Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Building for "Strength," Structure Was Intended to Reflect Society's Standing,

January 10, 1912, New York Times, Building for "Strength," Structure Was Intended to Reflect Society's Standing,,

APPRAISED AT $13,500,000

Equitable's Home, as Enlarged in 1887, Was Long Known as "Finest in the World."

The Equitable Life Assurance Society Building was put up by the society in 1869
and was enlarged in 1887 so as to occupy the entire block bounded by Broadway and Cedar, Pine and Nassau Streets, save two small corners on nassau Street. It is said to have been the first building in the city to use passenger elevators.

The building was so designed as to give one the impression that it was only five stories high, with an immense mansard roof, the corner of each story being supported by a colonnade. The main building was ten stories and other parts of the structure were six and seven stories high.

Solidity was one of the leading exterior features. The walls and most of the supporting pillars were granite.

At the time the plans for enlarging the structure were being considered in 1887, by Henry B. Hyde, the founder of the society, some influential members said they were opposed to the plan of extending the building over almost an entire block. It could not be profitably maintained, they added, and surely would not be an income producer. Mr. Hyde answered these criticisms with the assertion that the massiveness of the building would reflect the financial strength of the Equitable---that the value of the land and building forming the home site of the institution would be a constant reminder to the public of the fact that the society was the owner of one of the largest and most valuable blocks in the heart of the great financial district of New York.

Still, opposition to his plan remained, so he decidedd to lessen it somewhat by setting aside the fifth floor for the use of lawyers, and there for years had been the Lawyers' Club and the Law Library.

In the center of the rounda was a statue of Henry B. Hyde.

Each side of the rotunda was lined with marble columns with onyx capitals, upholding an entablature of red granite and an arched roof of stained glass.

The interior decorations of the halls were lavish and considered by many persons "marvels of beauty."

The building was designed to be a building marvel, and it continued for many years to be a novel and attractive office building in spite or recent sweeping changes in the building lines of the financial center. For several years after its completion it was known as the finest business building in the world. As a landmark it was probably better known than any skyscraper, excepting the Singer, the Metropolitan Life and the Flatiron buildings.

On the second floor of the building were the main offices of the Equitable Society. These resembled a lofty hall, in which stood two rows of dun colored pillars, with gilded Corinthian capitals. A gallery extended around it. Decks for the clerical staff occupied the gallery. Near the gallery was a room containing an insurance library of eight thousand book, said to be the most valuable of its kind in the world.

The furnishings of the Lawyers' Club and the Law Library were magnificent, both being "show places" of the building. The library contained about forty thousand volumes.

From the library a corridor led to a smoking room. This corridor was lined with black veined white marble, with bronze trimmings. In the Lawyers' Club were three big dining rooms. One had a glass vault overhead. There was a dining room for women, furnished in pink and white, with rich brocade on the walls.

About three years ago the Douglas Robinson, Charles S. Brown Company and John N. Golding and some other realty experts appraised the property for the Equitable. The majority of the experts placed the value at $13,500,000. One appraisement was as high as $16,000,000.

The city last year assessed the land and building at $12,000,000.
The land was placed at $9,500,000, the building proper at $2,200,000 and the vaults at $400,000. There are 49,014 square feet in the site.

The city assessors valued the Broadway frontage at $450,000 a lot, Nassau Street lots at $400,000 each, Pine Street lots at $300,000 each, and Cedar Street lots at $300,000 each. For corner lots there was a 50 percent increase. The square foot tax rate for floor space was $5.60.

Up to four years ago the Equitable Life did not own the entire block. At the southwest corner of Cedar and Nassau Streets stood the old banking house of August Belmont & Co. That corner property was controlled by the society under a fifty-year lease. It also did not own the site at the northwest corner of Pine and Nassau Streets.

When in 1908 it felt it needed more ground space it bought through John N. Golding both corner parcels, so it now owns in fee simple the entire block.

To the Armstrong committee in 1906 the Equitable Life submitted an elaborate exhibit concerning the value, etc. of its old home. The items were as follows:

Stock value--$15,000,000
Actual cost--$18,781,640
Gross income, 1904- $806,794
Including society's occupency--335,692
Net income--$415,692
Percentage on book value-- 2.68

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