Monday, June 8, 2015

The Lost New York Herald Bldg -- Broadway and Ann Streets

photograph by E. & H.T. Anthony from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When James Gordon Bennett turned over the management of the his newspaper to his 25-year old son in 1866, the New York Herald had the highest circulation of any American paper.  Bennett’s success was due partly to his many innovations—adding illustrations in the form of woodcuts, and sensational coverage of the grisly murder of prostitute Helen Jewett in 1836, for instance.  Bennett managed to obtain the first exclusive one-on-one interview with a sitting President, Martin Van Buren.

In 1865 Bennett purchased the site of Barnum’s Museum at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street for a staggering $125,000—in the neighborhood of $1.85 million today.   Construction began in December on a magnificent marble and cast iron structure to house the newspaper.  It was completed in 1867, the year after the colorful and controversial James Gordon Bennett, Jr. took the reins.  The grand French Second Empire structure rose four floors to a monumental two-story mansard roof, pierced with ornate dormers and oculi and crested with decorative ironwork.

In a view from City Hall Park, the location of the Herald Building directly across from St. Paul's Chapel is evident.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1868 James D. McCabe, in his The Secrets of the Great City, described the sub-levels where the presses operated.  “Below the sidewalk are two immense cellars or vaults, one below the other, in which are two stem engines of thirty-five horse power each.  Three immense Hoe presses are kept running constantly from midnight until seven in the morning printing the daily edition.”

Bennett’s obsession with order was evident here.  “The room and machinery are kept in the most perfect order.  Nothing is allowed to be out of place, and the slightest speck of dirt visible in any part, calls forth a sharp rebuke from Mr. Bennett, who makes frequent visits to every department of the paper.”

At street level were the public offices.  “It is paved with marble tiles, and the desks, counters, racks, etc., are of solid black walnut, ornamented with plate glass.  Everything is scrupulously clean, and the room presents the appearance of some wealthy banking office.”

The third floor contained the editorial rooms and a “Council Room.”  Daily, at noon, Bennett assembled his twelve editors.  A list of subjects was discussed and topics for the next day's editorial columns were decided upon.

The composing rooms were located on the top floor, described by McCabe as “spacious, airy, and excellently lighted.”  The building was a hive of activity.  In addition to the twelve editors there were 35 reporters, “liberally paid for their services,” and 500 other employees throughout the building.

Like his father, Bennett was an innovator.  The modern building was equipped with a “vertical railroad,” a sort of over-sized dumbwaiter that hurried materials from the composing room to the press rooms.   A smaller “railway” moved packages throughout various parts of the building.  To facilitate communication, speaking tubes allowed associates throughout the structure to talk to one another.

A few months after the building opened, construction began on the Park Bank building next door.  At a time when viciously-competitive newspapers sought every opportunity to deride one another, the New-York Tribune took a shot at the Herald.

On October 8, 1867 it jibed, “The amiable Herald is in serious danger of losing its proverbial good temper because the Directors of the Park Bank are to have an edifice which will dwarf The Herald building.  With the most conspicuous site in New-York, Mr. Bennett ought to be content, even though his neighbor does erect by his side a more costly and imposing structure that his own.”

In fact, the architect of the Park Bank building took a page from the Bennett’s book, creating a French Second Empire pile that complimented, rather than detracted from, the New York Herald building.

The Park Bank building complimented the Herald building with its similar architecture -- Lights and Shadows of New York Life, 1872 (copyright expired)

When that slight did not work, the newspaper struck again.  On February 28, 1868 the Tribune completed, “Every costly, unmeaning, pretentious structure like the new Court-House, or The Herald building, or the new Park Bank, by the side of which even the Herald thing seems respectable, or Stewart’s house, or his up-town store, which, when finished, will look like an ill-made hoop-skirt—every one of these buildings puts back the day of honest and respectable, to say nothing of beautiful, building, for years, debauches the public taste, and discourages young [architecture] students from entering on the right way.”

Less prejudiced critics gave much more favorable reviews.  Miller’s New York As It Is gushed “The New York Herald building, on the corner of Ann Street and Broadway, is the most elegant building in the country from which any paper is issued.  It is built of white marble.  No person can pass up Broadway without noticing this magnificent edifice.”

