Can a collection of bricks, glass, wood, steel and mortar reveal the soul of a city? Perhaps even a country? Forged from natural deposits and assembled by human ingenuity, these structures assist show how New York developed from struggling Dutch business town into world capital. There are 700,000 buildings in the city. Here are 5 of the more unnoticeable yet important ones, in addition to the occasions that made them well-known.
America’s First Capital
26 Wall Street, Manhattan
Do you know where Congress authorized the Bill of Rights? Or where the country very first discussed slavery? Or where the Supreme Court initially met? It was not in Boston or Philadelphia.
The federal government was invented in New York City.
New Yorkers are so consumed by the present and the future that many residents do not understand that their home town was the nation’s very first capital– a fortuitous option that catalyzed the city’s revival after seven years of brutal British profession.
The site selection was not a mishap; it was the very first and last time that the place of the national capital was held captive to the demand of a prospective cabinet member: John Jay accepted become secretary of state only if the Confederation Congress– the country’s governing body in the 1780 s– vacated Trenton, N.J., and convened, instead in New york city.
The old Town hall was renovated, George Washington was inaugurated, and for 531 days, in 1789 and 1790, 95 members of Congress, much of them with rival programs, innovated, improvised and compromised to flesh out the bare bones of the new 4,500- word constitution.
After 1790, Congress decamped for Philadelphia momentarily and after that to an overload on the Potomac, freeing New York to become the capital of capital.
Federal Hall would quickly be a dilapidated, century-old relic, razed in 1812 and sold for scrap. But on that site, the federal government commissioned a marvelous structure whose columned outside stimulated Athenian democracy and whose Grand Rotunda recalled republican Rome.
This structure opened in 1842 as the Customs Home, a monolith to New york city’s pre-eminence in maritime commerce, since the money collected from shipping alone was adequate to support essentially all the functions of the federal government.
When it outgrew that role, it was transformed into the greatly fortified subtreasury and, after World War I, ended up being the largest repository of gold in the world.
Today, Federal Hall is best understood for its steps and statue of George Washington.
The Birth of the Outlet Store
The Marble Palace
280 Broadway, Manhattan
By today’s standards, this TriBeCa building, just north of City Hall Park, may be dismissed as nondescript, however in the mid-19 th century, the palatial, Italianate structure was one of the most renowned destinations in the city.
The obituary in 1876 of its owner, an Irish immigrant named Alexander Turney Stewart, made the front page of The New York Times, while the editorial page gushed that Stewart had “accumulated the largest fortune ever accumulated within the period of a single life.”
Stewart, described more just recently as “the most prominent retailer in 19 th-century New York” in the book “Developed Cities,” is widely credited with developing the very first department store in the nation.
Thanks to the Erie Canal, New york city was growing in 1825 when Stewart invested his little inheritance in lace and other fripperies for women’s clothes.
What began as a humble dry goods store developed into a retail emporium sheathed in shining white marble, which identified it from the earth tones of other modern Broadway buildings, with a rotunda and dome, elevating a company into a public organization and Stewart into an entrepreneurial prince.
After Stewart passed away, the building became the headquarters of The New york city Sun. But even in death, Stewart proved to be a selling sensation of sorts. Body-snatchers took his remains and held it for ransom.
The Exhibition That Scandalized America
The 69 th Regiment Armory
68 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan
A decade before an exhibition inside the 69 th Program Armory would redefine art in America– and recognize New York as a cultural capital– the facade of this military drill hall broke new ground architecturally.
Developed in 1906 to fill a space in Manhattan’s defense network, the redoubt at Lexington Opportunity and East 25 th Street was developed as a Beaux-Arts bastion in an age when other armories were still being designed on medieval fortresses.
The 69 th Regiment had actually been celebrated as the “Battling Sixty-Ninth,” by Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, and as the “Fighting Irish,” by Joyce Kilmer in his World War I poem. The armory’s size showed the Sixty-Ninth’s imposing credibility.
Designed by the kids of Richard Morris Hunt, whose father made the base of the Statue of Liberty and the entryway to the Metropolitan Museum, the armory was itself a work of art. Steel trusses supported a glass roofing system that arched 126 feet above the massive space the size of seven full-size basketball courts.
The big hall would end up being Manhattan’s multipurpose space, the site of everything from roller derbies to Knicks games, and even a counseling center after 9/11
But the armory would be canonized in the annals of culture by the International Exhibit of Modern Art, also understood as the Armory Show of 1913, which included some 1,300 works by 300 artists.
