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Thread: J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters - 23 Wall St - by Trowbridge & Livingston

  1. #1

    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters - 23 Wall St - by Trowbridge & Livingston

    April 20, 2003
    A 1914 Landmark That Reflects Its Founder
    By CHRISTOPHER GRAY



    IT is remote, reserved and silent just like its founder, J. Pierpont Morgan. The 1914 J. P. Morgan & Company bank headquarters, at Wall and Broad Streets, has been empty for several years, and it is not clear who will turn the lights back on, or when.

    J. Pierpont Morgan began dealing in financial instruments around 1860, and in 1871 he joined forces with Drexel & Company. They soon built a white marble headquarters with a mansard roof at the southeast corner of Wall and Broad Streets. The firm emerged as J. P. Morgan & Company in the 1890's.

    It was around this time that Morgan, magnetic in personality but also subject to fits of depression and self-doubt, became widely known as the top financial figure in the United States. In 1901 he financed the creation of the U.S. Steel Corporation, a $1.5 billion project. He was also important in stabilizing the American markets in the panic of 1907.

    However, by the early 1910's he was near the end of his career, taking more and more time off to travel and concentrate on his art collection. It was in these circumstances that Morgan decided to demolish the old building at Wall and Broad and, according to The New York Times in 1912, "fall in line with the big modern improvements all around him."

    This included both smaller, town-house-like bank buildings and a new generation of towering office buildings, like the 37-story Bankers Trust tower diagonally across the intersection, finished in 1912.

    PUBLISHED sources do not indicate who came up with the idea and chose the architects, Trowbridge & Livingston. But Goodhue Livingston's granddaughter, Katherine Moore of Rye, N.Y., has researched the careers of the two partners for two decades. She says that an unpublished Livingston memoir of 1930 contains a recollection linking the new Morgan bank with the Bankers Trust building across the street, which was also by Trowbridge & Livingston, after winning a competition. "Mr. Morgan Sr., admiring this building, gave us the commission," Livingston's account says.

    Morgan never got to see his new bank. The banker's house on 36th Street and Madison Avenue was draped in black in April 1913, just as demolition began on the old bank on Wall and Broad; Morgan had died in Rome on March 31.

    Finished in 1914, the new bank was described by the Real Estate Record and Guide as "a rival to the Parthenon."

    "The best skill which Athens could command at the height of her glory was given the construction," the trade journal said, adding, "The quarries at Knoxville, Tenn., were torn to pieces to produce the blocks." This was the same pink marble McKim, Mead & White used in Morgan's library of 1906 on 36th Street east of Madison.

    The interior a single large space on the main floor is an irregular pentagon, originally constructed with a ceiling 30 feet high, decorated with a central domed skylight 35 feet wide and hexagonal and circular coffers, the architectural term for sunken ceiling panels. Each of the partners' offices had its own fireplace.

    The basement vault had four-inch nickel-steel walls, the 50-ton door with "anti-oxyacetylene cutter-burner-proof sections," Architects and Builders Magazine said. Although the finished structure was only four stories high, The Times in 1914 said the foundation walls were seven feet thick to permit an eventual addition. But the new bank, low among a growing forest of towers, had "an atmosphere of serene reticence," according to the journal Architectural Record.

    On Sept. 16, 1920, just as the Trinity Church bells tolled the noon hour, a great explosion rocked the corner of Wall and Nassau a wagon filled with explosives and shrapnel went up, killing at least 36 people. The wagon was parked on the Wall Street side of the Morgan bank, and the main floor was instantly in a shambles, the windows blown in, the skylight severely damaged, the grill-work of the banking cages destroyed.

    There were more than 400 employees inside at the time, but only two were killed: William A. Joyce, filling in for another employee on the Wall Street side, and John A. Donohue, who worked in the foreign export department, who died later.

    The next day, The Times reported that the Morgan offices were "like a hospital," full of executives at work with bandaged heads. The Wall Street facade was pitted in 40 or 50 places by the cut-up sash weights and other metal intended to kill and maim; it is still possible to see the deadly marks visible in the marble. But the partners never repaired the damage. They may have decided to leave it as a badge of honor or perhaps they wanted to avoid the disruption of replacing the three-foot-thick blocks, which were up to 22 feet long. Shelley Diamond, consulting archivist at what is now J. P. Morgan Chase, says that no minutes or other relevant records from that period survive in the archives.

    IN 1929, Trowbridge & Livingston designed a new 38-story building next door on Broad Street for the Equitable Trust Company The building is now known as 15 Broad Street. J. P. Morgan & Company bought 15 Broad in 1953, and in 1959 merged with the Guaranty Trust Company, to form the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company. The next year the bank joined the two buildings, creating a jet age modern interior in parts of the lower floors of the buildings, although generally sparing the main banking hall of the old Morgan building, in an alteration designed by the architects Rogers & Burgun.

    A 1964 book "23 Wall Street: Morgan Guaranty Trust Company of New York," said that the Morgan building's foundations could take another 30 floors, "something contemplated when the companies merged." Perhaps with this in mind, the new Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the 1914 building a landmark among its earliest actions, in 1966.

    Morgan Guaranty merged with Chase Bank in 2000, and soon left its longtime headquarters. In 1998, the New York City Economic Development Commission proposed demolishing all the buildings on the Morgan block, except for the landmark itself, for a new New York Stock Exchange and 900-foot-high office tower; the original Morgan bank building was to become a visitor's center. But the deal fell apart and reports are circulating that Chase is shopping both the Morgan bank and 15 Broad Street to real estate developers, perhaps for a residential conversion.

    Over the last five months, Tom Johnson, a spokesman for J. P. Morgan Chase, has declined to comment on the reports or to allow access to the 1914 building, saying only that the bank was "considering its options." Perhaps the bank is concerned that the landmarks agency might also designate the interior of the Morgan building; although closed now, in the past it was open to the public. *


    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2
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    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    I don't see anything spectacular about it.

  3. #3

    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    Perhaps the bank is concerned that the landmarks agency might also designate the interior of the Morgan building; although closed now, in the past it was open to the public.
    Hrm, I didn't know the agency could do that on private property without the consent of the owner?

    I don't dig that.

  4. #4

    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    Perhaps you don't appreciate refined masonry, but the real drama is inside: *The interior a single large space on the main floor is an irregular pentagon, originally constructed with a ceiling 30 feet high, decorated with a central domed skylight 35 feet wide and hexagonal and circular coffers, the architectural term for sunken ceiling panels. Each of the partners' offices had its own fireplace.

  5. #5

    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    its an important historic landmark in that you can actually still see and touch the marks left in the stone by the bomb explosion, its better that the stone was not replaced

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    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    Amidst all the towers and congestion of Wall Street, I always viewed this building as the thoroughfare's cornerstone.

  7. #7

    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    You're right. It's what makes a cityscape interesting - like Delmonico's restaurant.

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    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    Location, location, location.

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    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    What's the street address of this building? *It's quite fascinating, very elegant.

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    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    I thought it was 29 Wall - anyone know for sure?

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    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    23 Wall Street, I'm pretty sure.

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    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    Great building - prominent corner among high rise beauties. *A nice symbol of the old-school, financial dominace of Wall St. and NYC in general.

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    Default J. P. Morgan & Company Bank Headquarters

    Thanks. *I just wanted to establish that it wasn't 55 Wall, which is now a Regent Hotel if UI'm not mistaken.

  14. #14

    Default Location

    The building is on the SW corner of Wall and Broad.

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