Old New York In Photos #106 – City Hall and A Description Of The Fabulous World Building

City Hall & The Pulitzer, aka World Building c 1897

Crca 1897 New York City World Building and City Hall City HallNew York’s quaint City Hall is seen here from a circa 1897 stereoview. According to the clock below its cupola it is 4:07 in the afternoon. An open plaza beckons the stroller to walk across Now, because of security concerns. without a pass, you can’t get within 100 feet of a building that supposedly belongs to the public.

Looming across the street at Park Row and Frankfort Street is the Pulitzer Building also known as the World Building, headquarters of newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer.

French’s Hotel stood on the site from 1849 until 1888. Pulitzer paid $630,000 for the 115 by 135 foot plot of land, Demolition of the hostelry started July 2, 1888 and preliminary work for the new building’s foundation began June 20, 1889.

Joseph Pulitzer Jr laying cornerstone Wolrd Building 1889

Young Joseph Pulitzer Jr. lays the cornerstone

Pulitzer’s four-year-old son, Joseph Jr. smacked the cornerstone with his silver trowel on October 10, 1889 to commence construction and said, “It is well done.”

In a bizarre speech at the cornerstone laying, one of the honored guests, New York Governor David Hill mocked the newspaper and its staff.

The New York Times reported that In front of  the assembled guests and the World’s own reporters Governor Hill declared, “The peculiarly inventive genius of our reporters cannot be surpassed anywhere. The World publishes all the news and more too. When they lack any news they manufacture it. One word of a public man is a sufficient basis for a column interview.”

Architect George B. Post was entrusted with designing the building which would transform the city skyline.

Unlike modern building developers who milk every dime out of the precious land they occupy without regard to how it affects its neighbors, Pulitzer had strong aesthetic convictions about his new building.

World Building Its History and Its New Home 1890

Commemorative booklet issued after the opening of The World Building 1890

According to the 1891 World Almanac, Pulitzer insisted that “the building erected upon so commanding a site, the structure must be in every sense an architectural ornament to the metropolis; that it must be a magnificent business structure of the first order, embodying the very latest and best ideas in constructive art; that, to be worthy of the paper it housed, it must also be the best equipped newspaper edifice in existence.”

Pulitzer had two architectural requirements that were entirely his conception that were to be incorporated into his new building.

“The first being an imposing dome, which distinguishes the building from every other in the metropolis,” the Almanac noted, and the second was that Pulitzer wanted, “an impressive portal, worthy of the general plan of the edifice.”

The portal or entryway involved the sacrifice of valuable renting space in three stories. Architect Post at first deemed the portal an impossibility. But after repeated efforts the architectural and engineering difficulties were solved. Pulitzer’s “impressive portal” and “imposing dome” were realized.

The newspaper staff moved in to their new headquarters on November 10, 1890. When officially opened on December 10, 1890, the gold domed World Building topped by a lantern and a flagpole was the largest office building in New York, and the tallest, depending upon where it was measured from and to.

How Big Was It?

From the Frankfort Street sidewalk to the lantern on top of the dome was 309 feet: to the top of the flag-staff, 349 feet; from the foundations to the top of the flag-staff, 375 feet.

Pulitzer Building / New York World Building photo Detroit Photo Co.

How many floors did the building possess? There is some confusion whether it was 16, 18 or 26 stories.

The promotional booklet issued following thRotunda World Building 1890e building’s opening affirms the Pulitzer building has 26 stories. Technically that would be correct. Here is the breakdown according to the promo booklet:

Above the Frankfort Street sidewalk there are in the main structure 14 full stories and 2 mezzanine stories; below the sidewalk is the press room and one mezzanine story; in the dome are six full stories and one mezzanine story; above the dome is the lantern floor – total 26 stories.

Later in the booklet it says “The business elevator’s well rises to the sixteenth story in the dome, and to look down into it when the car is at the bottom is like a peep at the centre of the earth.”

That indicates their were only 16 floors by elevator count.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch of January 1, 1890, states that when the building is completed it will be 18 stories. The Post-Dispatch includes the 2 sub-levels as floors to come up with that figure.

So it all depends upon how you count.

Being built at the dawn of the modern skyscraper age, before all steel skeletons were the norm, Post used a combination of wrought iron and steel for supporting the structure. It was therefore necessary to build with very thick walls. The walls at the building’s base were 12 feet thick.  The walls then tapered to only two feet thick at the top of the building, still pretty darn soundproof.

For the walls and foundation 5,714,000 hard brick were used, and not one of them was visible.  The basement walls were covered in granite. They lower floors were concealed by light red Corsehill sandstone from Scotland. The upper floors contained 98,000 buff bricks and terra-cotta. 63,000 glazed bricks were also used.

Public Hall inside the World Building 1890

The World Building with 142,864 square feet of floor space allowed Pulitzer to rent out nine floors to tenants. All of the 149 rentable offices in the building had abundant natural light coupled with great views of the city. On every floor, each office was supplied with what were then all the latest conveniences; hot and cold water, gas and electric light, telephone wires, steam heat, messenger call boxes, mail shoots, and other modernities.

Inside the building, the public halls were paved with marble. The hard wood in the building amounted to over 1,000,000 feet, including mahogany, cherry, white ash, maple, and quartered oak.

Joseph Pulitzer's private office in the World Building

Joseph Pulitzer’s office in the dome’s second story

The building contained 16 elevators. Inside the second floor of the dome were the World’s editorial offices which included Joseph Pulitzer’s private office. It was “a spacious chamber with three great windows extending from floor to ceiling, and giving from three different segments of the dome a remarkable range of vision.” Like modern day billionaires in their penthouses, Pulitzer could look across and beyond the city limits.

Though The World newspaper ended during the Depression when the newspaper combined with The Evening-Telegram, the World Building stayed on. It outlasted all of its newspaper row rivals who either folded or moved uptown around the turn-of-the century.

Finally in 1955 the end came for the World Building when it was to be demolished to add a plaza with new cloverleaf approaches and ramps for the Brooklyn Bridge. The project, a Robert Moses “destroy everything in the way special,” took down many other surrounding buildings besides the World Building.

World Building and environs looking south 1890

World Building and environs looking south 1890

But before it fell to the wrecker’s ball, the World Building had one more hour of glory.

Mayor Robert Wagner and his staff retreated from the cramped, noisy and dusty quarters of City Hall as the exterior was being resurfaced in late 1954. The mayor and his staff of 40 moved into the sixth floor of the mostly deserted World Building on December 29, 1954. They planned to vacate around March 1, 1955  when demolition was scheduled to begin.

Those thick walls that George B. Post had put up 65 years ago were a blessing to Wagner and his staff who loved being in the quiet, well-lighted, and roomy old World Building. In March 1955, when it was time to vacate the World Building, the mayor would not relinquish his temporary headquarters, even as demolition began. Demolition crews worked around the mayor and his staff. Finally, as the World had to come down completely, the mayor regretfully vacated on Friday, May 13, 1955, returning to City Hall which was still under renovation.

Within a few weeks the World Building was just a memory.

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