1913–1914

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

At the southeast corner of Broad Street, 23 Wall Street is the anti-skyscraper. Built as the headquarters of J.P. Morgan & Co. – at a moment when Lower Manhattan’s skyline was starting to take shape – this surprisingly low neo-Italian Renaissance style building dominates a prestigious corner without rising more than a few floors. Though the thick walls were reportedly planned to support a much loftier structure, additional floors were never added and the building was designated a New York City Landmark in 1965 – the first year of the Commission’s existence. It is worth noting that real estate in Manhattan has always been an ultra-precious commodity and that not utilizing a parcel’s maximum development potential can be a potent way to express wealth and power, as in the well-trimmed lawns that adjoin the former Fifth Avenue homes of the industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, now the Cooper-Hewitt: Smithsonian Design Museum and the Frick Collection.

Trowbridge & Livingston, the building’s architect, was responsible for three of the four structures that face the corner of Wall and Broad Streets. In addition to 23 Wall Street, they designed the Banker’s Trust Company (1910-12), capped by a pyramid at 16 Wall Street, and the unassuming 1923 addition to the New York Stock Exchange at 11 Wall Street. A safe, dependable practice, both men graduated from the Columbia School of Mines, while Trowbridge also attended the influential Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. During the first decades of the 20th century their office generated many fine neo-classical works, including the former B. Altman & Company Department Store (now the City University Graduate Center) and the St. Regis Hotel.

J.P. Morgan, who purchased the high-profile site in 1912, died the following year – as construction of 23 Wall Street was just starting. He was the founding partner in Drexel Morgan, which had erected the previous building on the site in the 1870s. Like Trowbridge & Livingston’s design, it had a white marble facade with an angled entry that faced both Broad and Wall Streets. To give Morgan’s new headquarters an even more monumental character, the architects pulled the entrance slightly back from the corner, creating a significantly-wider entrance facade, as well as a small plaza where groups frequently gather to look upon Federal Hall National Memorial and the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1989, J.P. Morgan & Co. completed a new headquarters at 60 Wall Street. At the time, 23 Wall Street was part of a site that had been assembled for expansion of the New York Stock Exchange. Though various neighboring buildings would have all been demolished to create a vast trading floor and vertiginous office tower, most proposals retained 23 Wall Street as the structure’s ceremonial entrance. This ambitious project generated considerable controversy and, following a series of re-designs (and the advent of electronic trading), was abandoned in 2002.

– Matthew A. Postal