Historic Structures

Singer Tower New York City New York

Date added: November 21, 2014 Categories: New York Office

One of the outstanding works of architect Ernest Flagg, the Singer Tower was for sixty years a familiar silhouette on the New York skyline. Ironically, the height of the building had established two records: in 1908, at 41 stories, it became the tallest building ever constructed, and in 1967 it became the tallest building ever demolished. The lobby was renowned for its elegant marble and bronze decor. Perhaps most importantly, the tower exemplified Flagg's ideas on city planning, which were incorporated in part into the New York City zoning ordinances of 1916. In order to provide adequate air and light for all offices, Flagg envisaged a city of towers, in which the first five or six stories of every building would extend over the entire lot, but the upper stories would cover only one-quarter of the lot.

The erection of the Singer Tower was just one part of a building program conducted from 1906 to 1908 by the Singer Manufacturing Company at their properties on Liberty Street and Broadway. In 1906 the Company owned what was then called the Singer Building, at the northwest corner of Broadway and Liberty Street, as well as the Bourne Building at 85 Liberty Street. Ernest Flagg was commissioned in 1896 to draw up plans to remodel these properties and to design two new adjoining buildings, with all buildings being connected internally by corridors. Briefly, this was his design. He designed a fourteen-story addition to the Bourne Building, to be located at 93 Liberty Street, and added new elevators in the original Bourne Building. The height of the original Singer Building was increased by four stories and its entranceway remodeled into a small window. Added on to the original Singer Building was a structure extending seventy-four feet northward on Broadway, with three bays identical to the two of the original building. The Broadway entranceway was located in the most southerly bay of the new portion, or in what became the center bay of the entire remodeled Broadway facade. Surmounting the new portion on Broadway was a tower rising to a height of 612 feet from street level.

The building, including the fourteen story "base" and tower, was generally considered to be forty-one stories, although the upper three of these stories were housed under a mansard roof. In addition, there was a six-story lantern surmounting the tower.

The buildings structure was structural steel, fireproofed by a covering of terra cotta hollow tile. The exterior walls were constructed of rusticated North River blue stone on the first 3 stories. The upper stories were dark red brick laid up in English bond. A three-story, semi-circular arch, with a cartouche engraved with "Singer" in the keystone position of the architrave, formed the main entrance on Broadway. In the upper part of this arch was a fanlight with five vertical millions and below is a bronze grille, approximately thirteen feet wide and twenty-four feet high framed by a two-story architrave in the shape of a segmental arch. The grille consisted of a bar and scroll design and held a clock with two cupids supporting the Singer medallion. The two original revolving doors were replaced by three hinged doors. The mansard roof surmounting the first fourteen stories was covered with copper. In the tower the sloping sides of the mansard roof were covered with Maine roof slate shingles.

The main entrance of the east facade opened into the large lobby with a stairway on the west wall leading up to a balcony which provided access to the banking rooms on the first floor. Staircases on each side of this lead down to the basement where safety deposit boxes were located. Another stairway, immediately to the right of the main entrance, also lead up to the banking room. A row of eight elevators formed the north wall of the center section of the lobby.

The lobby was richly ornamented. There were two rows of eight piers, extending for the length of the lobby from the revolving doors to the west stairway. These piers were faced with Pavonazzo marble in a frame of grey Montarenti Sienna marble with corners covered with beaded bronze. At the top of each side of each pier was a bronze molding and medallion with the Singer Manufacturing Company's trademark. The pilasters along the walls of the lobby were decorated similarly. An arch springs from each side of these piers. Their intrados were decorated with ornamental plaster work of rosettes. The pendentives and drums of these bays were of richly ornamented plaster. A modern glass lighting fixture in the center of each drum replaced a flat, circular amber glass light set in a steel frame.

Along the south wall were two marble staircases leading to the original Singer Building; on the west wall a marble staircase that divides them leads to the balcony. Both had bronze railings. On the landing of the staircase on the south wall there was a bronze-cased master clock. On the central portion of the north wall was a bank of eight elevators. Originally the doors and frames of these elevators consisted of bronze rosettes set in panels; they were replaced by modern doors.

Singer Tower New York City New York