Friday, June 14, 2024

Lafayette A. Goldstone's 1930 19 Rector Street (88 Greenwich Street)


photo by ZeligJr

In 1929, months before the Stock Market crash that would usher in the Great Depression, the Gening Realty Corporation broke ground for what was intended to be a 40-story office building at the southwest corner of Rector and Greenwich Streets.  Gening Realty Corporation was described as a "syndicate representing the General Realty & Utilities Company and A. M. Bing & Son."  On March 11, 1930, the New York Sun reported that General Realty & Utilities had financed a $3.35 million building loan for the project--a significant $61 million in 2024.

The article noted, "The forty-story building under construction at 19 Rector street [is] from plans by Lafayette A. Goldstone."  Goldstone had dissolved his partnership with William L. Rouse in 1926.  The highly successful firm of Rouse & Goldstone had designed dozens of substantial Manhattan buildings, most of them apartment houses.

By the time construction was completed later that year, the plans had been scaled back to 35 floors of offices and a penthouse apartment.  (In 1936, the penthouse was converted to offices, as well.)  Goldstone's Art Deco skyscraper was clad in beige brick above a two-story limestone base.  Numerous asymmetrical setbacks at the upper levels provided several terraces.

The two-story base, see here in 1939, is only moderately changed today.  photo from the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection of the Library of Congress

Despite the ongoing Depression, the offices filled with tenants.  Louis W. Abrons, the president of General Realty & Utilities Corporation, told the New York Sun in May 1933, "It is interesting to note that the leading applicants for space comprise, in addition to members of the Stock Exchange and Curb Exchange, accountants and firms associated with railroads and steamship lines."  

Typical was the brokerage firm John L. Morgenthau & Co.  It was headed by millionaire John L. Morgenthau, the nephew of former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau.  The firm had its offices in the building as early as 1932.  Among the few tenants not involved with brokerage or shipping were the Reynolds Metals Company and Dobbins-Trinity Coal, Inc.  In 1938 the Waterman Steamship Agency, Ltd. leased the entire 19th floor.  

Engineers with The H. K. Ferguson Company work at drafting tables in 1947 (top), while clerical workers occupy the mid-century equivalent of work cubicles.  The firm, which had branch offices in Cleveland and Houston, was industrial engineers and builders.  photo from the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection of the Library of Congress

The tenant list became more diverse after mid-century.  The 1950s continued to see shipping related firms like the American Railway Institute and the Pearl Assurance Company here.  But the Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company occupied offices by 1951, and in 1959 Wood & Selick Coconut Co., Inc. and the Camp Fire Club of America were tenants.

By 1960, a major tenant was the New York Telephone Company.  Among its employees was chief telephone investigator Harold A. McElroy.  Among his responsibilities was performing court ordered wiretaps on suspected criminals.  

Late in 1961, McElroy was visited by Police Captain Anthony Obremski, who, according to McElroy, "identified himself as the new commander of the Third Division (Midtown)" and asked for his cooperation.  He told McElroy, "the third Division had a fund to compensate those who gave the police valuable information and that Mr. McElroy would get $100 a month," as reported by The New York Times.

Obremski telephoned McElroy "from time to time," who then supplied him with confidential information obtained through wiretaps.  Once a month a plainclothes officer would meet McElroy in the hallways of 19 Rector Street to slip him his $100.  He told investigators later, as reported by The New York Times, "he had not regarded the payoffs as bribes.  He said he had not reported them on his income tax forms because he looked upon them as gratuities, for helping the police cut corners."

In fact, Obremski was misusing the information being collected for legitimate NYPD investigations.  He was later arrested and charged with using "information about wiretaps to protect bookmakers who were paying graft and to shake down others," said The New York Times on August 11, 1964.  McElroy was suspended from his job but avoided prosecution by testifying.

In 1972 the West Side Highway Project moved into offices on the sixth floor here.  On April 23, The New York Times said, "An unusual amalgam of city, state and private talent is quietly at work here, drawing up plans for a new West Side Highway."  The planners were "quiet," said the article, "because opposition to some earlier proposals has been fierce."

Two years later, on March 26, 1974, The New York Times reported, "Despite protests from community planners, key state and city officials appeared ready yesterday to press for Federal designation of the entire Hudson shore corridor from the Battery to the George Washington Bridge as an interstate expressway route."  The project included replacing the "dilapidated elevated highway," and was the first step in the massive redevelopment of the Hudson riverfront.

In 1997, 19 Rector Street was purchased by Greystone Management.  On the evening of December 23, it "brought its own nonunion workers to the building," reported The New York Times.  "When the regular maintenance crew showed up a few hours later, they found that their jobs had been eliminated."  The 25 workers, some who had worked in the building for more than two decades, found themselves unemployed two days before Christmas.  The article continued, "The displaced workers said Greystone offered them applications for jobs with no sick time, virtually no benefits and lower wages--$8 an hour, compared with $15."

Importantly, the article mentioned, "The 37-story [sic] Art Deco building, built in the 1920's [sic], reportedly will be gutted and turned into condominiums."  Two years later, on November 21, 1999, the newspaper began an article saying, "Just when it seemed there couldn't be another conversion from office to residential in the Financial District, developers announced that a former office tower, an Art Deco skyscraper at 88 Greenwich Street, is being turned into rental apartments."  For some reason, the developers, The World-Wide Group, had decided to change the address.

The article said they, "are gutting the 38-story [sic] building at Rector Street, making 461 apartments."  Costing $100 million, the reconstruction actually resulted in 452 units.

A year after the building's opening, the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001.  Residents were faced with health hazards, difficulty in access to the building, and curtailed services.  On October 1, the tenants voted to go on a rent strike, "demanding break [sic] leases and to get reduced rents," reported The New York Times.  A class-action suit was proposed, based not only on the health and services concerns, but "on emotional issues."  A lawyer for tenant David Frazer told the reporter, "I want that mother who called with kids whose window looks out over the disaster site.  I want to put her before the judge."

In 2006 the building was converted to condominiums, called Greenwich Club.  Its residents would face another disaster in October 2012--Hurricane Sandy.  According to The New York Times, the storm's floodwaters, "dislodged an oil tank, which hit a ceiling beam and cracked open, necessitating a major cleanup."  In reporting on the downtown damages on December 5, MetroNews said the building "may not be habitable for months."

At least one resident, Jonathan Stark, went to court, filing a $35 million lawsuit in November.  The New York Times reported he accused "the board and managers of failing to safeguard the building against floods they knew were coming, then blocked residents' attempts to file insurance claims.  Managers have told residents they could not return for four months."  Repairs were eventually completed and the building reopened in January 2013.

In June 2016, the 9/11 Tribute Center moved into the ground floor of 88 Greenwich Street.  It had been located at 120 Liberty Street since 2006.

photograph by Tdorante10

Having survived a three devastating events--a depression, a terrorist attack, and a natural disaster--Lafayette A. Goldstone's Art Deco skyscraper survives nearly unchanged externally.

many thanks to author and reader Laurie Gwen Shapiro for requesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

1 comment:

  1. Laurie Gwen ShapiroJune 15, 2024 at 10:59 PM

    Very excited to see this! Thank you!