You never really think of Broadway having a beginning or ending. It’s the oldest north-south thoroughfare in NYC, and is derived from a Native American trail, the Wickquasgeck, which once carved through the swamps and rocks of the island. The avenue passes through so many important hubs of New York life that the idea of it actually terminating somewhere seems almost unnatural.
And yet, as we all know, one of its ends (actually the beginning) can be found down in southern Manhattan’s Bowling Green. And marking the beginning, this is the building that proudly bears the address: 1 Broadway.
One Broadway is a fascinating building with a long history. If you were standing on this site in 1776, you would’ve found a mansion belonging to General Israel Putnam, which was once used as headquarters by George Washington during the war.
The house was converted into the Washington Hotel, and then was later torn down in 1882 to make way for the 10-story Washington Building. The new structure was built of red brick, with brownstone detailing and multipaned windows in wooden frames. At 258 feet high, it dominated the New York skyline at the time.
This leads to a curious situation – the Washington Building was never torn down, yet the structure in the above picture certainly features no red brick or brownstone detailing. How is this possible? In 1919, new tenants the International Mercantile Marine Company, a shipping firm with 120 vessels, chose the site for its new headquarters. To save on construction costs, they decided to renovate rather than rebuild, and the entire facade was covered in limestone, simply covering over the original brickwork.
In other words, there is a building beneath the surface of this building, and it apparently still exists. In 1992, during a $2 Million facade restoration project, some of the original brick and brownstone was briefly revealed as crumbling limestone was removed and replaced.
The lower levels feature some great detail inspired by the shipping company. The first floor was originally a booking office for the company’s cruise line, and the doors still have First Class and Cabin Class designations (not sure if this was actually used in practice or just a cute design aspect):
Also, whether or not you have a Citibank account, make sure to check out the lobby at some point – it still retains much of the old office, including antique maps and towering ceilings.
But what I really love above about this building are the mosaic seals from ports around the world lining the second story. They’re difficult to appreciate from the street, but each is beautifully rendered in colorful and sparkling tiles. I started taking pictures of my favorites, and then thought, what the hell, why not shoot them all? So here is a gallery of One Broadway’s stunning port seals. Enjoy! (And uh, can we all agree that New York’s is essentially the lamest?).
-New York Times: Streetscapes – 1 Broadway
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