- Walking Tour
- Season 1
- Episode 10
Architect Explores Wall Street's Details & History
Released on 02/16/2023
I'm Nick Potts, I'm an architect.
Today we're on Wall Street and we'll be doing
an architectural walk and tour of the neighborhood.
[soft jazz music]
Wall Street has its reputation of being
the financial capital of the country,
but the reason it's called Wall Street
is that we are at the edge of the settlement
of New Amsterdam
where really the city stopped right where it is
and there was a defensive wall.
Other things that happen at the edge
of any settlement is trade, and that's exactly
what is happening here in the Wall Street areas.
There was trade
amongst the indigenous populations immediately to the north
as the the colonists were finding things to sell to them.
There's also the sale in trading of goods
and commodities and because this is America in that period
also the sale of people through slavery.
So this is really the nexus
of all the things that were being traded
in America at this time.
Right now we are on Wall Street at Broad Street right
outside of the New York Stock Exchange.
Stock trading had existed on this site really
as far back into the early 18th century.
There was a series
of outdoor auctions that actually took place here
on Wall Street around 1793 that started
to become formalized.
So these outdoor markets, which originally took place
under a tree, started taking place within coffee shops.
And as technology developed and the whole business
of trading commodities became more formalized
there's a need for space to do it.
And as electricity, the telegraph made it possible
for people in offices to communicate
down through ticker tape to people on a floor.
You start having a need for a trading floor.
And so this building is really that sort of technology.
What you have
underneath this big neoclassical impediment is
a giant floor where stock traders could mingle
with one another.
These giant windows are bathing light in this very deep
large space, the tall windows height means light.
And so what you have is a very high technology
building hiding under the respectability
of a Roman temple front.
And you see the columns, these Corinthian columns
which are almost religious when you start looking closer
and it's much more Americanized.
If you look at the sculpture
in the pediment, these aren't gods.
It's actually a representation of industry
and the industry that made prosperity.
You see mining, you see agriculture
you see industrial manufacturing
you see sciences all represented in this pediment
as if they're the things being worshiped
within this modern temple.
Another interesting thing to note about
there's obviously there's no offices in this building.
It's increasingly as technology lighting
and the ability to put more people
in a large space became more pronounced
trading floors needed much more space.
So this is really, it's actually quite small
and it's smaller than what you do now.
The building stock that exists here really
can't house modern finance.
So a lot of the banks have moved uptown or further
out where they can build much larger floor plates.
And a lot of these buildings, cause they're quite narrow
have been retro fitted as residences
and hotels where you can have much narrower floor plates.
We are on the corner
of Liberty Suite and Nassau Street right
in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
When the Federal Reserve system was created
New York could not appear to be the only one.
So their branch or actually equal federal reserves scattered
across the country.
And this building, though it looks very ancient,
it's appropriating renaissance forms.
It's actually quite new obviously because
of Federal Reserve system didn't exist before then.
In spite of its newness, it's trying as hard
as it can to look old and stable and permanent.
And if you look at the stone
so it's actually made of two types of stone.
The more yellow blocks are sandstone
the whiter ones are limestone.
So that sort of mixing
of different stones was meant to look of that age.
It's similar to what you see at Yale where they threw acid
at buildings to kind of create a bit of instant history.
And you can see by the size
of the people walking by the stones of the building
just how huge these stones are.
These are meant to express their permanence
in their solidity.
Here they went even one step further
and did something called pulvinating which is
it almost looks like a pillow.
It's this giant rounded corner.
And so that's expressing the bigness
and the permanence and the stability
of the building and our financial system.
The type of building or the style building that
they appropriated for this renaissance palazzo.
They were both places of commerce and fortresses for
if you think about the Medici and the extremely wealthy
families in Renaissance Florence,
these buildings were fortresses.
And there's a little bit of that going on here.
It's slightly castley.
You see the carnations
at the top of the building, there's a tower.
So it's meant to look stable and permanent
and as if it could stand up to the onslaught
of a war should that happen, which is fitting for
for an institution that's meant to,
house is the reserves of our nation's finances.
The metal work is kind of doing two things here.
For one, it looks impenetrable and fortress like,
it's also if you look closer, a work of art.
I mean this is the work
of Samuel Yellin who was the master of Iron work.
He worked out of Philadelphia and did some
of the most extraordinary iron work
of this country in the middle of the turn of the 19th
century and the early 20th century.
Now we are outside of 55 Wall Street.
This is a building that's interesting
in that it's changed over the course of its lifetime.
And it started in the 1840s as the Merchants Exchange.
You can see on the bottom of the building
that was the original building.
It was load-bearing masonry
a very simple Greek revival sort building.
One row of ionic columns.
As the whole national financial market matured
that sort of exchange no longer needed a building like that.
So they moved off, it became a customs house and it became
in 1907 the headquarters for National City Bank.
And so in order to make this our headquarters taking
over this more kind of publicly facing market building
they extended it vertically upwards in a steel building.
And you can see the intersection of two styles
the very simple ionic columns
on the lower part of the building are superseded
by these giant Corinthian columns in the Citibank expansion.
Part of the reason
that Wall Street has also been important is that it meets
on the East River one of the most important areas
for offloading goods and shipments for the new world.
So this building at one point
after the Merchant's Exchange have moved
out was the customs house.
So it was the place where customs and duties on goods
coming in for the port were assessed.
So the Merchants Exchange
when this was still the original tenant of the building
built something that looked like a temple again to show
that it was viable and stable
and there's no better way to do that
than to borrow from antiquity in classism.
So that's why the ionic order, it projects stability
and permanence for a sort of institution
a trading floor that really didn't have a building type.
And it wasn't something that people would say, oh
like this is what a stock exchange looks like.
It didn't exist.
