Revitalizing Towards the Clouds


“The downtown financial district appears to be taking on new life after lagging behind the Midtown sector for several years in new construction and leasing activity.” (NY TIMES)  This was the optimistic forecast on October 23, 1949  when Dun & Bradstreet (a credit agency) finalized plans for their new headquarters at 99 Church Street.  Located between Barclay Street and Park Place, right behind the Woolworth Building, it was the largest office building built in Downtown Manhattan since the Great Depression.

Whereas Lower Manhattan is one of the oldest and most historic neighborhoods in New York City, its historic significance is intermingled with an awkward modernity and lingering decrepitude that confounds its bustling if uncertain  commerce.  A confusing sprawl of narrow, cobblestone lanes, intersecting with wider streets such as Broadway, are congested with pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Buildings that are already old look even older within a jumbled, overburdened  atmosphere of haphazard and sporadic modernization. Since the 1940s, an ongoing and callous effort to revitalize Lower Manhattan, which would culminate with the construction of the World Trade Center, is proceeding ever more forcibly since its destruction…unfortunately, with the same callousness.

Larry Silverstein, real estate tycoon and former WTC leaseholder who gave new meaning to the words “pull it,” is in the process of constructing a new building over the old building at 99 Church Street to make way for a 80-story hotel and apartment tower. At 912 feet high, it will be the tallest residential building in the city.

The Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, the building’s sales division, is billing the new project as something that will  “unquestionably advance the revitalization efforts of downtown.”  Now that luxurious living space is apparently replacing the need for office space in noted commercial areas of town such as Lower Manhattan, “revitalization” could be taking on an entirely new meaning.

Until recently, all of the city’s super-tall buildings have been office buildings. New Yorkers have never really lived all that high up in the air. The fabled penthouses of Park Avenue or Central Park West were ever only 300 or 400 feet high. By the standards of history and of many other places, that’s pretty high up. But by the standards of Manhattan skyscrapers, a handful of which rise more than 1,000 feet, it’s not much.  NY Sun

Sadly, the Woolworth Building (already hemmed-in by other lofty revitalization), once known as  the “Cathedral of Commerce” with its icy Gothic pinnacle soaring toward the heavens, will be further overshadowed by Silverstein’s 80-story towering luxuriousness.

I remain somewhat confused that so much apparent luxury is rising in NYC, while its commerce diminishes and leaves behind only its history as an attraction for sightseers.

But as David Dunlap writes, “The Republic Aviation Corporation [one of 99 Church Street’s original tenants] boasted to prospective employees in 1951 that the building was ‘completely air-conditioned’ — something of a novelty at the time.  Presumably, the new 99 Church Street will be able to make the same claim.”

Source: NY Times


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