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An Afternoon View

Trinity Church and its surroundings, between 1915 and 1920. The big buildings facing Trinity are, from the left, our old home at 111 Broadway (with its stubby tower on the right), the new Equitable Building (120 Broadway) showing why zoning was needed, American Surety (100 Broadway) in front of Equitable, and the stepped pyramid of Bankers Trust at 14 Wall Street. On the far upper left we have what appears to be the top of the Singer Building looking closer and smaller than it actually was; on the far right we have the old 1 Wall Street (AKA “the chimney building” because of its extreme slenderness); and what looks like confetti in the church yard is, of course, the grave markers.

The shadows show the sunlight coming from the southwest – look at 111’s shadow on Equitable, for example – so it’s the afternoon. We’re at about the tenth floor level, about 100 feet above grade – and the building we’re in is casting a shadow over Trinity, so we pretty much have to be looking out a window of 2 Rector Street. This all looks very solid and permanent but that’s not really true. The big buildings were all less than twenty years old when this picture was taken, and more changes were coming in the near future. The low building just to the right of American Surety, and a similar low building to its east, would soon be demolished for a wrap-around addition, L-shaped in plan, that would keep the basic appearance of the building but make it wider and deeper. The old 2 Wall Street, just visible behind Trinity’s spire with a high peaked roof and dormers, would be demolished for a newer and bigger building, just as the Chimney would be demolished for Irving Trust. The Hanover Bank Building, just to the left of Bankers Trust, and the low building between Bankers Trust and 2 Wall, would be demolished and replaced by the Bankers Trust Annex. The big got bigger by the early 1930s.

Trinity and the small buildings are all masonry-bearing-wall structures; the big buildings here are all steel-framed. That was not inevitable, as there were steel-framed gothic churches (for example, Riverside Church) and bearing-wall buildings the size of American Surety (for example, the World Building) also built. But that is the way that the changes in technology went, and it’s why people of that era, about 100 years ago, associated steel framing with modernity in building design.