The Tallest In The World, Times Two

by Don Friedman on February 22, 2016

I previously mentioned our work at the Park Row Building, but the one picture I attached didn’t really do justice to the topic. This, on the other hand, shows off the building at its best:

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You may ask, what is that remarkably beautiful thing? That’s where a lot of our work, led by Ryan Cleary, is located – the elevator machine room. From right to left, you’re seeing the top of the Woolworth Building covered in scaffolding, the tiny green copper dome at the top of the north cupola of the Park Row Building, the top of the new 30 Park Place, the top of the newish 10 Barclay Street, a good chunk of the south cupola of the Park Row Building, a cooling tower for the Park Row Building, and some other tall building. The brick and stucco thing in front of all of that architecture is the elevator bulkhead for the Park Row Building.

The bulkhead was expanded at least once. Structural engineering wasn’t the only technology that had to advance for the brand new skyscrapers of the 1890s. There were changes to mechanical systems such as plumbing and, most importantly, elevators. No one wants a 390-foot high walk-up. Park Row was built at the tail end of the era when people thought it was a good idea to have a bunch of elevators with small cabs clustered in a semi-circle; and those elevators have been changed quite a bit in the years since. I’m not certain, but I believe the squared-off stucco corner on the right is an alteration.

On the structural investigation front, some new brick running in a diagonal upper left to lower right on the bottom (brick) part of the bulkhead shows where a steel diagonal brace was repaired.

I recently poked fun at a fancy-for-its-location design that was aesthetically damaged by the installation of needed infrastructure. This problem exists at all scales – if the elevator bulkhead were a prominent part of the visual image of the building, Park Row would be known as “the old skyscraper with a bunker on its head.” As it happens, it’s not. The bulkhead is impossible to see from the front (from City Hall Park or Broadway, and visible as a minor bump from the side, along Park Row:

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This second picture does point up an entirely different aesthetic problem. When you’re designing a building taller than everything around it, it doesn’t make much sense to treat your side lot-line walls as invisible, because they are not. A good deal of thought went into the street facades of Park Row, but none went into the unornamented common-brick side facades, which make up more than half of the visible portion of the building.

One last aesthetic comment and I’ll let the topic go. The fancy red brick and terra-cotta building to the left is the Potter Building. The new tower nearly completion seen above the Potter Building is the new Beekman Hotel, which is attached to Temple Court, which is being converted to be the public rooms of the hotel. Temple Court has two towers on its front, and the small hip-roof turrets on the new building are a faint echo.

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