Wednesday, August 17, 2011


November, 4, 1869, The Sun, page 3, column 3,


The Most Commodious, Durable, massive and Imposing Commercial Building of the Metropolis---A Grand Triumph of Renaissance School of Architecture---The Equitable Life Assurance Society's Building---Modern Commercial Conveniences.

Towering grandly and most conspicuously above all surrounding edifices, and crowned by a double-faced Mansard roof, and more lofty pavilions, is the magnificent, new, and wonderfully attractive Concord white granite structure located at the corner of Broadway and Cedar street. Surrounded as is this wonder of architecture and mechanical skill by many of our most stately and lofty brick, brownstone, granite, and marble commercial palaces, yet, towering far above them all, the attention of the passer by is drawn irresistibly aside from all these other Broadway wonders to contemplate this, the glory of them all. As we pause on the opposite pavement to view this most majestic and magnificent of all the commercial buildings of our own or of all continents, we are delighted with the symmetrical outlines of the Renaissance school of architecture from which the design of this new building wonder has been drawn.

As we approach the central business location of the city, upon which this vast edifice has been erected, our attention is first attracted by its extraordinary massiveness and solidity. As our gaze reaches upward to its seventh story, we are surprised and delighted with the beautiful outlines of the structure and the harmonious combinations of elaborately chiseled granite, bastions, columns, arches, and facings. Approaching it from uptown, we have the fullest view of its Mansard roof, two stories in height, and the two majestic pavilions which crown it. As we inspect its exterior more closely, we are struck with the peculiar adaptability for commercial buildings of this white granite, which we ascertain is from a new quarry recently opened near Concord, New Hampshire. For such a classical rendering of the Renaissance school as the architects have applied to this structure, it affords a most delightful combination of light and shade, and presents an aspect of warmth and transparency not to be found in brownstone, red sandstone, Illinois buff, or glaring white marble. The deep Mansard roof is most happily relieved by boldly projected cornices, stone dormer windows, and a high, ornamental, galvanized cast-iron railing. The great windows, too, attract our attention, and we hastily and properly decide that they are larger than any other windows in any building on our continent.


From our hasty view of the exterior of this architectural wonder of the year, we give our praise to a design of such rare classical beauty, and acknowledge that the whole country, or any European city either, does not furnish a rival. The peculiar preference of the architects for the classical design of the Renaissance school over the Venetian is certainly one of the happiest. By its selection, the whole exterior appearance of the building is relieved of the bizarre and ludicrous effect to be observed in so many of our so-called Renaissance buildings.


This great building, fronting five full numbers, 116, 118, 120, 122, and 124, on Broadway, and 84, 86, and 88 Cedar street, is constructed of white granite, iron and brick; in all, about 6,000 tons of these materials have been used. A million and a half bricks have been employed in its inside walls and floors. It is covered by 15,000 superficial feet of slate roofing. The height of the building from pavement to roof is 145 feet, and to the massive gilt eagle which crowns the pavilion facing on Broadway is 200 feet.


Over the projected and massive portico of the Broadway entrance will be placed an exquisitely wrought group of statuary, the emblem of the Society. It is from a model in plaster by Ward, now being cut in the finest Italian marble. It represents the guardian angel of life assurance holding a shield in the left arm over the widow and orphan, while it holds a spear in the right. Its extreme height is 11 feet. Of all the emblematic marble groupings in the country this is certainly one of the most appropriate and attractive.


is the Equitable Life Assurance Society, which at present occupies the second and third floors of Nos. 92 and 94 Broadway, where it has been located since its organization in 1859. The officers at present consist of the Hon. Wm C. Alexander, President; Henry B. Hyde, Vice-President; James W. Alexander, Secretary; Geo. W. Phillips, Actuary; Edward W. Lambert, M.D., and Alfred Lambert, M.D., Examining Physicians; Willard Parker, M.D., Consulting Physician; Henry Day, Attorney; and Henry M. Alexander, counsel.


