By Carter B. Horsley
When it was completed in 1899, this 391-foot-high
building was the tallest office building in the world, a title
it retained until 1908 when the 612-foot-high Singer Building
nearby on Broadway took away the title.
It was designed by Robert Henderson Robertson
and was developed by William Mills Ivins, a former judge advocate
general for New York State and in its first year of operation
it was acquired by August Belmont Jr., who located the first headquarters
of the Interborough Rapid Transit subway in the building.
According to greatgridlock.net, another early
tenant was the Associated Press and originally, the 29-storey
building "incorporated 950 offices
and the main façade,
clad in limestone, has its center part recessed - more prominently
at the top six floors of the mass - and horizontally divided as
the rows of pilasters between windows terminal at ornamental ledges
The building also has some balconies, two four-storey
cupolas topped by "smaller, copper-clad lanterns with caryatids,"
facing City Hall Park and four sculptures of women on its base.
The building has two light courts and 24 corners.
The building was designated as a landmark in
1999 and was converted in 2002 into a mixed-use building. The
residential conversion by H. Thomas O'Hara turned 15 floors into
210 rental apartments and a health club. The building's lower
floors are occupied mostly by J & R, the famous discount electronics
store that occupies most of the retail frontage between Beekman
and Vesey Streets facing City Hall Park.
According to greatgridlock.net, "The main entrance is framed
in a black marble portal. The lobby has its original marble walls,
checkered floor and coffered ceiling, along with the old passenger
elevators, arranged in an arc and tapering accordingly. However,
of the nine originals, two were removed in the residential floors
to make room for laundry rooms and waste chutes."
The building has a 24-hour attended, Beaux
Arts lobby, laundry facilities on every floor and apartments have
high ceilings and large windows and pass-through kitchens with
Golden Peach granite countertops and white wood cabinetry and
In his March 12, 2000 "Streetscapes"
column in The New York Times Christopher Gray said of the
building that "it's still a gawky-looking thing, but the
landmark 29-story Park Row Building...has nowhere near the impact
in did in 1999, when it signaled New Yorkers that tall-building
construction was running unchecked."
"In the 1890s," Mr. Gray continued,
"advances in steel-frame construction opened up new opportunities
for developers. The height of buildings had been restricted by
the limits of bearing-wall construction - those more than eight
stories or so had impossibly thick walls on the lower floors.
But steel frames meant that the only limits were elevator service.
(There were no height restrictions for commercial buildings until
1916, when a zoning resolution was passed.) The mid 1890s saw
buildings getting taller and taller. Civic organizations protested
that they were unsafe, that they blocked light and that they defaced
the city. Early in 1896 the Chamber of Commerce announced its
opposition to skyscrapers....In an 1899 article, the building's
architect, Robert H. Robertson, wrote that he had tried to make
the building 'look less than its real height.' He had designed
the façade, he wrote, so that the floors appeared to be
in groups of four or five, and he had added heavy horizontal forms....Architectural
critics were not impressed. In 1898 The Real Estate Record
and Guide lamented that 'New York is the only city in which
such a monster would be allowed to rear itself.' The Record
and Guide called the cupolas 'ineffectual and insignificant'
and said that the huge blank side walls were 'absolutely inexpressive
In 1929, Clinton & Russell redesigned the
lower floors of the building to attract new tenants and Mr. Gray
noted that "much of the heavy stonework was replaced with
The building has spectacular views, especially
of the great Woolworth Building right across City Hall Park and
there is excellent public transportation and the Manhattan pedestrian
entrance Brooklyn Bridge is just over a block away.
The building also has the address of 13 Ann
Street and 3 Theater Alley.
While the building's cupolas are a bit too
small to make up for the loss of the "twin towers" of
the destroyed World Trade Center, and not graceful enough to take
credit for the romantic twin towered residential palaces of Central
Park West, they are highly visible reminders of the great glories
of Lower Manhattan's pre-One Chase Manhattan Plaza skyline when
topping buildings was a bubbly affair, not a flat glass of champagne.