5.12. AFTER THE SECOND EMPIRE: THE RETURN OF THE PALAZZO BOX

James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1877. (Cincinnati, The Queen City, 1901)

The Depression had brought on an increased awareness of cost as seen in the shedding of towers and of tall Mansard roofs in favor of a flat-roofed brick box.  The elimination of the Mansard roof at this time was not coincidental, as the Second Empire had just recently been defeated by the Prussians and had been replaced in France with the Third Republic.  Apparently, the more pragmatic aesthetic of the Renaissance or Italianate palazzo was deemed more appropriate for New York’s office buildings during the poor economic conditions of 1874-79 than was the overly-ornate style of the Second Empire.  

C. F. Mengelson, New York Evening Post, New York, 1875. (Landau and Condit, New York)

In 1875, C.F. Mengelson designed the ten-story New York Evening Post Building for the corner of Broadway and Fulton.  Although it contained the same number of floors as its competitor’s, the Tribune building, the Evening Post building’s meager height of only 115 feet was over 50 feet shy of the top of the Tribune‘s high roof.  The Post‘s brick elevations employed not only the colossal pilasters of the Tribune Building, but also used these in a similar manner to group the middle floors into a 3:2:1 progression, which was reinforced by the use of arches in the windows in the top floor of each layer.  These layers were then topped by an attic with a Mansard roof pavilion (a less expensive memory of the mansard roof) centered over the main entrance.  This pavilion, a sorry remnant of the Tribune‘s grand tower, was also linked to the entrance in the same manner as in the Tribune by two continuous lines of pilasters that flanked the entry.

5.13. THE INFLUENCE OF NEW YORK ON THE SHILLITO’S STORE

Meanwhile, the first building of any size that consistently employed the alternative to the romantic arcade, the rational, rectilinear grid of the structure, and therefore, not only represented the resolution of many of the various design issues of the period, but also presaged developments to come in Chicago during the 1880s, was  James McLaughlin’s Shillito’s Store in Cincinnati (that I discussed in Vol. Two, Chap. 6). The elevations revealed his intimate knowledge of contemporary developments in New York.  The piers of the first two floors incorporated red brick laid in black mortar with alternating thin bands of light stone, an effect quite like that which Post had used in the middle floors of the Western Union Building. Meanwhile, the grid-like detailing of the intersection of the recessed spandrels with the mullions was similar to the way Hunt had solved the problem in both the Delaware and Hudson Building and the Tribune Building.  In fact, the fluted pilasters of the sixth floor are an extended version of Hunt’s detailing of the Tribune‘s piers.  

George B. Post, New York Hospital, New York, 1874. (American Architect, March 17, 1877)

The triple windows of the Shillito’s Building also owe their origin to Hunt, as first seen in the warehouse he had designed in 1873 at 478 Broadway.  In addition, prior to McLaughlin’s use of this technique, American Architect had published in its March 17, 1877, issue a rendering of the New York Hospital designed by Post in 1874.  Post had employed the triple window and square transom motif in the lower three floors, although while the ground floor showed three openings, the center “opening” of the grouping was actually a recessed opaque panel in the second and third floors. McLaughlin’s detailing of the transom mullion is an exact copy of Post’s.

Comparison of window detailing. Left: George Post, New York Hospital; Right: McLaughlin, Shillito’s Store. (Author’s collection)

5.14. THE INFLUENCE OF THE SHILLITO’S STORE ON NEW YORK

James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1877. (American Architect, October 13, 1877)

As McLaughlin’s Shillito’s Building had had a direct impact on Chicago’s architecture, via Jenney’s design for the First Leiter Building (see Chap. 1, Section  9),  it would also be a strong influence on New York’s buildings.  Engravings of the elevations and structural details of the Shillito’s store were published in the October 13, 1877, issue of American Architect, exposing the greater part of the profession to a viable logical, rational alternative to the lyrical, romantic arcade as a technique for detailing the openings in a multistoried building’s exterior elevations.  

