Tower Building (New York City)

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Tower Building
Tower Building Entrance.jpg
Entrance to the Tower Building
General information
Architectural styleGothic Revival architecture
LocationManhattan, New York City
Construction started1888
Design and construction
ArchitectBradford Gilbert
Shortly after completion
Shortly before demolition

The Tower Building was a structure in the Financial District of Manhattan, New York City, located at 50-52 Broadway on a lot that extended east to New Street.[1][2] It was arguably New York City's first skyscraper,[3] and the first building with a steel skeleton structure.[1]


Architect Bradford Gilbert filed plans for its construction on April 17, 1888, it was completed on September 27, 1889 and demolished beginning in 1913.[1][2]

Though it was 108 ft (33 m) deep, the building had just 21.5 ft (6.6 m) of frontage on Broadway, necessitating its novel design.[1] Chicago's Home Insurance Building (completed 1884) was the first to use structural steel, but that building did not fully support its masonry elements on the steel frame.[4][5] On the narrow lot, a conventional design with load-bearing masonry walls would have left little room on the ground floor, but architect Gilbert asked, "Why can't I run my foundation far up in the air and then begin my building?"[5] Gilbert's design came from a railroad bridge turned on its end.[6] Cast iron columns about 20 feet (6.1 m) apart formed the skeleton, and the walls of each floor hung on a "shoe" instead of transmitting the load to the wall of the floor below.[7] The resulting structure was 128 feet (39 m) in height, and 11 stories high.[8] Gilbert made models to convince the city to permit the construction of his unusual design.[9] It was quickly followed by taller steel-skeleton buildings, including the Columbia Building in 1890.[7]

The Tower Building was sold by John N. Stearns in 1905, along with two adjacent buildings, for a reported price of about $1.5 million.[10] In 1909, Morris Building Company, a holding company of Standard Oil Company, purchased it in foreclosure for $1.68 million.[8] No longer profitable by 1913 due to its lack of tenants, it was vacated in December of that year and demolition began.[8] Demolition was complete in 1914; at this point the tallest building in New York, the Woolworth Building, was 792 feet (241 m).[7]


  1. ^ a b c d "Bronze Tablet Placed on the Tower Building, New York" (PDF). The New York Times. September 3, 1899. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Warren, Charles Peck (May 2, 1915). "Excessive Height a Trying Problem" (PDF). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  3. ^ Gray, Christopher (May 5, 1996). "Streetscapes/The Tower Building;The Idea That Led to New York's First Skyscraper". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  4. ^ "Home Insurance Building". Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Birkmire, William H.; Gilbert, Bradford Lee; Barrett, James (August 19, 1899). "Disputes of Architects" (PDF). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  6. ^ Gray, Christopher (July 1, 2007). "The Architect Who Turned a Railroad Bridge on Its Head". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c "City's First Skyscraper Now Being Razed While New Giant 800 Feet High is Planned" (PDF). New York Sun. January 4, 1914. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c "First Skyscraper to Be Torn Down" (PDF). The New York Times. October 29, 1913. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  9. ^ "The Tower Building". New York Architecture. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  10. ^ "First Skyscraper Sold" (PDF). The New York Times. May 12, 1905. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 29, 2014.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°42′24″N 74°00′44″W / 40.7067°N 74.0123°W / 40.7067; -74.0123