by Don Friedman on March 13, 2017

Those two buildings – the tall one getting some facade repair and the shorter one to its right – look suspiciously alike. As a matter of fact, they look like they’re connected by an arch at the third floor level and a one-story stub at the first floor. The answer helps explain the economic context of the development of early skyscrapers.

The building on the right ay 17 Battery Place is known as the Whitehall Building*, was designed by Henry Hardenburgh, who is most famous for his residential work at the Dakota and the Plaza Hotel, and was built in 1904. Hardenburgh is something of a mystery these days because, unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t write much for public consumption. It was a speculative office building designed to take advantage of the south-facing views over Battery Park and the harbor.**

The building was a success and a few years later the owners decided to build an extension, which is the building on the left. That was designed by the firm of Clinton & Russell, who were arguably the most important office-building architects in New York in the early-skyscraper era. They kept a lot of Hardenburgh’s design elements***, giving the new building a similar appearance to the old. The buildings are awkwardly connected, with a few turns and long hallways past the elevators necessary to get from one to the other, so that occupying a full floor in both is functionally not that different from occupying two floors in a smaller building.

Behind the two buildings in my photo is 2 Washington Street, a glass-curtain-walled building constructed in the 1970s and, for some reason, known as 17 Battery Place North. I don’t think it’s really connected to the older buildings, although I could be wrong. If it is, I guess it was the long-delayed second expansion of the original. In any case, here’s Hardenburgh’s work, in splendid isolation, around 1904:

* Which is a bit odd, as it’s three blocks from Whitehall Street.

** I worked on some facade repairs there in the mid-90s and, even though it’s got a steel skeleton frame, it’s also got very thick brick walls.

*** One could argue they kept the most boring design elements of Hardenburgh’s.

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