So you borrow and you kind of appropriate
from what people did know, which is the past.
The original Merchants Exchange was the 1840s.
The addition was 1907.
So the addition is actually right
around the same time as the New York Stock Exchange.
So it's kind of the second generation
of buildings on this street.
And the second form, this is before skyscrapers.
So the buildings are still somewhat low and more horizontal
but we're starting to edge
up in the super capitalist era when buildings
wanted to get much taller.
And so you can see as these buildings became obsolete
they got taken over by new uses
because the land is still valuable
and turned into something new and different.
So right now we are outside of One Wall Street
on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway.
This is obviously an art deco skyscraper.
It follows the 1916 zoning resolution.
So you notice as the building steps up
it gets smaller and smaller.
This is partially to maintain light
and air at the base of the building.
And this is some of these competing interests that exist
in downtown Manhattan.
This need, because the real estate is so
valuable to essentially multiply the lot as many times
as you can and charge as much rent, but then
the competing public interest to preserve the public realm
and make sure that we're not sacrificing the public realm
for very tall buildings.
And this is really one
of the more perfect art deco skyscrapers that does this.
The architect of this Ralph Walker
really made his name doing AT&T buildings
and there's several in Tribeca
which were buildings that were all
about technology in the optimism of the future.
And in One Wall Street, he's taken a lot of those motifs
and those stylized non historical, non-classical forms
and has translated them into a very tall office building.
You'll notice, unlike a more neoclassical building
that would've a base, middle, and a top, in this building
the the lines run straight
from the ground all the way up to the sky,
almost as if the building is disappearing into the sky.
If you look at the details of this building,
it's really extraordinary.
The windows in each of the tilted bays are all curved
which is something you don't really see.
It's a very kind of custom bespoke detailed.
When One Wall Street was built
it was an advertisement for the bank that built it.
And so this was the most valuable piece of
of real estate in the country.
And they bought this knowing
that they wanted to build a very tall building
and profess their stability, particularly
because this building was going on during the depression.
They chose to go on to show,
we are strong, we are solvent.
And so building a big building
during the depression was the ultimate mark
of confidence in the market and in the institutions.
So a very tall building
like this directly across from Trinity Church
which at the time was considered a very tall building.
This is really the triumph of finance over religion.
You can see this looming tall cascading spire
of commerce directly in an opposition
of Trinity Church across the street.
Right now we are in front of Trinity Church
at the head of Wall Street in the financial district.
This is actually the third Trinity Church that's existed
on this site.
The first one dated all the way back to 1698.
It's a gothic revival building.
Trinity Church has really had a history that's
mirrored a lot of the accumulation
of wealth in downtown Manhattan.
It's a interesting combination of, you think about
it's at the foot of our most famous financial center
Wall Street, but it's church and it's very American kind
of merging of the sacred and the financial.
And Trinity Church is really the perfect example of this.
I mean, as the church got wealthier, it grew
it continues to be one of the most important landlords
They granted a about 200 acres by Queen Anne
and 1705 and they still control a lot of that.
As Trinity Church goes, so does Wall Street.
When this was built, this was the tallest building
in the country for quite some time after it was built.
So you think about tall buildings, skyscrapers
and tall churches, it's kind of again this overlap
in this paradox of Wall Street.
Another interesting thing
about this site is you see the pyramid right there
that's actually Alexander Hamilton, really the father
of our financial system is actually buried here
at the head of Wall Street.
So it's just, kind of the perfect American finance
story here at Trinity Church.
So we are standing in front
of the Equitable building at 120 Broadway.
This is really the tall building that caused
the tall buildings that would follow.
If you think about the forces of finance
want you to multiply a floor as much
as possible and get as much rent as you can.
That's exactly what happened.
The building is essentially a rectangle
of the lot shot straight up.
When this was built people freaked out.
It was so tall, so scary
that the direct resultant of this building was what's known
as the 1916 zoning resolution.
The setbacks that were proposed
as part of the 1916 zoning resolution meant
that the building needed to get smaller
and smaller to, you know, make sure that
enough light gets the streets that people aren't stuck
in these dark canyons which is exactly what people
felt when this was built.
It's a fairly straightforward Bozart's building
just kind of multiplied on top of itself forever.
One of the interesting tidbits about this is that
the 1916 zoning resolution created the New York Department
of City Planning who's actually currently in this building.
So there's a little bit of full circleness going
on here where they created the zoning resolution
against the building but then they occupy the building
that their jobs created.
The Bozart style is really about classism.
The architects who were working
in that style we're looking back towards Paris.
They're looking back towards people like Vitruvius
and Alberti and these looks of order and classism.
And you can almost see a column in the building that's a
a very defined base, a shaft, and then a top and a cornis.
So the building both contains elements of classical
architecture and the classical orders of architecture.
But the building itself is also a representation of that
which is as tall buildings became a type
people were going back and forth
whether to apply historic forms and apply historic rules
for buildings to them or to invent something totally new.
And so this is in the more kind
of reactionary historicist model as opposed to
kind of the more inventive forms that came out of this.
So directly next door to the Equitable building
which created the 1916 zoning resolution
we see a more modern interpretation of a later zoning code
the 1961 zoning resolution in 140 Broadway.
And in that more updated zoning
new rules came into place rather
than just tapering it introduced bonusing for a plaza.
So this introduced these buildings rather
than a building going to the lot line and tapering
up the 1961 zoning resolution let you build taller
if you would give more of the space back to the public.
And so you see these towers on big plazas largely as a
as a game to play against zoning to get a little bit
more extra height through bonusing, create a plaza.
It's generally a privately owned public plaza.
So there are rules
it's not really a public space, but regardless
that still allowed the developer to build taller
than they ordinarily would, would've been able to do.
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