Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Developing the Equitable Block

January 14, 1912, New York Times, Part 9, Page 1, Building Plans For Equitable Block Will Be Watched With Keen Interest,
Many Speculations as to Character of New Structure and Whether Insurance Company Will Abandon Old Home Site--- Less than $5,000,000 Paid for Block Now Valued at $15,000,000---History of the Purchases Which Covered Period of Forty Years---Lottery Office Once There.

First purchase 1866 $372,000
Second purchase (Corner B'way and Cedar St.), 1868
Bought in 1884, 112 B'way Delmonicos $302,857
Bought in 1884 (4 lots on Pine Street) $667,500
Metropolitn Bank Bought 1885 $762,500
Clearing House Bought 1897 $490,000
Last Purchase 1906 $400,000

November 2, 1908, Progress, Volume IV, Issue 1, Page 22, The Equitable "Sky-Scraper."

The following paiticulars are from the Office of the New York building authorities: The plans filed consisted of seventy sheets of drawings, each measuring 4x5 feet, and it is estimated that the cost of preparing these plans, together with the cost involved in preliminary engineering work in connection with them, represent an outlay of probably not less than £62,500.

The plans provide for a main structure thirty-four storeys in height, reaching 489 feet into the air, and having a frontage of about 150 feet on two sides, and over 300 feet on the other two sides. Above the main building there will be a square tower rising twenty-eight additional storeys, and capped with a cupola, having a combined height of 420 feet. This, together with the thirty-four storeys of the main building, will give a total of sixty-two storeys, and a height of 909 feet. Above the tower of the building itself there is to extend a flagpole 150 feet long. The building is to be equipped with a group of thirty-three passenger elevators, built in two rows in a great elevator corridor finished in ornamental bronze. Eight of these elevators will run to the top of the tower extension. In addition to these, there will be a number of elevators exclusively for freight transportation. Despite the great value of the land which it will occupy (£3,750,000), and the expected large cost of the building itself, the society expects its building to be a big money-saver. Officials have estimated that the return on it should be from 8 to 10 per cent. Speaking of these plans, and generally of the kind of structures to which they belong, our contemporary, "Building," declares that no matter what opinion one may have about their necessity, one cannot but take pride at the magnificence of such stupendous conceptions and the splendid testimonies they are to the human conquest of constitutional difficulties.

May, 1908, Building Trades Employers' Association Bulletin, Vol. 9, No. 5, New Equitable Life Building, page 56,

It is reported that the Equitable Life Assurance Society is planning to erect what it is understood will be the largest commercial building in the world and will entail an expenditure of $10,000,000 to $15 000,000. It will occupy the block, bounded by Broadway, Nassau, Pine and Cedar Sts., owned by the company. The number of stories has not yet been decided but the proposed structure will contain approximately 1,650,000 sq. ft. of floor space.

July, 1908, Building Trades Employers' Association Bulletin, Vol. 9, No. 7, Equitable to be 62 Stories page 80,

An office building 909 feet in height has been planned to replace the old home of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, occupying the blocks bounded by Pine, Nassau and Cedar Streets and Broadway. It will therefore be 251 feet 7 inches higher than the annex to the Metropolitan Life Building, being erected at the North end of the block front in Madison avenue, from 23d to 24th Sts. With its annex, which is nearly finished, the Metropolitan Life Building is the tallest office structure in the world, as it rises 6^7 feet 5 inches above the curb line. It has forty-six stories.

In every respect the proposed new home of the Equitable Life will be a record office structure. Besides being the tallest, it will occupy the most expensive skyscraper site in the world, as the estimated value of the land on which the present building stands has been placed at from $12,000,000 to $15,000,000. It will have, too, sixteen stories more than the Metropolitan Life, twenty-one more than the Singer and will be over three times the height of the Trinity Building, opposite, with its twenty-one stories and rising 280 feet 6 inches above the curb. It will also be the costliest office building in the world, as D. H. Burnham & Co., architects, of Chicago, who have drawn the plans for this greatest of all skyscrapers, place the cost at $10,000,000.

