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20 Exchange Place

22 William Street at Beaver Street

Block 27 Lot 27

20 Exchange Place

20 Exchange Place

By Carter B. Horsley

In 2005, Yaron Bruckner and Eastbridge N.V. brought the 56-story office tower at 20 Exchange Place for $152 million and planned to convert it to about 800 rental apartments.

It is one of a half dozen important skyscrapers that created the world's most romantic and famous skyline until the advent of bulky, glass-clad towers in the 1960s.

The first phase of the residential conversion of 20 Exchange Place, one of Lower Manhattan's most distinctive skyscrapers, will create 362 apartments on the top 41 floors of the 56-story tower.

Nathan Berman, a member of the joint venture with Yaron Bruckner and Eastbridge N.V., has indicated that the building's 130,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and four lower levels should be ready by 2009.

View from Wall Street

View of tower from Wall Street

The 741-foot-high building was erected as the City Bank Farmers Trust Building in 1931 and designed by Cross & Cross, the architectural firm that also designed 570 Lexington Avenue, originally the RCA Victor Building and later renamed the GE Building, the same year.

Hooded heads Hooded heads and eagles

Two views of some of the great 14 "hooded" heads atop setbacks

Close-up of east setbacks

Close-up of east setbacks

"Clearly, it is one of the 10 major skyscrapers in the city," Mr. Berman declared, adding that cleaning and restoration of the building's exterior, an official city landmark, was being undertaken prior to the residential conversion. He said that its interior public spaces, which are not official landmarks, are also being preserved and restored.

Building's top View from the east

Building's top

In their great book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two World Wars" (Rizzoli International Publications, 1987), Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins noted that "Cross & Cross replaced the Expressionist allusion of their RCA Victor tower with those of Modern Classicism, the style for which the designers were better known and which had virtually become the vernacular language of banking."

"The building," the authors continued, "was erected in a remarkably brief span of time, opening for business in 1931, one day less than a year after the first steel column was put in place….Housing two independent banks that each required ground floor accommodations, the ground-floor plan was more intricate than that of any other skyscraper of the era….the banks were each placed at prominent corners; stairs led down half a level from Hanover Street to the fan-shaped banking room of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, while an entrance at the corner of Exchange Place and William Street led diagonally into the lobby of the National City Bank branch, a glorious rotunda sheathed in stone and ringed with red marble columns topped by American eagles. The ceiling was a spectacular reinterpretation of a Classical dome. Stepped concentric rings stenciled in black and silver mounted up to a plastic hemisphere, a Machine Age oculus that washed the room with lighted reflected from concealed fixtures…."

Bronze entrance doors

Detail of bronze entrance doors

The building's bronze entrance doors are decorated with images of vehicles and other modes of transportation.

"Although early designs for the tower culminated in a gigantic bronze sphere supported by colossal eagles," the authors continued, "the final design…was a thin square shaft with chamfered corners rising to a flat roof."

"Among the building's modern features that seemed especially to impress the press of the day," according to, "were an elaborate pneumatic tube system, a building-wide circulating ice water system, a basement reservoir of liquid soap, a new bronze substitute of nickel alloy with copper, three-way duct lines, the largest telephone exchange ever constructed, and a new-fangled double-decker elevator that serviced two floors at once."

View from SoHo

View from SoHo

Mr. Berman's joint venture converted the former headquarters of Brown Brothers Harriman to 476 rental apartments at 63 Wall Street and also converted 67 Wall Street to about 350 rental apartments.

View from the south

View from the south

Mr. Berman said that his venture considered conversion to condominiums but is a "long-term player."

Avinash K. Malhotra is the architect for the residential conversion.

View from the northeast

View from the northeast

In 2008, the building was featured in the crime thriller movie, "Inside Man."

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