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The Trigger

New York’s first zoning law, which went into effect in 1916, wasn’t caused by any single building. However, there are a few buildings you can point to that caused alarm. They were used as examples of what would happen if there were no controls on skyscraper development.

The photo above shows OSE’s old home at 111 Broadway on the right, across Thames Street from its fraternal twin, 115 Broadway, as seen looking east from Trinity Place. Thames ends at Broadway, and the 1915 Equitable Building is on the far side of Broadway. Equitable has a floor-area ratio of about 38, the highest I know of in New York; 111 and 115 both have FARs around 22, which is still higher than modern zoning allows.

The picture above shows what the proponents of regulating building height and bulk were afraid of. most of the similar conditions are gone, removed by redevelopment after 1916. But Thames and Pine Streets next to Broadway remain, showing us the trigger for change.