Over a century ago in 1889, a slender building was unveiled at 50 Broadway in lower Manhattan. It certainly wasn’t the tallest building in NYC, standing only 11 stories high, but, nonetheless, it’s considered by many historians to be NYC’s first skyscraper.
Though today our idea of skyscrapers is much different–our skyline height soars at an average height about 981 feet, making it the second tallest in the world–according to the Brittanica a skyscraper was originally defined as a building of 10 to 20 stories.
By the late 20th century, however, the term was used to describe high-rise buildings that we’re more used to today, standing generally greater than 40 or 50 stories.
And though NYC’s first skyscraper, dubbed the Tower Building, only stood 11 stories, its 21.5-foot-wide frontage made it extremely slender for its height, giving it that typical skyscraper appearance.
Designed by architect Bradford Lee Gilbert, the Tower Building was the first tall building in New York to use metal-cage construction, a type of construction that the NYC Building Code did not allow for until 1892, though the DOB approved Gilbert’s individual application.
Many onlookers predicted its collapse, however. In fact, according to PBS,
When high winds blew during construction, crowds of onlookers gathered (at a safe distance) waiting for the radical new structure to fall over. It was only when the architect himself climbed to the peak of the building and declared it perfectly safe that they were convinced otherwise.
The Tower Building actually had a hybrid structural system though, according to author and engineer Donald Friedman. Structurally, it was a “four-story bearing-wall building sitting on top of a seven-story skeleton frame.”
The Tower Building appeared in The Sun on Sunday, January 4, 1914, the day it was being demolished and replaced by a 37-story 1920s office tower.
The newspaper stated:
The story of the old Tower Building is one of the best illustrations that can be given of the rapidity with which New York City has moved during the last quarter century. It came as an experiment, gained success in spite of general ridicule, and finally formed a beginning for all high buildings of recent times. Now it has outlived its usefulness. It cannot compete with the giants of its own family and, like all ancestors, it is to be laid away in its grave, which in this case is the second hand material man’s yard.
Today, NYC’s skyline definitely looks different than it used to. The city is home to the world’s tallest residential building, for example, and we have so many towering buildings that two NYC skyscrapers ranked as having the top five most beautiful views in the U.S.
It’s crazy to see how far things have come!