20 Historic, Beautiful New York Buildings That Were Demolished
New York City real estate developers will always knock down a building if a buck can be made. So it really should come as no surprise that these buildings were demolished because they outlived their usefulness or more often than not, the land they sat upon was deemed more valuable than the building itself.
Nathan Silver’s must-own book, Lost New York (1967) Houghton Mifflin, was the first book to explicitly point out what New York City had lost architecturally over the years. If you have never read it, you should.
For our short postcard essay, there are hundreds of examples we could have chosen from and we picked 20. We omitted places of worship, theatres and restaurants which are the most transitory of buildings.
We’ve covered hotels before, and we could do another story on all the historic hotels that have been torn down, but we’ve included a few in this retrospective.
Rather than comment extensively on the buildings, a brief summary will suffice and the images should convey what we have lost. These postcards have been scanned at 1200 dpi in high resolution, click on any postcard to enlarge.
Singer Building – 149 Broadway (corner Liberty Street), A gem by architect Ernest Flagg, built 1908. Once the tallest building in the world. The Singer Building was elegant and sleek. Demolished 1967-68 and replaced by a ugly box of a building built by the Unites States Steel Corporation.
Gillender Building – northwest corner Wall Street and Nassau Street. Architects, Charles I. Berg and Edward H. Clark, built in 1897 at a cost of $500,000. The Gillender Building was the tallest office building in the world for a brief time. The 20-story tower lasted only 13 years. In 1910 it was the first modern fireproof building to be demolished and it was done at breakneck speed, in under 45 days. The Gillender Building was replaced by the Bankers Trust Tower.
St. Paul Building – 222 Broadway corner Ann Street at end of Park Row. Architect George B. Post, built 1895-1898. Personally one of architect’s George B. Post’s least favorite buildings. Called “ugly” by some contemporary critics, but hundreds of thousands of visitors came to marvel at it. Demolished 1958.
New York World Building (aka Pulitzer Building) (center with gold dome) – 63 Park Row corner Frankfort Street. Another George B. Post architectural masterpiece, built 1890. Demolished in 1955-56 along with 20 other buildings the city purchased in the immediate vicinity to widen the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge.
New York Herald Building – Broadway and Sixth Avenue between 35th and 36th Streets. Architect, Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White architects, built 1893. While the area still carries the name Herald Square after the newspaper and its building, the ornate three story Herald Building was demolished in two stages one in 1928, the other in 1940 and replaced by two extremely mundane buildings.
Madison Square Garden – Madison and Fourth Avenue 26th to 27th Streets McKim, Mead and White, architects, built 1890. When Madison Sqaure Garden was actually located on Madison Square. Demolished 1925. Replaced by the New York Life Insurance Company Building.
Pennsylvania Station – Entire block Seventh to Eighth Avenues and 31st to 33rd Streets. Architects, McKim, Mead & White, 1901 – 1910. McKim’s masterpiece and the most significant single loss of a public building. Its destruction brought about the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Demolished 1963-65. Replaced by the hideous mouse maze called Penn Station beneath the Penn Plaza office complex and Madison Square Garden.
The Waldorf-Astoria – Fifth Avenue 33rd to 34th Streets. Originally two separate hotels The Waldorf built 1893 and The Astoria built 1897 both by architect Henry Hardenbergh. Demolished 1929. One of the modern landmarks of New York City now stands on the old Waldorf-Astoria site, The Empire State Building.
Astor Hotel – 1507 – 1521 Broadway west side between 44th and 45th Streets. Architects Clinton & Russell built the original portion of the hotel in 1904 and completed the second section in 1910. This beautiful landmark hotel was torn down in 1967. A boring boxy skyscraper now occupies the site.
The Clearing House – 77 Cedar Street north side between Broadway and Nassau Street. Architect Robert W. Gibson, built 1894-96. Demolished 1964 for a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill acclaimed nondescript glass office tower 140 Broadway (1968).
John Wanamaker’s Department Store – Broadway between 9th and 10th Streets. Architect John Kellum, built 1862. Originally constructed for department store magnate A.T. Stewart, Wanamaker’s expanded to a second annex building in 1905 on Broadway between 8th and 9th Streets connected by a bridge of sighs to the original building which is shown above.
Wanamaker’s closed its doors permanently on December 18, 1954. Wanamaker’s was in the process of being demolished to be replaced by an apartment building, when on July 14, 1956, one of New York City’s most spectacular fires broke out at around 5:45 pm. Fortunately no one was killed but 187 firefighters were hurt, mostly with smoke inhalation, as they fought a blaze for 25 hours which consumed the original building. The Stewart House apartment building which replaced Wanamaker’s, was completed in 1960. The Wanamaker annex still stands.
The Claremont Inn – Riverside Drive and 124th Street. Originally built as a private residence sometime between 1783 and 1807, architect unknown. Wealthy navigator and owner Michael Hogan named the estate Claremont after his birthplace County Clare, Ireland. Claremont became a popular roadhouse and restaurant which was acquired by the city in 1872. As the New York Times wrote in 1949, “By the simple expedient of “doing nothing” the Board of Estimate has converted historic Claremont Inn from a picturesque addition to the Riverside Park landscape into a ‘not very attractive’ boarded-up structure.” As the building was being demolished in 1951, two separate fires a week apart destroyed it.
Vanderbilt Mansion – 1 West 57th St and 742-748 Fifth Avenue between 57th & 58th Streets. Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion, original portion by architect George B.Post 1883, expanded in 1893 by architect Richard Morris Hunt. The largest private house ever built in New York City. Demolished 1926. Bergdorf Goodman Department Store now occupies the site.