This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.
David Rockefeller, who helped launch the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association in 1958 and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in 1973, played a central role in the creation of One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Rockefeller was the youngest of six children born to businessman John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, a founder of the Museum of Modern Art. Both David and his second eldest brother Nelson, who became governor of New York in 1959, had a strong interest in modern art, modern architecture, and the future of Lower Manhattan. Both, in fact, would be intimately involved in the planning of the World Trade Center, as well as Battery Park City. Following the Second World War, many Wall Street firms began to leave Lower Manhattan, but — as the bank’s executive vice president — David Rockefeller convinced his company to stay and assemble a two-block site close to the New York Stock Exchange.
One Chase Manhattan Plaza is a major example of mid-20th century modernism, sometimes called the International Style. A slab-like 60-story tower of considerable refinement and elegance, it rises from a 2? acre plaza that required the closing of Cedar Street, between Nassau and William Streets. This “tower in the park” aesthetic traces its origins to Europe in the 1920s, when architects began to envision cities of free-standing towers surrounded by open space.
Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the building’s architect, were considered the leading interpreters of European modernism in the 1950s. Though the partner in charge of the project was the celebrated American architect Gordon Bunshaft, One Chase Manhattan Plaza was, in fact, designed by a Frenchman, Jacques E. Guiton, who prepared the preliminary scheme and later authored a book on Le Corbusier. At 813 feet, the building’s glass curtain wall was the first to reach this height and is nearly as tall as the neighboring “Trump” Building at 40 Wall Street, which was briefly, during 1930, the world’s tallest skyscraper.
In the dark canyons of the financial district, the building’s light-filled plaza comes as a welcome surprise. Despite limited public seating, there are two major artistic attractions. The earlier of the two, Isamu Noguchi’s Sunken Garden, was completed in 1964. Set below street level, it can be viewed from the plaza or from inside the bank branch on the concourse level, which can be reached from William Street. Sixty feet in diameter, Noguchi’s enclosed “garden” features fountains, wavy patterned paving, and seven basalt rocks that were selected by the artist near Kyoto, Japan. Near the base of the tower, aligned with Cedar Street, stands Group of Four Trees by the French artist Jean Dubuffet. Installed in 1972, this expressive, animated fiberglass sculpture was the gift of David Rockefeller and remains on long-term loan from the Museum of Modern Art. In 2013, One Chase Manhattan Plaza was acquired by Fosun International, a Chinese investment firm.
– Matthew A. Postal