Adaptive Reuse

by Don Friedman on December 12, 2016

That looks a little strange. Usually, strangeness means an interesting story, and that is true here.

I took this picture in the drug store at the base of 100 Broadway, across the street from our office. I was on the mezzanine, which is the second floor of the building as a whole, but which is only a partial floor within the retail space. The store is generally modern and bland, but retains the original ornate plaster ceiling and the marble finish on the four large columns that run through the double-height space.

100 Broadway was built as the headquarters of the American Surety Company. While not the tallest building in the city when it was completed in 1896, and not the first to use a steel skeleton frame, it was one of the first to show the implications of tall skeleton frame buildings: it had ornate facades on all four sides and was intended to be seen as a free-standing tower, rather than a block.

Most of the upper floors were intended as rental space, and the Surety Company used the first floor as its sales location for bonds. Hence the ornate American Renaissance style of the retail space, which is what was expected of a financial-services company at that time. The fact that the marble columns and plaster ceiling were hiding modern structure – a steel frame and terra-cotta tile-arch floors – was unimportant.

The exterior of the building is a designated landmark, the interior is not. Ironically, the remnants of the old banking hall are protected not by landmarking but by zoning: the building is overbuilt by modern zoning, as are most pre-1916 skyscrapers in New York. Converting the mezzanine to a full second floor would significantly increase the building’s floor area and therefore would increase the noncompliance with zoning. So if the open space has to stay, there’s no incentive to destroy the ornate finishes. From my perspective, a win is a win.

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