Old New York In Photos #125 – Singer Building At Night

A Sight You’ll Never See – The Singer Building At Night – 1913

Here is the Singer Building Tower in 1913 with its office lights ablaze in a photograph taken by Underwood and Underwood. The adjacent smaller towers to the right belong to the City-Investing Building.

For less than a year between 1908 -1909, the Singer Building, designed by Ernest Flagg, was the tallest in the world. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Building completed in 1909 took the tallest title away.

This magnificent New York City skyscraper vanished less than 60 years after its completion. Despite being one of the masterpieces of the city’s skyline, the Singer Building was demolished in 1967-1968. The building was never even proposed for landmark consideration.

Alan Burnham the president of the newly created Landmarks Preservation Commission, explained to a New York Times reporter as the building was coming down, “If the building were made a landmark, we would have to find a buyer for it or the city would have to acquire it. The city is not that wealthy and the commission doesn’t have a big enough staff to be a real estate broker for a skyscraper.”

Demolition begins on the Singer Building, New York Daily News September 15, 1967

The bland looking U.S. Steel Building would rise in its place. Most New Yorkers accepted the fate of the Singer Building with shoulder shrugging resignation as a sign of progress. The few who openly complained were ignored. One letter writer to the Times, Eleanor S.  Johnson accurately called the demolition, “another blot on the sorry record of New York City’s preservation of its heritage.”

Considering the Singer Building provided an innovative solution to early steel skeleton construction, Johnson noted ” What an irony that it should be a steel company that has ordained its destruction!”

How true and how sad.

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2 thoughts on “Old New York In Photos #125 – Singer Building At Night

    1. B.P. Post author

      It all comes down to rentable square footage.

      The way the Singer was built meant designing it with bracing for high winds. Engineers at the dawn of skyscraper construction were unsure if a building might topple over if subjected to hurricane force winds and they generally overbuilt. The tower contained a relatively large amount of glass, but also a LOT of brick. The large amount of bricks were necessary to cover the steel skeleton, greatly reducing available rental floor space. So the tower, though aesthetically pleasing, turned out not to be an effective use of the plot of land the Singer occupied. The U.S. Steel Building is a giant black steel and glass rectangle.

      The way skyscraper building construction evolved is possible due to advances in high tension bolting and modern welding methods. Had this technology been available in 1907 the Singer’s Tower could have been all glass. All glass would have maximized the tower’s floor space.

      The City Investing Building adjacent to the Singer was also demolished to build the U.S. Steel Building.

      Ironically the 54 story U.S. Steel Building (now known as One Liberty Plaza) is for sale. There was a rumor a few years ago that the new owners could knock it down to build something with even more office space!

      Reply

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