The costliest structure ever built as a investment is the new Plaza Hotel, in the Westerly block front in Fifth Ave. from 58th to 59th St. That hostelry was opened several months ago and represents an expenditure of nearly $15,000,000. The Metropolitan Life, Singer and New Plaza projects comprise only three of the remarkably large structures erected in this city in the last few years, an era unparalleled for building activity in the history of this city. The City Investing Building, too, the largest office building in the world as regards area occupied, was recently opened for occupancy, and the twin buildings of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Company, the biggest structures ever put up for use partly as a railroad terminal station and for offices, were also finished a few weeks ago. The City Investing Building is at Cortlandt Street and Broadwav and the twin structures of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Co. occupy the Westerly block fronts in Church St. from Cortlandt to Fulton Sts. At a recent meeting of real estate experts and students of realty affairs, Robert E. Dowling, president of the City Investing Co., prophesied that the dawn of a new and greater era in building on Manhattan Island was near at hand. He predicted that structures would be built which would eclipse in size, cost and probably in every other respect the record buildings of the world.

January, 1909, Building Trades Employers' Association Bulletin, Vol. X, No. 1, Praise for Skyscrapers.

There is nothing worth while to be gained in the way of light and air in the limitation of the height of skyscrapers, according to the Committee on Charter Revision of the Municipal Art Commission, which has addressed a long communication to the Board of Aldermen on the subject. The committee declares that skyscrapers are an aid in supplying safety, air, light, and access, and declaring that tall buildings are essential to the growth of the city, the letter continues:

"As to safety, engineers and builders have so met the situation that, whether as a fire or earthquake risk, our tallest buildings are best insured by their structure, and risks therein most cheaply assumed by insurance companies, while as to light and air one need only compare lower Manhattan as thirty years ago it could be seen from the Equitable Building roof—a flat mass of four, five, and six story buildings, approximately covering the ground and completely blanketing each other except at the street front, with basement and first floor offices equally crowded by clerks largely working by gas light—with lately built dry and airy "skyscrapers" the machinery of which has driven from their basements most of the humans that once sweltered there, and in which, taking all floors together, the proportion of occupants whose conditions are healthful and bright is far greater than before, and steadily rises as architects meet in scientific spirit the requirements imposed by the new conditions."

The letter proposes the elimination from new buildings of projections of any kind above a height of fifty feet. The Question of the adequacy of the streets is then taken up, and the removal of all obstructions, such as hydrants and lampposts, is suggested. The letter concludes:

"In short, our study of the problems arising in connection with the question of high buildings has shown us that they not merely supply an imperative need, but greatly mitigate the very evils with which they are charged, and are now adding to the pressure for other reforms equally desirable from every standpoint of civic pride and business economy, and that they should be encouraged and regulated rather than restricted."

The letter is signed by John De Witt Warner, as Chairman.

August 13, 1908, The Spectator, Life Insurance Topics In and About New York, page 81,

The building superintendent has approved the plans for the Equitable Life's sixty-two-story building to be erected on the site of its present offices at 120 Broadway. The proposed building will be the most pretentious structure which has thus far been undertaken. In the matter of exits, fireproof construction and fire fighting appliances, no pains will be spared to make the building safe for all those who may occupy space in it. The plumbing plant for a building of this size is necessarily on a scale never before attempted. It will provide nine large house sewers, nine house drains, six lines of soil pipes, twenty four lines of waste pipes with sewage ejectors, twenty eight lines of vent pipes and seven separate inlets for fresh air---literally miles of piping. There will be 169 drinking fountains of marble, together with a rain spray shower bath in the basement for the use of the engineers. The water supply will be obtained from the city mains through a suction tank, thence conveyed to a pump, transmitting it to two steel storage tanks, each ten feet high and thirteen feet in diameter, installed on the thirty fourth floor and also on the roof, each tank being provided with an automatic pump starter. There will be an auxiliary filtering plant, through which all water for the use of tenants will pass to insure its purity. There is also to be provided a separate water supply plant in connection with the auxiliary fire standpipes, so that the use of the fire hose will in no wise affect the regular water supply.