Stephen Hatch, Boreel Building, New York, 1878. (Online)

The influence of the Shillito’s triple window and brick pier language is quite evident in the ground floor of the corner bays of the Boreel Building in New York at the corner of Broadway and Cedar, directly opposite the Equitable Building.  Designed by Stephen Hatch in 1878, the Boreel elevations inverted Hunt’s diminishing 3:2:1 rhythm in his original design for the Tribune and used the strip pilasters to group the middle six floors into an atypically increasing 1:2:3 sequence.  This may have been an attempt on Hatch’s part to use the extended verticality of this arrangement to offset the long street facade of the large 101′ x 146′ site.  Hatch also used the pilasters to break this elevation into a central entrance bay with flanking corner bays.  The central bay, however, was marked not by a proud tower, but by a squat pediment that was perched above the flat roofline of the brick box.  Although no plan of the building has survived, Lee Gray uncovered an article in the April 1881 Scientific American that described the buildings four hydraulic elevators and included an illustration of the building’s atrium. The eight floors shown in the elevation would have resulted in an eight-story high, balcony-lined (as seen in the interior drawing) space covered by a glass skylight.

Hatch, Boreel Building. Interior atrium. (Gray, Elevator)

From the given 42’ by 51’ dimensions of the atrium and using this illustration, I would conclude that there were three street fronts per the exterior photo.  Assuming a symmetrical plan, subtracting 42’ from the 101’ width leaves 60,’ sufficient for a single-loaded corridor located along the two side streetfronts. Subtracting 51’ from the 146’ depth leaves us with 95,’ that would equate to one double-loaded and one single-loaded corridor.  The illustration shows both a window wall (the double-loaded portion) and a balcony overlooking the atrium, typical for a single-loaded scheme.  I submit that Hatch placed the single-corridor against the back of the building because the atrium would provide sufficient light, while he placed the double-loaded corridor along the Broadway front.  The interior illustration shows a tunnel to the atrium that I interpret as leading from the Broadway entrance to the atrium (I can think of no other reason for such a tunnel if placed at the rear).  The elevators are in wire-lined, but other than that open shafts, in pairs to either side of the atrium.  At the far end of the atrium Hatch located stairs to the entresol.  (The similarities to Root’s design four years later of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Building are not coincidental, as we will see in the next chapter.)

Hatch, Boreel Building. Reconstructed First Floor Plan. (Author’s collection)

As if its central pediment had been lowered on vertical tracks attached to the center piers, the Morse Building by Silliman and Farnsworth, also designed in 1878, represented the final elimination of any reference to a roof in a New York building.  Here the central pediment was located immediately above the entrance, resulting in a cubic red brick volume with a flat roofline, echoing McLaughlin’s box-like form of the Shillito’s Building.  Its owners would late claim that it was “the tallest straight wall building in the world.”  As it was located on the corner of Nassau and Beekman, it was adjacent to the TribuneBuilding, and, therefore, offered the opportunity to compare what one could consider to be the bookends of the evolution of New York’s skyscrapers of the 1870s.

Silliman and Farnsworth, Morse Building, New York, 1878. (Landau and Condit, New York)

Although pilasters were used once again to group the floors into larger horizontal layers, there was no attempt to create a statement of a vertical progression in the Morse Building.  Instead, the first nine floors were handled as a static repetition of an alternating 2:1 rhythm.  The continuous vertical lines of the pilasters were contradicted, however, in the way that each floor was articulated to read as a distinct horizontal unit between the pilasters by continuous banding at the windowsills.  This was reinforced by the detailing of the windows as single openings, even though the architects attempted to restate the larger segmental arches of the basement in the lower two floors of each 2:1 layer.  The tenth floor was detailed as an attic with an arcade that doubled the rhythm of the single windows below.  This capped the facade’s continuous vertical thrust of the stacked pilasters as a rather under-scaled cornice, resulting in a confused restlessness in the overall effect of the elevations.  Flat roof aside, the Morse Building was also a landmark in that it was the culmination of the search for a fireproof exterior, for it was the first tall commercial building to eschew the use of any stone in its exterior.  Instead, the architects responded to Post’s recent experiments with Loring’s terra cotta by giving Chicago Terra-Cotta a contract to provide all of the windowsills and stringcourses.  Upon its completion, American Architect showcased the Morse Building as an example of an all-masonry exterior:

“The first use of the noteworthy attempts to build in brick alone, and to discard stone, even in the positions in which stone had been accepted as indispensable, was… the Morse Building which remains one of the most interesting and successful of these attempts.  The manufacture of terra-cotta has been much improved in the interval, but there has been no example of brick-work built since in which moulded brick and colored brick have been used with more fitness and sobriety, nor in which a more agreeable and satisfactory result has been attained.”

