This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.
One Wall Street, at the southeast corner of Broadway, may be Lower Manhattan’s most elegant skyscraper. Completed in 1931, this 50-story office building has a fluted limestone facade that observers often compare to a column, a curtain or hung drapery. For some, it is the apotheosis of the curtain wall, a term that originally referred to the exterior walls of medieval castles but, since the late 19th century, has been widely used to describe the thin, non-load-bearing walls that enclose steel-framed skyscrapers. Ralph Walker, the building’s gifted architect, was surely familiar with the term. His earlier buildings made sophisticated use of brick veneers, surfaces that provide visual interest and, in the case of his communications buildings such as the Western Union Building at 60 Hudson Street, lighten in color as the elevations near the uppermost floors.
Commissioned by the Irving Trust Company, which had been located in the Woolworth Building, One Wall Street is a remarkably understated example of Art Deco design. Not only are the incised masonry panels concave, but most of the windows have a similar profile, enhancing the consistent rhythm of the undulating facade. It appears that these steel windows are original, and luckily, with the designation of this building as a New York City Landmark in 2001, will be retained or hopefully replaced with similar fenestration in the future. The slender setback tower tapers with considerable grace, creating a soft-spoken monolith that respects the mid-19th century spire of Trinity Church (the city’s tallest structure until the 1890s) while dominating a famous (and valuable) intersection.
By contrast, the ground floor contains a dramatic 37-foot-tall private reception hall. Designed by the prolific muralist and mosaicist Hildreth Meière, the deep red and gold mosaic walls and ceiling can be glimpsed through windows that face Wall Street. Her memorable artwork decorates many buildings, including the 50th Street exterior of Radio City Music Hall and the block-long lobby of the original AT&T Long Distance Building, also by Walker. One Wall Street’s slim apex, marked by a colossal window on each side, originally contained executive meeting rooms and dining areas, as well as a private observation lounge with a canopy-like ceiling of glistening seashells. From this lofty interior, the views must be astounding.
Directly south of the tower is a 30-story annex, dating from 1962-65. Clad with limestone from the same quarry, as well as similar fluted forms, it complements without upstaging the masterpiece it adjoins. Set back from Broadway behind a shallow plaza, this addition was designed by Walker’s successor firm, Voorhees, Walker, Smith, Smith & Haines. Acquired by The Bank of New York in 1988, One Wall Street is now known as the BNY Mellon Building.
– Matthew A. Postal