The Outlook; A Weekly Newspaper, edited by Alfred Emanuel Smith, Francis Walton.
Vol. 89, May-August, 1908, page 972, Proper Space, Air, and Light in City Streets.

The final acceptance by the New York City Building Department of tentative plans drawn by Messrs. D. H. Burnham & Co., of Chicago, for the Equitable Life Assurance Society's new edifice calls renewed attention t the encroachment of high structures on street air, light, and sunshine, and to certain clever methods now in use among architects for the avoidance, as much as possible, of these evils. While the Equitable directors have not as yet definitely concluded to build in accordance with the plans submitted, they are of general interest : first, because they provide for a structure higher than any other in America; and, secondly, because of special features—the maximum foundation pressure, the wind resistance, and the protection against fire. As to height, the new building, 909 feet high, would look down upon the present tallest structures in this country—the Singer Building, 6l2 feet, and the Metropolitan, 700 feet. As to foundation pressure, the New York City Building Code states that the maximum pressure on a rock bottom, where caisson foundations are used, shall not exceed fifteen tons to the square foot ; and as to wind resistance, that the walls of the steel skeleton type of structure must be a foot thick for the uppermost seventy-five feet of their height, and increased four inches in thickness with every sixty feet below that. Not only does the proposed huge building, occupying an entire square, comply with these requirements, but it has been shown that even a higher structure, also complying, could have been constructed upon the same area. Indeed, competent authorities declare that it is possible to erect a building two thousand feet high upon an area two hundred feet square, without exceeding the New York City Building Code limit. Protection against fire is to be provided by the absence of wood in the building‘s construction, by staircases inclosed in fireproof partitions, by the equipment of an auxiliary stand-pipe fire apparatus throughout the entire structure, and by an elevator capacity which will quickly empty the edifice of all tenants, and especially of a particular elevator, ready night and day, for firemen’s use. The main feature of the new building, the central tower, would be in harmony with the principle followed by Mr. Flagg, the architect of the Singer Building, who would place all tall towers well away from other buildings.

Mr. Flagg's excellent idea is that buildings may be erected only to a height equal to once and a half the street's width, or, in case of a very wide street, not to a greater height than, say, a hundred feet. But the proposed Equitable building would rise 489 feet on the building line. He thinks that there need be no limitations at all to the additional height of that part of the building, which would cover an area not greater than a quarter of the whole plot. However that be, it is well to emphasize the principle that every “sky-scraper ” or tall tower ought not to abut upon a street, and should depend upon its own land for its light and air. Such a structure as the tall Metropolitan tower in New York City, fronting not only a street, but the great width of Madison Square, forms, of course, an exception to the above plan. Every plan, like this, is humane if it reserve sufficient air, light, sun, and space to the streets. There is increasing need for this preservation. It is most notable in the narrow, lower part of the metropolis, hemmed in as- the city is between two rivers. During the last five years in New York City office buildings from fifteen to forty stories high, accommodating about forty thousand persons, have been erected between Chambers Street and the Battery. The result is the present use of streets early in the morning and late in the afternoon by an increased and enormous number of persons—indeed, no less than a hundred and twenty-five persons a minute pass certain points in the downtown sections. In such regions, to increase the room for passers-by, heavy wagon traffic might well be prohibited from eight to ten in the morning and from four to six in the afternoon. If the construction of “skyscrapers ” cannot be prevented, with the addition of their population of tenants, structures should be limited, as indicated above, so as to insure as much air, light, and sunshine as possible to those in the streets and in the lower stories. Our architects are themselves recognizing the fact that American cities must be sanitary as well as aasthetic, and the tendency, emphasized by the most recent buildings, is to transform the metropolis, at least, into what San Gimignano of Italy is in little—a city of towers. But, in general, the citizens must see to it that the aesthetic and the hygienic go hand in hand.

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