi...served as consultant on the plaza's design.
Early schemes, dating form 195 6, including square- and
rectangular-shaped wells in which a spiral staircase at the southwest
corner served as a dramatic entrance to the bank. In 1957,
however, the stairs were removed and the rectangle became a circle."
"Bunshaft and Noguchi," the report continued, "wre frequent
collaborators and became close friends. Their earliest
project was an unexecuted raised garden for Lever House, followed by a
group of square courtyards at the Connecticut General Life Insurance
Company Headquarters (1957) near Hartford. Work on the
'Sunken Garden' began in 1961, during the period when Noguchi was
planning a courtyard and sculptures for the Beinecke Library at Yale
University. These commission share many characteristics:
neither can be entered and, like the Zen Gardens he and Bunshaft
visited during a trip to Kytoto a year earlier, were conceived for
contemplation. Enclosed by large glass windows, both can be
viewed from above or in the round. While both incorporate
patterned paving, they differ in shape, form, and materials.
The Beinecke courtyard features a level rectangular base, bu
the garden at Chase was, according to the artist: 'sculpturally treated
- like the wild and surging shell of the sea and rising out or floating
on it would be elemental rocks.' Noguchi selected seven black
basalt rocks of various sizes taken forrm the bed for the Uji River
near Kyoto, Japan....he told the Herald
Tribune in 1963: ...the rocks I found in Japan for this
garden contain a levitating as well as a gravitating quality.
Some of them will seem to soar, others, remain close to
sculpture from the west
Circular areas in the
sunken garden were designed to hold seasonal displays of various
flowers andplants and shortly after completion some
"passer-by" added some goldfish but the fish soon died "apparently
victims of the braass priping and copper found in the numerous pennies
pitched into the pool."
The building's large piers had been used recently at the
Time-LifeBuiding in midtown that had been designed by
Harrison & Abramowitz & Harris and completed in 1960
and a much narrower variation was employed at SOM's Uniuon Carbide
Building on Park Avenue that was also completed in 1960.
sunken plaza and fountain
There was a fire in the building's sub-basement in 1962, some windows
"popped" in 1964 and a bomb went off in the bank's internaational
department on the 16th floor in 1969 to protest the Vietnam War.
Jean Dubuffet's "Group
of Four Trees," a forty-foot-high sculpture, was installed in the plaza
in 1971 and not long afterwards the terrazzo in the plaza was replaced
with granite pavers and the solid marble perimeter wall replaced with a
glass wall. The bank moved its headuarters to midtown on 1996
and would later became known as J. P. Morgan Chase & Co.
In 2008, the place was named to honor David Rockefeller.
The building's other addresses are 16-48 Libery Street, 26-40 Nassau
Street, 28-44 Pine Street, and 55-77 Wiliam Street.
view to east
There can be little
doubt thatDavid Rockefeller's decision to keep Chase downtown and to
erect a major and imposing "modern" skyscraper was very critical to the
well-being of Lower Manhattan, especially at a time when the corporate
exodus to the suburbs was a major concern for the city and as many CEOs
decided that they could do without the "secondary" commute from the
suburbs to downtown. One need only watch such movies as
"Sabrina" or "Executive Suite" to understand the culture of Lower
Manhattan's views from the proverbial 40th floor. Stunning
color photographs of the harbor from the huge picture windows of the
Wall Street Club on the 60th floor of the building, however, did a lot
to elevate the declining status of downtown and indeed the views were
stupendous and the club was proably the the city's most improessive
business luncheon venue.
The massive bulk of the building, of course, make it a skyline bully,
hogging all the attention and intimidating the thinner "boys on the
beach. Had SOM sculpted its roofline somewhat it could have
mitigated a lot of the building's negative impact visually on the
skyline because it was centrally located unlike the World Trade Center
that was yet to come.
from the south
As a result of its
contruction and the leadership of David Rockefeller and his brother,
Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the downtown renaissance would soon be
vigorously reinforced by the construction of the World Trade Center and
Battery Park City on the landfill created with the dirt of the center's
excavation. A few years after it was built, the Rouse
Corporation created the south Street Seaport on the East River just
south of the Brooklyn Bridge with the hope that its large retail
presence and hisotrical assocations would also significantly bolster
downtown's status and it led to the redevelopment of Water Street.
up William Street
The lure of very cheap rents and greatly reduced taxes in the suburbs,
however, was too irresistible for many companies in the city who fled
downtown and even midtown.
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