Silliman and Farnsworth, Morse Building, Entrance. (American Architect, October 9, 1880)

The exterior walls were thick, starting at 3′-6″ in the ground floor.  The interior construction was completely fireproofed using techniques pioneered in the Western Union and Tribune Buildings.  The floors were supported by 15″ wrought iron beams, from which were supported corrugated sheet iron arches.  These were then topped with concrete to level off the floors.  The building was an immediate success, with the top three floors being leased fourteen months before the building was completed, evidence that the elevator had, indeed, inverted New York’s rent culture.

5.15. PEABODY & STEARNS: THE UNITED BANK BUILDING

Peabody & Stearns, United Bank Building, New York, 1880. Entrance. (American Architect, April 23, 1881)

Perhaps the best-designed building of the red brick boxes at the end of the 1870s was the nine-story United Bank Building at the northeast corner of Broadway and Wall Streets designed by Peabody & Stearns of Boston in 1880.  Robert S. Peabody had graduated from Harvard in 1866, worked for a brief stint for Ware & Van Brunt, where he first met Chief Draftsman John G. Stearns. Stearns had received his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Harvard earlier in 1863 and had began working in the office, rising to Chief Draftsman. Peabody didn’t stay long as he then left for a three-year tour of Europe.  During this time he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in the Atelier Daumet, where he had worked with Charles Follen McKim, a recent graduate of Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School.  Upon Peabody’s return to the U.S. in 1870, he and Stearns established their partnership that by 1880 had risen in reputation in Boston to being second only to that of the great Richardson.  Peabody was the designer and business head, while Stearns was in charge of construction and field supervision.

Actually, the building’s design appears to have been the product not of Peabody but of George A. Fuller, who had been made a partner in 1876 and put uncharge of establishing the New York office. Fuller had been born in 1851 in nearby Worcester, MA, and had learned construction “in the field” before he briefly had some architectural training at MIT, then commonly referred to as “Boston Tech,” prior to his finding a post with Peabody & Stearns in 1872. He was known as having a natural instinct with construction-related issues. By the time the office received the commission for the United Bank, Fuller had become a strong advocate for the use of steel in building construction. In the United Bank Building, although he apparently had unsuccessfully tried to convince his partners to allow him to use steel, he did use iron columns in the exterior of the first two floors in the long Wall Street facade, providing more daylight and usable floor space.

George Fuller, United Bank Building. Detail of iron columns used in the storefront along Wall Street. The iron column is visible immediately to the left of the telegraph pole. (Online)

Fuller had placed a four-story red brick arcade at the top of both street fronts.  Like Post, he also employed smaller, square-headed windows in the attic to cap the elevation.  The spacing of these windows in relation to the lower arches, however, was not handled in an apparently consistent manner, as the attic openings did not relate to the lower arcade in the same way from one arch to the next.  Instead, the rhythm of the openings in the attic reinforced the sense of a central entrance by continuing the thrust of the entrance’s flanking piers into this layer of the elevation.

Peabody & Stearns, United Bank Building. Close-up of Brick Detailing. (American Architect, April 23, 1881)

FURTHER READING:

Gray, Lee E. From Ascending Rooms to Express Elevators: A History of the Passenger Elevator in the 19th Century. Mobile, AL: Elevator World, 2002.

Landau, Sarah B. George B. Post, Architect.  New York: Monacelli Press, 1998.

Landau, Sarah B., and Carl Condit.  The Rise of the New York Skyscraper, 1865-1913. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

 (If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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