Before entering the grand edifice, at present the pride pf all the commercial buildings on our continent, we called at the Society's offices, for we naturally queried for whom and for what purpose was this commodious and magnificent building constructed. We learned the following from the presiding officers and heads of the departments: The building will cost when finished upward of $1,500,000. It was projected in 1864, for at that time the corporation found that its rapidly increasing business demanded more extensive office accommodations. They determined to secure an eligible site, and construct a model building upon it. One of the most desirable objects to be obtained was perfect security from fire. Their 40,000 or more valuable documents were in constant danger from fire, and not longer ago than last winter they barely escaped conflagration. The wisdom displayed by the Society in thus desiring to secure their papers forever from destruction by fire is most praiseworthy. The Board of Directors appointed a committee consisting of Messrs. Henry A. Hulbert, Wm. G. Lambert, and Henry Marquand, and authorized them to secure an appropriate building site. On the 19th of December, 1865, the committee purchased lots Nos. 116, 118, and 120 Broadway, and 88 Cedar street, from the United States Telegraph Company. The following year they purchased lots 84 and 86 Cedar street. This gave them an L shaped lot. In 1867, after much vexatious negotiations, they secured lots 122 and 124 Broadway, at a cost of $300,000. This gave the company 7,967 superficial feet, purchased at a cost of $59.62 per square foot, which, all things considered, was a most reasonable price. $300 per superficial foot has been offered and refused for the ground corner Wall and Broad streets. The Park Bank site, 6,020 feet, though inside lots, cost $53.15 per foot. In estimating building sites 25 to 30 per cent. less value is given inside lots. As soon as this last purchase was made, a Building Committee, consisting of Messrs. W.G. Lambert, Chairman, Henry B. Hyde, John Auchincloss, Wm. T. Blodget, and Henry G. Marquand, was selected. They visited our larger cities to study and investigate plans, buildings, and estimates. They examined designs presented by eleven different architects, and accepted that handed in by Messrs. Gilman and Kendall. Geo. B. Post was appointed associate architect, to supervise iron construction.


Curiosity promoted us to inquire into the history, standing, and management of this Society, which had found it necessary to erect such a vast structure. Our investigation resulted in our becoming satisfied that the Equitable is one of the best managed corporations in the business world. It was organized in 1859 with a capital of $100,000, which was invested in bonds at a premium of $1,600. This started the Company that much in debt. There is nothing peculiar in their having thus started with so small a capital, but when we find that from such a beginning the assets of the Society have grown to the enormous sum of about twelve million dollars, with an annual income of $6,000,000, and rapidly increasing, we as well as the millions interested in life insurance may well inquire into the policy and plans of a Company which has achieved such unparalleled success. Its standing risks are about $135,000,000. Its last year's business reached the enormous sum of $51,891,825. Its cash income exceeds the total cash premium of all American companies combined during the year 1861. Its volume of business for a single year is greater than the combined new business of all companies reporting to the New York Insurance Department in 1862 by $10,000,000. We presume that the new business of the Equitable for the past year has never been surpassed by that transacted in any single year by any company in the world.

Its President, the Hon. William C. Alexander, has occupied that place since its organization ten years ago. He was President of the New Jersey State Senate for a number of years, is an LL D., one of New York's most benevolent citizens, and a son of the late distinguished Archibald Alexander, of Princeton College. The Vice-President Mr. Henry B. Hyde, has also held that second position since the Society was organized. These two gentlemen believed that an Insurance Company organized and managed under strict economical principles could afford by means of annual dividends to insure life at rates below those of the majority of other companies. They associated with them such business men only as had achieved great financial success. The income of the Society has been invested with such judicious care that it has never been obliged to foreclose a mortgage. In making its loans the Society principally invested in bond and mortgage and gives decided preference to its own policy holders. It thus becomes, as its officers desire, the benefactor of its own patrons, and thus establishes a genuine mutual business connection. They invest all receipts immediately, holding in bank only such an amount of funds as is necessary to meet current expenditures.


