|photo by paperboy1005--notfortourists.com|
Trapped, Stoddard inched his way along the Observer sign on the outside wall to an adjoining building. Two other men dropped from a signboard at the fourth story and were caught by firefighters. But before the fire was extinguished, twelve people were dead and the building gutted at a cost of $400,000.
The flames had engulfed the structure so quickly that the Fireman’s Herald wrote that the building “made itself notorious the country over for burning up in the shortest time on record,” and its wealthy owner, Orlando Bronson Potter, was brought before a grand jury.
Potter immediately set forth to rebuild. He commissioned architect Norris Garshom Starkweather, whose offices had been in the burnt-out building, to design its replacement. Within two weeks of the fire Potter announced he would build the largest office building in New York and it would be “absolutely fireproof inside as well as outside.”
Estimated to cost $700,000 it would be constructed of “the best bricks, pressed bricks, terra cotta, and iron,” according to The New York Times. “The roof and floor beams will be of rolled iron, and all floors, except the basement, will be laid on iron girders.”
Ground was broken in April 1883 for the eleven-story building. For the first time in New York the hidden structural steel was fireproofed by ornate terra cotta. The Fireman’s Herald praised the effort, saying “the new structure will be famous as the result of much thought and many experiments in order to put up an ideal fireproof building, and it will endure for ages.”
Construction was not without its problems, however.
In 1884, with construction well underway, the Hugh W. Adams & Co. pig iron merchants went bankrupt. “The failure is the result of the individual embarrassment of Mr. Adams in undertaking to carry out the iron work for the new potter Building,” reported The Times. That same year the bricklayers’ union struck and a year later the painters and carpenters working on the building went on strike, further slowing progress.
By the middle of 1885 the cost of construction had risen to $1.2 million – an astronomical amount at the time. Finally, in June 1886, the building was complete.
|Street car tracks run down the middle of the streets and horse-drawn drays line Park Row near the newly-completed Potter Building -- photo NYPL Collection|
|The Potter Building in 1895 - King's Photographic Views of New York|
|The Press occupies the first floor in 1895 -- King's Photographic Views of New Yor|
|"Newspaper Row" in 1936 with the Potter Building at far right -- photo NYPL Collection|
In April of 1929 A. M. Bing & Co. purchased the building, however it was taken over in foreclosure by the Seamen’s Bank for Savings in 1941 for $500,000. A year after the Federal Public Housing Authority leased one and a half floors in 1944, a syndicate headed by Borrok, Steingart Borrok bought the building for $775,000.
In the socially-turbulent 1960s the Potter Building was home to the Congress of Racial Equality.
A century after the Potter Building was a major member of Newspaper Row a two-year conversion to residential use was begun in 1979.
In designating it a landmark, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission praised “some of the handsomest brickwork in New York City” and gratefully noted that “its original design is nearly intact.”