1920–1928

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

A monumental brazier tops 26 Broadway, a neo-Renaissance style skyscraper at the corner of Beaver Street, opposite Bowling Green. Inspired by standing metal containers that were used for heating and cooking in ancient Greek and Roman times, the eye-catching silhouette connects the building to its original owner, the Standard Oil Company, and the valuable fuel that made the Rockefeller family (and partners) America’s wealthiest. John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Trust in 1870 and moved the company headquarters from Cleveland, Ohio, to this site on lower Broadway in 1885. A shrewd businessman and a distinguished philanthropist, he and his descendants would play a critical role in shaping Lower Manhattan’s progress and character. Though the Broadway facade was refaced with limestone in the mid-1920s, for those who care to look, the original brick facade (and the 1895 addition) of the headquarters remains visible around the corner on New Street.

When construction of the expanded headquarters began in 1920, Thomas Hastings of Carrere & Hastings, designers of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, devised an elaborate setback scheme that could go forward in phases as the various leases on the adjacent properties expired. Though construction began in 1921, due to a retail hold-out on Beaver Street, the entire structure could not be finished until 1928. The tower, set at a curious angle to Broadway, dates to about 1924 and was designed in association with Shreve Lamb & Blake, the predecessor firm to Shreve Lamb & Harmon, architects of the Empire State Building. Tripled torches, traditional symbols of the oil business, as well as globes, embellish the limestone elevations. In the earliest completed section perhaps in a nod to the nearby New York Stock Exchange, the traditional keystone above the New Street entrance was replaced by a prominent horned bull’s head, perhaps signifying what many investors desire, an upbeat financial market. Near the top, the columns on the upper stores loosely recall the much-imitated Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, a Greek temple from the 3rd century b. c. Photographs of the brazier show that not only are the bronze ring and posts embellished with raised zodiac signs but these elements disguise the chimney from which smoke is occasionally released.

In 1956, with Exxon and Socony-Mobil now at separate midtown addresses, 26 Broadway was acquired by a new owner. Though the marble bust of John D. Rockefeller by New York City sculptor Jo Davison (now at Rockefeller University on the Upper East Side) was removed from the pedestal on the north wall of the lobby, much of this dignified and dynamic skyscraper remains as it was, including the elaborate double-height entry arch that features a keystone incorporating the petroleum company’s initials.

Matthew A. Postal