Accompanied by the officers of the Equitable, we visited the interior of their new building. We had previously examined the plans, elevations, and other working drawings for the edifice at the office of Mr. Ed. H. Kendall, 92 Broadway. He had shown us the various designs for the interior, embracing decorations in iron, marble, bronze, and stucco, which are now being elaborated under his personal supervision. We enter this commercial palace at its central entrance on Broadway. We find an opening vestibule 20 feet square and 33 feet high, with stairs on either side conducting to the principal floor above. Between these two flights are a few broad steps, by which we descend to the spacious basements, which are thus made as convenient and desirable as the upper rooms. The first floor is divided into three grand banking rooms, with burglar and fire proof vaults and toilet conveniences. The grand banking room on the corner of Broadway and Cedar street is 32 x 90 feet. The other two are 25 x 50 feet each. Separating them is the grand corridor with tiled marble floor and wainscoting in fine marble, five feet high on all sides. We pass half-way down this corridor to the grand stairs, upon either side of which is one of Otis Tufts's incomparable steam passenger elevators. These two elevator passages are 130 high, each being 15 feet higher than that built by Mr. Tufts, of Boston, for the Grand Hotel, and the highest in the world, and which was described in THE SUN last September. They are built under his exclusive patents, with six twisted iron ropes each. Underneath one of them is a freight attachment to accommodate the packing and printing departments of the Equitable. By employing these elevators, the only secure ones constructed, the rooms of the upper stories are as desirable as those of the first floors. Their occupants have more wholesome atmosphere, and are free from the noise of the streets. Such a revolution in commercial building conveniences are these elevators working, that we learn from their builder, Mr. Tufts, that he has numerous orders for them from Paris and London. We take a seat in one of these noiseless elevators, or ascend by the grand stairs to the second floor, that set aside and specially arranged for the immense business of the Society. We find here the most complete and imposing business hall in the world. It is spacious in area as the vast building itself. The center space of this floor, which is 26 feet high, 103 long, and 35 wide, is the clerks' department, in the center of which is a semicircular skylight, giving an additional 7 feet in height. Within this space are 12 ponderous iron columns, 26 feet high, covered an inch deep with variegated marble cement. Extending around this imposing space is a solid marble counter, with a running length of 225 feet. It is surmounted with an ornamental bronze screen, for protecting valuable documents and papers. Within the space enclosed by this counter is room for 150 clerks. Connecting with this grand hall are two tiers of offices for the agents and officers of the company. Each tier has an altitude of one half the grand hall, or 13 feet. Each one of these rooms---40 in all---connects directly with the grand hall, and inside the upper tier is a gallery extending entirely around the floor, paved with marble and protected by an elegant iron railing. From any point of this gallery a view may be had of every desk in the grand hall. Across the entire front of this floor, fronting on Broadway, are five large rooms for the use of the presiding officers and the Board of Directors. They are connected by double sliding doors, so that in case of necessity the whole front may be thrown into one room. The doors are heavy oak and etched glass. The desks and furniture are of the finest American hard woods. From the Vice-President's room is a private spiral stairway conducting to the marble gallery around the upper tier of offices.


Leaving the ground floor, we pass upward by the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh stories to the roof. Intervening between the grand hall and roof are fifty spacious offices, which, with the three large banking offices of the first floor and great rooms of the basement, will be rented for business purposes. Toilet conveniences, equal to the most approved, are found attached to them all. It has been estimated that the rent accruing from these rooms and banking offices will pay full interest on all money expended in constructing and furnishing the building, and still leave the Equitable its second floor free of rent---which is another studied, advantageous consideration for the policy holders.

The ventilation of this building has been under the personal supervision of Prof. Leeds. The lathing, all of which is iron, is from a new pattern from the West Point foundry. There is considerable fine marble work in the building, besides the marble emblematical group over the portico. Rolling iron shutters protect the great windows. Vast vaults extend from the building underground half way across Broadway and Cedar street. These are for the use of banks, insurance companies, or private parties.


From the seventh story we ascend to the roof, and still higher to one of the pavilions, where we find ourselves at a higher altitude than can be had on any other roof-top in New York, or from any position other than our highest church spires. Before us is spread the most exciting, wonderful, and instructive view to be had on our continent. The brown roofs of the buildings of the city extend over the island like a vast table land. East and North Rivers and the bay appear as if at our feet, with their myriad flotillas of the navigable world. Suburban Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken, Hudson City, and Harlem are all plainly before us. Certainly not elsewhere in all New York can such another unobstructed bird's-eye view be had as from the open pavilions of the Equitable Life Assurance Society's building. We find them, as well as the great roof, surrounded by a heavy, ornamental, galvanized cast-iron railing.


We take our way down from the pavilions and roof by the winding stairway. Our attention as we reach the third floor is called to the large dining room of the Society, where all the officers and employees will be required to take their meals during business hours. The kitchen, a model in its way, is just in the rear. As we come down to the lower floors yesterday, we met a number of architects from Philadelphia who had been examining the building. Their opinion, with which we coincide, is that, for safety, strength, durability, blended with rare classical elegance, symmetry of outline. and harmonious combinations of architectural beauties, there is no rival among all the commercial buildings of the world to this property of the Equitable Life Assurance Society.

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