Saturday, July 28, 2012

Henry Ives Cobb's 1903 No. 42 Broadway

photo by Alice Lum
By 1902 Henry Ives Cobb had established himself as one of the foremost architects in Chicago.  His Romanesque, Gothic and Shingle style works had prompted Montgomery Schuyler to comment that he worked “in styles.”    He pioneered steel-framed construction with his 1889 Ownes Building and designed multiple structures for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

But 1902 would mark a major change in the life and career of Henry Ives Cobb.  That year he moved from the Midwest to New York City.  With money fronted by the construction firm, George A. Fuller Company, Cobb formed the Forty-two Broadway Company and proceeded to build a skyscraper.

The old structures at the lower end of Broadway, nos. 36 through 42, were demolished and in July Building Age noted that “an important building improvement in the financial district of this city is a 20-story structure to be erected…running through to New Street.”  The $2.25 million structure was forecast to be completed by May of the following year.

A 1903 postcard clearly shows the banded columns of the portico and Cobb's intricate decoration above.
When the 21-story, 243-foot tall building was completed it was one of the largest office buildings in Lower Manhattan.  Cobb’s skyscraper sat on two floors of rusticated stone.  The rustication blended into the third floor, then slowly melted away, becoming quoins along the upper piers.  The top-most floors were ornamented with lavish terra cotta decoration manufactured by the Excelsior Terra Cotta Company. 

The elaborate terra cotta detailing of the upper floors.  photo Architectural Record, January 1906 (copyright expired)
But it was the six-story treatment of the façade above the entrance that was most remarkable.  Called at the time “Jacobethan,” the ornament hinted at the stepped gables of the houses and halls that had lined Broadway in Dutch Colonial days.   The pyramidal lines created a refreshing contrast to the regimented grid of horizontal and vertical lines.

Six floors of ornate decoration above the entrance suggested the stepped gables of early Dutch architecture -- photo by Alice Lum
Cobb immediately installed his office in the new building and, perhaps through his influence, many of the earliest tenants were related to the construction industry.    The Concrete Steel Company, manufacturers of steel and wire products; the Industrial Paint and Roofing Company; the American Bridge Co. of New York; and the American Steel Foundries, among them. 

Also here were steamship firms:  the Cosmopolitan Shipping Company, agents for the Cosmopolitan Line which sailed to France and Holland; the Union Transport Company; and the Anglo-Oriental Shipping Co., Inc.; and the E. M. Ferm & Co. were all in the building.

photo by Alice Lum
On New Year’s Day in 1911 The New York Times reported on the sale of No. 42 Broadway; one that would grab the attention of real estate investors city-wide.    The New York Real Estate Security Company of No. 7 Pine Street paid Henry Ives Cobb and his partners the staggering sum of $7.5 million for the building.   The price, which averaged $341 per square foot, was the fourth highest sum ever paid for New York property to date.

By now more and more financial firms were moving in—stock brokerage houses, mortgage concerns and insurance companies.    The new owners joined them, establishing what The Sun referred to as “elaborate offices.”  Within two years of the purchase, however, the firm was in trouble.

In 1913 the New York Real Estate Security Company borrowed $450,000 from the Carnegie Trust Company.  Two weeks later it declared bankruptcy, much to the displeasure of Carnegie Trust.   No. 42 would change hands rapidly over the next few years.

In 1904 when Irving Underhill captured No. 42 Broadway, it was still the highest structure in the area -- photo Library of Congress.
In December 1916 Kennedy, Mitchell & Co., Inc. purchased the building, only to sell it the following August to the Lower Broadway Realty Company.  Four years later that company would sell it for $6 million—a million dollars less than Henry Cobb had received in 1911—to the Standard Oil Company.

A rash of small burglaries baffled police in 1927.   When office workers arrived in the morning, they often found cash missing.   In March two detectives, McGann and McIver, who worked out of the Old Slip Station hid in the building for several nights and waited.

Finally the thief appeared.  16-year old high school student Morris Ray of Brooklyn slipped into the office of David Siegel, former Assistant United States Attorney, and pocketed $20.  It was the end of his criminal career.

The boy, who worked as a nighttime messenger for the Radio Corporation of America at No. 64 Broad Street, pleaded guilty in the Tombs Court and was held without bail.

Real estate operator Frederick Brown made a profitable investment when he bought the building in May 1929 for $8 million.  At the time the annual rental income was around $1 million.  Brown held the property for a little over a week then sold it to Manhattan Properties, Inc. earning himself a quick $1 million profit.

William Backer, president of Manhattan Properties, most likely regretted the expensive investment when the Stock Market crashed a few months later.  In 1934 the building was sold at foreclosure auction, and then on September 29, 1938 it was auctioned in foreclosure again.  This time Alvin Untermyer bought No. 42 Broadway for just under $4 million, adding one more curve to the roller-coaster graph of the property’s resale amounts.

In the meantime, the 22nd floor became home to 42 Broadway Gymnasium, Inc. in January 1931.  High above Broadway indoor squash racquets courts were installed and the 42 Broadway Club was soon competing in tennis tournaments.   In the late 1930s and early 1940s, member Stanley Galowin became a star of the sport, along with his long-time partner Joe Wiener.  Galowin won several state single championships and the pair repeatedly took the doubles title.

After many years as the ground floor tenant, stock brokerage firm J. S. Bache Co., left in 1942, to be replaced in December of that year by the Clark-Robinson Corporation, dealers in first mortgages.  A little over a decade later, in 1957, the New York Produce Exchange moved its operations to the building.

At some point in the latter part of the 20th century a misguided modernization ripped off Henry Ives Cobb’s distinctive banded-columned portico to be replaced by shiny slabs of polished black granite.   The surviving carved arch, without its corresponding triple arched entranceway, looks sadly anachronistic and out of place.
The sole remaining elements of Cobb's entrance--this arch with its spandrels and brackets--hover awkwardly from behind a brutish granite veneer -- photo by Alice Lum
Thankfully, the wonderful ornamentation above remains; among the most interesting decorative treatment of early 20th century facades in the Financial District and most often not noticed at all.

many thanks to reader Marlon Bunck for requesting this post.


  1. The article doesnt mention whether the elaborate terra-cotta and cornice details are extant or have been removed or edited down?

  2. I believe the portico with its banded columns was likely removed in the early 1910s, when the city was clearing obstructions from sidewalks. You can see in the 1904 photo reproduced above that the portico extends outward from the building line into what would have been the public right-of-way. The city was very aggressively trying to reclaim this space in 1911-1912.

    This photograph from 1926 shows the building without the columns, but also without the black granite, which must have been added after World War II:

  3. I work in this building, and have been going into it regularly since this past summer. However its architectural condition (and I'll bet the black marble panels hide some nice stone), it's one of the busiest places I've ever seen. The back entrance, on New Street, is a whole long stairway lower than the lobby. It's probably tough enough to be used as a fortress.

  4. Does anyone want or have information On :Decoppet & Doremus. They are an Oddlot Broker and tenant 1920's to 1950's of 42 Broadway NYC

  5. Do you know the name of the building that was demolished at 40-42 Broadway at the turn of the century? I have a photo but can't make out the name. There is a sign on the building "Baltic Lloyd Company." The photo can be found at[Broadway%20(General)%20to%20Broadway%20and%20Exchange%20Place.]-24U39Y72B14.HTML

    1. It was called the Commercial Building, although the pediment read "Cowl Engine Building."