New York was exploding with contradictions in the years before the Roaring Twenties, in politics, financing and music, so why not in painting and sculpture? The organizers of the exhibition boasted of cultural sabotage committed by the works of progressive artists, like Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist “ Nude Coming Down a Staircase” and Henri Matisse’s “ Blue Nude”
The novelty rattled viewers proficient with classical art and its tastemakers. “The Armory Show demolished the power of the Academy,” one critic discussed the show that “scandalized America.”
Where the Depression Got Genuine
Bank of United States
1254 Southern Boulevard, the Bronx
Individuals were poor when Joseph S. Marcus constructed this Classical limestone structure in1921 Many became even poorer less than a decade later, when immigrant, working-class depositors unsuccessfully looked for to withdraw their cost savings from what had actually become the very first Bronx branch of Mr. Marcus’s overextended Bank of United States.
The economic expert Milton Friedman would call the bank run that day “the pebble that started an avalanche.”
How regulators let the bank bamboozle mainly Yiddish-speaking foreign-born Jews from the Garment Center by approving its official-sounding name (after deleting the “the” from prior to “United States”) is another story.
After Mr. Marcus passed away in 1927, his boy, Bernard, and a partner, Saul Singer, began a frenzied growth that grew to 60 branches, 400,000 depositors and 18,000 shareholders. However they had actually developed a house of cards, creating dummy corporations, giving loans to bank staff members to buy shares, and entangling the company in realty financial investments.
On Dec. 10, 1930, a jittery account holder challenged a teller at the Bronx branch and demanded to redeem his stock in the bank. He was badgered to keep his shares rather than money out, setting off a rumor that the bank was reneging on its pledge to buy them back at the original purchase cost.
By midafternoon, 3,000 panicky depositors had withdrawn their cash, and 25,000 ghoulish observers had actually collected to see, a year after the stock exchange crashed, the Roaring Twenties conclusively culminate with a rumbling crescendo. The huge banks declined to rescue Bank of United States (some financial experts blamed anti-Semitism).
It “became a day of monetary infamy,” Mr. Friedman would say. “The start of 4 banking crises that ultimately carried America and the world into the worst economic crisis in history.”
The bank was shuttered. Bernard Marcus went to jail. The structure became a laundromat. Unlike the rely on Dec. 10, 1930, the laundromat has had a working A.T.M. that gives cash.
A Temporary Home for the United Nations
Old Fitness Center Structure, Lehman College
2851 Paul Opportunity, the Bronx
In the mid-1940 s, New York was so positive of landing the head office of the nascent United Nations that authorities didn’t even trouble charming the site selection commission in London.
Certainly, the commission liked the concept of the City, with one caveat: The headquarters would need to be located at least 25 miles outside of the city. In early 1946, a leafy website near Greenwich, Conn., ended up being a severe competitor until its citizens voted versus even a friendly foreign invasion just three weeks before the very first Security Council session in the nation was supposed to take place.
With alternative areas drying up, some U.N. functionaries began to worry. Perhaps a place inside the city wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.
James Lyons, the district president of the Bronx, offered the school of Hunter College, which had actually moved to the Bedford Park section of the district from Manhattan in the mid-1930 s.
College authorities at the time were displeased. They had actually hoped the campus would be prepared to accept an overflow class of postwar students in the fall. However Municipal government, which controlled the college, dominated, and an army of carpenters, electrical experts, telephone installers and other artisans descended on Hunter’s turreted neo-Georgian fitness center, while the State Alcohol Authority convened in an emergency situation session to approve a license to the recently completed delegates’ lounge.
On March 25, 1946, the very first Security Council conference of the United Nations in the United States was called to order.
Before discovering a long-term house on Manhattan’s East Side, thanks to John D. Rockefeller Jr., his son Nelson and the developer William Zeckendorf, the Security Council also met at the Sperry Corporation plant in Lake Success, N.Y., and the General Assembly convened in the New york city City Structure of the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens.
Hunter College would ultimately be gone back to Manhattan. Now the school, with the United Nations pedigree, is home to Lehman College.
One forgotten New Yorker left his mark on the inaugural Security Council session, held in what is now understood as the Old Gym Structure. In their last security check of the council chamber, U.N. staffers discovered a handwritten note, left by a Greek immigrant carpenter: “Might I, who have had the advantage of producing this ballot box, cast the very first vote? May God be with every member of the United Nations Organization, and through your noble efforts bring long lasting peace to us all– all over the world.”
This post is adapted from “A History of New York in 27 Buildings,” by Sam Roberts (Bloomsbury, 2019).