Another dramatic picture from Berenice Abbott’s “Changing New York” project, this one from 1936 and titled simply “Stone and William Streets.” That intersection is indeed where the photo was taken, and you can get a similar view today, since the two buildings that occupy most of the shot – 20 Exchange Place on the right, and 55 Wall Street on the left – are still there.
55 Wall Street was built in the 1840s as the Merchant’s Exchange, and doubled in size (from 4 to 8 stories) in 1910 to become the new headquarters of the National City Bank. That bank – now more familiar as Citibank – went through a lot of mergers in the twentieth century, as did pretty much all of the big banks. (Apropos of nothing, when the Chemical Bank and the Corn Exchange bank merged, the result was, for a time, known as the Chemical Corn Bank. Chemical’s name disappeared into a Chase Bank merger a couple of decades ago.) National City merged with the Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company in 1929, and 20 Exchange was built to house services formerly run by Farmers, along with a bunch of rental space as a money-making venture. Connecting the two buildings made some sense, since they were parts of the same business, although it’s hard to say how much more efficient it was for people to go to the eighth floor to use the bridge rather than just go down to the lobby and cross the street.
There are difficulties with skybridges like that, both physical and legal. The bridge has to be designed to safely move as the buildings move different amounts or in different directions. There are waterproofing issues where the bridge meets the facades exacerbated, again, by movement. But most importantly, the property owner owns the land under the buildings but not the land under the bridge. The city provides a “revokable consent” – a form of temporary easement – to the owner that allows them to construct something over the public street. I have no idea if consent if a skybridge has ever been revoked for reasons other than safety, forcing demolition, but I may have to review that topic at some time. In this case, the two buildings were sold to different owners and the bridge removed.
The cynical view of this is that the bridge allowed the bank to refer to both buildings by a Wall Street address.