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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • BRITISH COLUMBIA VACATION-LAND: 1950s

Too Tall to Fail: 1931

Too Tall to Fail: 1931

New York, 1931. "City Bank-Farmers Trust Building, William & Beaver streets." 11x13 gelatin silver print by Irving Underhill. View full size.

 

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My mid-90's playground

In the mid 1990s I worked a few blocks from this building. During many a lunchtime I used to sneak by the doorman and take the elevator to one of the top floors, where you could access an outside set of stairs to get onto the roof. And let me tell you, even in the mid 1990s it was a spectacular view. Interesting to think what you could get away with in those more "innocent" days before 9/11/2001 - all I really had to worry about was a possible admonishment from a building employee - nowadays they would probably call the SWAT team on me!

Today this building, like many other classic office buildings in downtown Manhattan, has been turned into luxury apartments.

An Impressive Feat of Photography and Architecture

What a beautiful view of a building that is extremely difficult to photograph! The two banking companies in the building's name were merged in 1929; today they form the nucleus of Citibank. The building sits amidst a veritable forest of skyscrapers in Downtown Manhattan, on a site that completely fills its narrow triangular block. The architects, Cross and Cross, crafted an ingenious plan to fit the unusual site. The 741-foot tall building, originally planned to be 100 feet taller (and thus the tallest in the world), turned out to be the 4th tallest in Manhattan when it was completed in February 1931. The completion of the Empire State Building a few months later reduced it to 5th place. The three main entrances at the building's base feature some magnificent Art Deco ornament in nickel silver, and the building's exterior qualifies as the tallest stone-clad building in the world. The building was used extensively in Spike Lee's 2006 thriller about a bank robbery, "Inside Man." Incidentally, the tall building at the left-hand edge of the frame is the 927-foot high Bank of the Manhattan Company Building at 40 Wall Street (now called the Trump Building), another losing contestant in the world's tallest building competition of the late 1920s.

Make Way

This image appears to have been taken from the crow's nest of a ship run aground in lower Manhattan.

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