A neglected local landmark is about to change hands: the former J.P. Morgan & Company headquarters at 23 Wall Street (on the corner with Broad Street) is in contract to be acquired by Manhattan real estate developer Jack Terzi, who specializes in trophy retail properties.
Mr. Terzi will purchase the 1913 structure (for an undisclosed price) from China Sonangol, a company that bought the 160,000-square foot building in 2008, paying $150 million. In the years since the 2008 transaction, 23 Wall Street has languished. This decline may have been related to the personal travails of Sam Pa, the shadowy Asian billionaire who was arrested by Chinese authorities on corruption charges last October.
The space has been mostly vacant for nearly a decade, and has been used as temporary quarters for movie shoots, seasonal pop-up shops, and upscale corporate parties. Among the recent attempts to revivify the building were a deal, announced in January, 2015 to bring Latitude 360 — a nationwide chain of venues that house dining, movies, live entertainment, and upscale recreation facilities under a single roof — to the 23 Wall Street. This proposal was scuttled by opposition from nearby residents concerned about noise and crowds.
All of which is an ironic fate for a former tabernacle of American capitalism. When completed, the year before World War One began, the building became instantly famous as the most important address in American finance. The investment bank based within, J.P. Morgan & Company, acted as a kind of unofficial central bank (stabilizing stock markets, steadying the value of American currency, and lending to the U.S. government) in the years before the modern Federal Reserve system came into being. Such was the quiet authority of the firm that it never felt the need to emblazon its own name on the outside of the building. Although the address was visible on a small sign beside the front door, generations of cognoscenti referred to 23 Wall Street simply as, “the corner.”
This diffident discretion did not spare J.P. Morgan & Company from the wrath of a bomber, who set off an explosion outside the building on September 16, 1920, which killed 38 people and inflicted millions of dollars in damage. The crime was never solved, and pockmarks from the blast remain visible on the exterior stone of 23 Wall Street to this day.
The building, designed by the firm of Trowbridge and Livingston (creators of other iconic New York structures, such as the American Museum of Natural History), was declared a New York City landmark in 1965. Sadly, although the building’s exterior was given legally protected status, its interior was not set aside for preservation, with the result that its beautiful oak paneling and crystal chandelier are now gone.
J.P Morgan & Company vacated the premises in the early 2000s, after which it changed hands among property speculators every few years, but never found a new use.
Although Mr. Terzi has yet to announce plans for 23 Wall Street, it appears likely that he will recruit one or more upscale retail tenants to vend clothing or food in the sanctuary of commerce where bankers once decided the fates of mighty corporations and sovereign nations.