1970-73

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

After the Second World War, plans for a Second Avenue Subway gained traction, with a route down Water Street to Hanover Square and the Battery. In anticipation of such transit improvements, Water Street was widened in the early 1960s, producing a multi-lane boulevard and a flood of new construction. Among the many office buildings that resulted, Wall Street Plaza, at the southeast corner of Maiden Lane, is surely one of the best.

Commissioned by Orient Overseas Associates, an affiliate of a Hong Kong-Taiwanese shipping firm, this gleaming white tower is also known as 88 Pine Street. Though a section of Pine Street had been de-mapped to create the adjoining plaza, this name was probably chosen because the number 88 is considered extremely lucky by Chinese. I.M Pei & Partners was responsible for the building’s handsome design. Pei, who immigrated to the United States from China, assigned the project to James Ingo Freed, who later became a partner in the firm, now called Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. A graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology, as a young architect Freed worked in the office of Mies van der Rohe. He joined Pei in 1956 and was responsible for many significant projects in New York City, including Kips Bay Plaza, University Village, and the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

Wall Street Plaza is a 32-story office building of unusual clarity and elegance. Though the structural frame seems exposed, like One Liberty Plaza (opposite Zuccotti Park) and other “High-tech” designs that aestheticized technology in the 1970s, the girders and beams are actually concealed behind crisp aluminum panels. This fire-retardant veneer is coated with Duracron, a baked-on acrylic enamel that was produced in various colors. White was probably chosen to help it stand out from neighboring buildings on Water Street, to complement the South Street Seaport Museum where the sails of tall ships had recently begun to flutter, and to give the elevations a kind of early modernist purity.

Despite the building’s exquisite polish, for six months in 1975 the south part of the ground floor, as well as two unused passages to the projected subway, hosted the memorable multimedia installation “Ruckus Manhattan.” Created by Red Grooms, Mimi Gross and the Ruckus Works Company, this immersive project presented visitors with a comic-book-like cityscape that could be entered and explored. At a time when New York City was struggling on many levels, this gritty yet joyful environment was a welcome antidote to the city’s malaise.

Matthew A. Postal