Like his father, James Gordon Bennett Jr. aggressively persued the biggest scoops and the most sensational stories.  On March 21, 1871 he initiated what would be his most famous ploy.  Missionary David Livingstone was missing in Africa.  Bennett sent a telegram to Herald correspondent Henry Morton Stanley that read succinctly “Find Livingstone.  Yours, Bennett.”

from "Famous American Fortunes and the Men who have Made Them," 1885 (copyright expired)

Stanley set off for Africa.  Upon finding the doctor at Lake Tanganyika seven months later, Stanley’s proper Victorian greeting would be forever remembered.  “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

Laura Carter Holloway, in her 1885 book Famous American Fortunes and the Men who have Made Them chalked the expedition to find Livingstone as partly self-serving on Bennett’s part.  “Conceiving the idea, he ordered its execution with no hesitation regarding consequences or expense…The world was talking about Livingstone, speculating on his fate, placing him hopelessly in the long list of mysterious disappearances and martyrs to missionary zeal.  Bennett heard the talk, and deeming that the function of a newspaper was to provide news and for the solving of the people’s doubts regarding any solvable problem.”

In 1871 a young attorney, Charles J Guiteau arrived in New York from Chicago.   He later alleged that he had just $10 in his pocket at the time, but within the first year made $1,500 and $2,500 the second.   Then, in 1873, the Herald learned that a Cincinnati firm claimed Guiteau had absconded with $350.

According to The New York Times, “The Herald printed a report of G. Sandford’s remarks, embellishing them somewhat, perhaps, and giving them a flashy heading.”  In a letter to Bennett Guiteau claimed that since the “scandalous article” he had not had a single case.

He sued the New York Herald in 1874 for $100,000--then left town.  He reappeared in New York in 1881, a few months before he shot and killed President James A. Garfield.

James Gordon Bennett Jr. was now living most of the time abroad.  Always colorful and routinely controversial, he attended a New Year’s Day party hosted by his fiancée’s family in 1877.  When he urinated in the fireplace he put an end to both his engagement and his acceptance by Manhattan society.  He went into a self-imposed exile in Paris, sneaking back into New York now and then, making surprise visits to the Herald offices.

Then, in 1892 he made a shocking decision.  He would move the Herald offices from Newspaper Row far uptown to 35th Street and Broadway.  On April 17 that year The New York Times remarked “The New-York Herald Building, at Broadway, Park Row, and Ann Street, is in the market…Its sale will be one of the incidents of the proposed removal of the Herald up town.”

A year later the newspaper reported “During Mr. James Gordon Bennett’s absence abroad it began to be rumored about that the building and site were for sale, and gossip even fixed the price demanded at $1,250,000.  This sun, which looks large at first sight, does not seem so in view of the undoubted value of this fine piece of realty.  The corner is one of the busiest in Christendom, and past it sweeps a tremendous procession through most of the twenty-four hours.”

In 1893, when this shot was taken, the building was for sale.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

While the glorious new Herald building, designed by Stanford White, was rising on what would be named Herald Square, Bennett considered his options for the downtown property.  “One prominent real-estate man has suggested to Mr. Bennett the putting up of a novel twenty-story steel building, instead of a twelve or fifteen story one, and it may be that this kind o structure will yet grace the site.”

The last issue of the New York Herald was printed in the old building on August 19, 1893.  On May 24, 1894 its publisher had made up his mind regarding the old site.  The New York Times reported “it was stated yesterday that Mr. Bennett does not intend to build…It is understood that $1,250,000 is the price placed on [the property] by the owner.”

The St. Paul Building rose alongside the still-standing Park Bank.  -- from the collection of the Library of Congress
Less than a year later, in February 1895, the white marble Herald building was demolished.  In its place rose the 26-story St. Paul Building, designed by George  B. Post.  The skyscraper survived until the 1960s, when it was replaced by the Western Electric Building, or 222 Broadway.

photograph by Jim Henderson


  1. 22 Broadway? What a damn fugly building in a city that has many to compete with

  2. Meant to say 222 Broadway, my eyes were still hurting from viewing the replacement skyscraper

  3. One correction--222 Broadway dates from before the seventies. My grandfather worked in that building from the early sixties until 1975. One source on the web puts the completion of the building in 1961 which seems to make sense. Not exactly the most beautiful building, though it does have better angles.

    Love reading the detailed histories in your posts!