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55 Liberty Street

Block 64 Lot 8

55 Liberty Street

55 Liberty Street

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the great skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan, this Gothic Revival-style tower was erected in 1910 and designed by Henry Ives Cobb.

Over the years its office tenants included the Sinclair Oil Company and a precursor of the accounting firm of Coopers Lybrand.

Its ornate English Gothic design was copied on a larger scale, with variations, three years later by Cass Gilbert for the famous Woolworth Building facing City Hall Park.

This 33-story tower rises without setbacks on is 60-by-80-foot plot, typical of the slender spire forms that made the city internationally famous in the early decades of the 20th Century but which were subsequently banned by new zoning that precluded such romantic and magnificent buildings.

After World War II, many office tenants were looking for large floors and the older towers fell a bit out of favor. In the 1960s and 1970s, an exodus of commercial tenants from Lower Manhattan to midtown and to the suburbs threatened the viability of many downtown properties.

In 1979, Joseph Pell Lombardi, an architect, converted this building to a cooperative residential building with 87 apartments. It has a spectacular location that is adjacent to the great former Chamber of Commerce building, a landmark, and across the street from two of Lower Manhattan's most impressive modern towers, 140 Broad and the Chase Manhattan Plaza tower and the monumental Federal Reserve Bank of New York building.

Lombardi's project, which was done with very high preservation standards, was the first major such conversion in Lower Manhattan. The next year Martin J. Raynes converted the very handsome, red, 11-story Potter Building on Park Row facing City Hall Park, but it would be another 15 years or so before many more similar conversions of older office buildings downtown would take place.

Lombardi's conversion subdivided almost every floor differently with a wide variety of layouts of simplexes, duplexes and triplexes, which were left "raw" for the new residents to adapt themselves. He converted the former boardroom and dining room of the Sinclair Oil Company into an apartment for himself.

Andrew Alpern discusses this superb building in his excellent book, "Luxury Apartment houses of Manhattan," (Dover Publications, Inc., 1992):

"The decorative treatment at the Liberty Street entrance establishes the design theme and extends upward to the fourth floor. Flanked by crocketed and pinnacled spires and surmounted by a glazed Tudor arch, the entry doors give onto a Gothic vaulted lobby finished in a marble complementary to the exterior terracotta. The upstairs corridors carry through the marble wainscoting, with bronze trim....Original prices for the raw units ranged from $57,000 for a 720-square-foot flat on the twenty-fourth floor (with a maintenance of $507 per month) to $225,000 for the entire twenty-ninth floor (monthly maintenance at $20002). The four garret triplexes carried prices from $179,000 to $225,000."

The building has a doorman and is close to subways. There is excellent shopping in the vicinity. The building has no garage, no health club and no sidewalk landscaping. City Hall Park and the Trinity Church cemetery are nearby.

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