Among the New York architects involved in the A.I.A. consolidation meetings in New York was George Post, who had already provided Root with a number of precedents for his earlier Chicago buildings. If we review Post’s most recent multi-storied designs following his Mills Building and New York Produce Exchange, that both had flat roofs, one can see the impact of Hunt’s mansions and the Dakota in Post’s addition of the high-pitched roof, often punctuated by numerous dormers and corner turrets. The earlier ones, the nine-story New York Cotton Exchange, (1883-5) and the ten-story Mortimer Building, (1884-5) in the style of Francois I, while the later ones, the 160’ high, 13-story New York Times Building, (1888-9) and the 172′ tall, 11-story Union Trust Building, (1889-90) revealed Post’s interest in the late Richardson. Both these last two buildings not only sported Richardson-like gabled dormers that were flush with the building’s exterior, but also arcades that rose in a progression of openings with a 1:2:3 ratio.
But the design of none of these buildings could have been said “to have set one up” for his tallest building to-date, the Pulitzer or New York World building. Joseph B. Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World and the person who had been ultimately responsible for the successful campaign to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, had decided to generate free publicity for his paper by erecting what would be New York’s tallest building at the northeast corner of Park Row and Frankfort Street. In the fall of 1888, he held a design competition that was supervised by Hunt (who had designed the Statue’s pedestal) that Post won with a 19-story design that would ultimately top off at 309,’ six feet taller than the tower of Chicago’s Board of Trade, reclaiming for New York the title of having the tallest building in the U.S. Pulitzer obviously wanted the record height (this was measured from the lowest point in its steeply sloped site and therefore, was contested by those in Chicago who were using the height of the building measured from the highest point of the site: really?).
The World (Pulitzer) Building can be understood as having been designed by Pulitzer and refined by Post. In addition to building the tallest building in the U.S., Pulitzer also wanted to top the building with a domed cupola. Post designed a 14-story extruded body, upon which was placed a six-story, 52′ diameter cupola that was topped with a gilded dome that was inspired by Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s. By this date, McKim, Mead & White’s academically correct classical-inspired design for the Boston Public Library was gaining converts. Post’s design of the World Building could be considered a “free-style” classicism, in that in addition to the Renaissance dome, Post added a Roman triumphal-arched entry with a classical pediment located above it at the roofline. Critics roundly criticized the building’s design, principally for the lack of any formal integration between the cupola and the lower body. The more notoriety his building engendered, the more satisfied Pulitzer was with his new building.
As New York didn’t suffer from the soil problems that plagued Chicago, Post had simply continued to use “boxed” construction, that is a masonry exterior bearing wall within which he placed an iron frame to support the floors. The exterior walls at the building’s base reached a massive 7’- 4” thick at times. This fact raises an interesting question: how can Chicago claim that the 6’ thick walls of the 215’ tall Monadnock Block, then still under design, were the tallest bearing walls ever constructed when the World was more than 80’ taller, and its walls were over a foot thicker as well? Surely, the 309’ tall World Building with its 7’-4” thick walls deserve this reputation. (As I have mentioned earlier, it would be accurate to claim that the Monadnock is now the tallest “surviving” building erected with masonry bearing walls.
The cornerstone was laid on October 10, 1889, when New York was very much in the running for the Fair. The building opened on December 10, 1890, only five weeks after Chicago’s Masons on November 6, 1890, had placed the cornerstone of their new 302’ tall building designed Burnham & Root, that would be completed in time for the Fair.
Friedman, Donald. The Structure of Skyscrapers in America: 1871-1900. Springfield, IL: Association for Preservation Technology, 2020.
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.
Stern, Robert A.M. New York: 1880. New York: Monacelli Press, 1999.
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