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70 Pine Street

Block 41 Lot 1

View from the northeast

70 Pine Street from the northeast

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the city's and Lower Manhattan's great iconic skyscrapers that was an important element in the world's most famous and dramatic skyline at the start of the Depression, 70 Pine Street is a spindly, brown brick shaft surmounted by a short spire atop a totally glass-enclosed observatory that though small is staggering in its 360-degree panoramas.

In his wonderful book, "New York Streetscapes, Tales of Manhattan's Significant Landmarks and Skyscrapers" (Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1983), a compendium of texts from his popular column in the Sunday Real Estate Section of The New York Times, Christopher Gray provides the following commentary about this great tower:

"The 66-story building at 70 Pine was the accomplishment of a grade-school dropout, Henry L. Doherty. Born in 1870 in Ohio, Doherty left school at age ten to sell newspapers in saloons. At twelve he was an office boy in a gas company office; he rose quickly as a manager and engineer, came to New York, and at forty founded the Cities Service Company, which both explored oil and gas fields and supplied local users. Doherty lived on top of an office building at State and Bridge Streets - where 1 Battery Park Plaza is now - with a gym, squash court, and motorized bed that slid out onto theterrace. He bought several downtown sites for redevelopment but was hindered by recurrent bouts of arthritis. Doherty almost died in 1927 from complications of the disease - causing Cities Service stock to plunge - but recovered with the help of a family friend, Grace Eames, whom he wed in December 1928. She was a widow; it was his first marriage. In 1930 Doherty filed plans for what became Wall Street's last jazz-age skyscrper. Designed by Clinton & Russell, Holton & George, the new building took the street address 70 Pine Street, but an aerial bridge connection with 60 Wall street, initially took the name 60 Wall Tower for cachet. For a sixty-six story building, it was a tight plot, only 120 feet wide on Pearl. Engineers estimated that the economic height of the building was forty-eight stories - beyond that the service core of plumbing, stairs, and, especially, elevators, took up too much space relative to rentable area. But in January 1930 D. L. Lundquist, chief engineer for Otis Elevtor, had been interviewed in The New York Sun on the limiting factor for tall buildings and had predicted that double-deck elevators - two connected cabs using the same shaft -could solve the problem. Doherty adopted the Otis plan, and the resulting design provided sixty floors of rentable offices, plus six smaller floors, including a kitchen and a mechnical floor. A 1932 article in Engineering News Record stated that eight shafts with double-deck cabs saved $200,000 in construction costs over fourteen regular elevators, and freed up 40,000 square feet....On the outside, thearchitects created a tapering shaft of simple streamlined design with sophisticated touches -in the corners of the upper floors, every third brick is rounded instead of square, giving animation to the tower. The topmost floor, an observation deck is a greenhouse-aerie, perhaps 30 by 20 feet square, with 360-degree views. It's in near-original shape, a glass jewel box at the top of the world. It has tiny outside balconies, a dizzying look down at 950 feet of upward streamlining can make one appreciate the view from the street."

Top of spire and observatory Illuminated top

Top of spire and observatory during day, left; top illuminated at night, right

The view was more vertiginous before the erection of One Chase Manhattan Plaza nearby that almost feels that it can be touched at arm's length when standing outside on one of the balconies.

In an article for The NewYork Post, I described the observatory as the world's greatest room.

View from Chase Manhattan Plaza View from southeast

View from Chase Manhattan Plaza. left, view from southeast, right

In her preface to the book, "Skyscraper Rivals, The A.I.G. Building and the Architecture of Wall Street" by Daniel M. Abramson, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2001, (See The City Review article) Carole Willis, the architectural historian and founder of The Skyscraper Museum, notes that while Wall Street is world famous its "physical place is indistinct" and adds that apart from a "few key towers" the skyscrapers of New York's Financial District "are oddly anonymous."

"When completed, the 952-foot Cities Service Building was the world's third tallest skyscraper, after the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. Owned by a large utilities conglomerate, the brick-clad Cities Service Building was `considered off the beaten path,' at the financial district's northeaster corner. Isolation enhanced the sculpted tower's prominence and helped its streamlined profile become a favorite subject of artists, including the photographer Arthur Fellig, known as Weegee, who thought it 'the most beautiful building of all.' The building's architects, the firm of Clinton & Russell, Holton & George (with Thomas J. George as designer), embellished the Cities Service Building's lobby in an exuberant Art Deco style, and placed a jewel box of an observation gallery on the 66th floor. Inspired and directed by Cities Service founder Henry L. Doherty as well as company engineers, the skyscraper was filled with the latest technology, including hot-water heating and double-deck elevators, plus an in-house gymnasium and law library to attract tenants to the upper rental floors."

"Given its historically high land values and strong demand for prime office space, Wall Street," Ms. Willis wrote, "was surprisingly slow to give way to skyscrapers. Perhaps the conservative and clubby world of bankers was the reason that the nineteenth-century buildings with the posh executive offices, but limited areas of work space, survived so long, When the change came, the older structures collapsed as if on a fault line. If one mapped all the sites under construction in 1928 to 1931, the area would cover about a quarter of the financial district. These new towers of the financial district were different in character from the Art Deco extravaganzas of midtown. There were some flashes of glamour or example, the red and gold mosaic reception room at One Wall Street - but otherwise the Art Deco styling, even in such glorious cases as the Cities Service/AIG Building at 70 Pine Street, was restrained by standards of midtown where signature skyscrapers such as the Empire State, Chrysler, and RCA Buildings monumentalized their modernity in two-story lobbies. The star-power towers and a chorus of Art Deco dolls such as the Chanin, Fred French and Paramount buildings reflected midtown's more commercial character as a district that mixed business, shopping, and entertainment and that opened its storefronts to the street to seduce pedestrians. Downtown was a zone of work and interior environment of privilege and status."

View from the west View from the northwest

View from the west, left; view from the northwest, right

"It is disheartening," Ms. Willis continued, "to realize how much material on these commercial buildings and others less spectacular has been lost. There are, for example, no surviving records for architectural firms as important to the development of the financial district as Clinton & Russell, whose partnership, established in 1894, was responsible for at least a dozen downtown high rises, including the Broad-Exchange Building at 25 Broad Street and the Hudson Terminals, which early in the century were two of the largest office buildings in the city and the world. The firm continued under the name Clinton & Russell after the death of the principals in 1910 and 1907 and was rechristened Clinton & Russell, Holton & George in 1926. As architects of the Cities Service Building the firm produced one of the most inspired Art Deco Towers of the period and a building with numerous technological innovations, yet we cannot say with any certainty who in the office designed the tower or how the office functioned."

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