‘A Thumb in the Eye’
Local Leaders Don’t Want One Broadway to Get Any Bigger
Community Board 1 (CB1) is resisting plans to add two floors to a landmarked building in the Financial District. In a resolution laced with unusually harsh language, enacted at its May 28 meeting, the Board called upon the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) — which can veto alterations to legally protected historic structures — to reject a proposal by the building’s owner, Midtown Equities, to build a glass pavilion on top of One Broadway (also known as the International Mercantile Marine Company Building), located at the corner of Broadway and Battery Place, directly adjacent to Bowling Green.
The resolution summarizes the developer’s proposal with the words, “to distill the very convoluted design’s description, and despite all the narrative hoopla, it is really a preposterous glass box with a mansard surround.”
In CB1’s judgement, this, “crass extension would be wildly and unflatteringly visible from Battery Park, Battery Place, and Beaver Street, and would put a thumb in the eye of every traveler approaching the southern terminus of Manhattan by water or air.”
The building at One Broadway began life in 1882 as a vastly different structure: clad in red brick, it was erected by Cyrus West Field, a Gilded Age entrepreneur who owned New York’s Mail and Express newspaper and pioneered to laying of the first two trans-Atlantic telegraph cables.
Several decades after Fields’s death in 1892, financier J.P. Morgan formed a new trust company, International Mercantile Marine (later known as the United States Lines), to monopolize the business of passenger and freight shipping across the Atlantic. Seeking a suitably lavish palace and prestige address to house this venture (but also on the prowl for a bargain), he bought One Broadway, in the heart of the neighborhood then known as “Steamship Row,” and next door to competitor Cunard Lines, at 25 Broadway.
Rather than demolish the structure, Morgan had it re-clad in white limestone, added several additional floors, and decorated the facade with mosaic coats of arms trumpeting the names and histories of 20 major port cities around the world, such as Gibraltar and Antwerp, Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo. These are still visible on the second-floor face of the building, as are marble lintels above the entrances, engraved with the words “First Class” and “Cabin Class.” The former ticket office on the ground floor is now a branch of Citibank, where the teller cages are the original clerks’ booths.
Last year, Midtown Equities purchased the building for $180 million — a price that may be driving its push to expand the square footage within. The Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has the final say over the developer’s proposed alterations to the structure (and can choose to be guided by CB1’s resolution, or ignore it), is scheduled to hold hearing on these plans today.
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