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Thread: AT&T's Parthenon

  1. #1

    Default AT&T's Parthenon

    January 20, 2006

    Finding a Public Use for AT&T's Parthenon


    Old Pennsylvania Station was "vast enough to hold the sound of time," Thomas Wolfe said. The lobby of the old AT&T headquarters at 195 Broadway was easily vast enough to hold the sounds of the 20th century.

    What will happen to it in the 21st?

    "This is going to become some kind of public space," said David W. Levinson, the chairman of L&L Holding Company, which bought 195 Broadway last year for $270 million from Peter S. Kalikow, a real estate developer who is chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "Whether a museum or retail, we don't know how it's going to evolve. But it's so important to bring this space back to the public."

    City officials consider the lobby so important that they hope to make it a landmark. It would be the first interior landmark designated in Lower Manhattan in seven years.

    Robert B. Tierney, the chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the agency was having "very fruitful discussions" with Mr. Levinson and his architect, Michael Gabellini. A crucial point, he said, is configuring the lobby for the greatest public access. Only three of the 14 existing interior landmark spaces downtown are now open to casual visitors.

    No. 195 was the headquarters of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company when it ruled electronic communication through the nationwide Bell System and linked the world by copper, cable and satellite; by telephone, radio and television. ("Commercial use in doubt," said a headline in The New York Times about Bell Laboratories' first demonstration of a television transmission, from Washington to New York, in 1927.)

    Nothing else would have suited this company but to draw from the greatest monuments of history: massive marble Doric columns modeled on those of the Parthenon, arrayed in forestlike rows recalling the hypostyle halls of Egyptian temples.

    Welles Bosworth, the architect of the 29-story building on Broadway, between Fulton and Dey Streets, which was constructed in stages from 1912 through 1923, said, "The spirit is that of a highly organized and fundamental public institution."

    Monopoly, more like it. In "The Biggest Company on Earth" (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1981), Sonny Kleinfield wrote that the lobby had "a palpable feeling of great size and great hush, of great sums of money being made and great sums being spent."

    Though AT&T left 23 years ago, the lobby lost no grandeur. It even kept such remnants of the telephone company as a muscular bronze figure by Chester Beach symbolizing "Service to the Nation in Peace and War," under a relief map of the United States commemorating the first transcontinental phone line of 1915.

    "This building is a museum," Mr. Levinson said. Admiringly. Striding quickly over floors polished to an icy sheen, he pointed out acorn-topped door hinges, locks ringed by ornamental wreaths, a seven-foot-tall marble mailbox and cherubs frolicking above the elevator doors.

    The hypostyle hall, which forms an L shape along Broadway and Fulton Street, has about 15,000 square feet of space and ceilings 40 feet high. By 2010, it will occupy the highly visible middle ground between the new Fulton Street Transit Center and the new World Trade Center PATH terminal and transportation hub.

    "We will be the link at street level and below grade," Mr. Levinson said. A pedestrian concourse under Dey Street will connect to 195 Broadway.

    The Dey Street end of the lobby, which was the building's original entrance, will continue to serve the office tower above, whose tenants include the Thomson Corporation, an electronic information company; Morgan Stanley; and the Holland & Knight law firm.

    The top three floors are vacant. So is the step pyramid at the summit.

    This was where "Golden Boy," a gilded nude male figure by Evelyn Beatrice Longman - lightning bolts in one hand, a cable strand in the other - stood until 1980.

    In the 1980's, the statue occupied the lobby of AT&T's headquarters on Madison Avenue, between 55th and 56th Streets, as AT&T divested itself of local telephone companies, including Southwestern Bell, which later became SBC Communications. (SBC acquired its former parent company last year and renamed itself AT&T.)

    The statue moved next to Basking Ridge, N.J., then to AT&T's network operations center in Bedminster, N.J., where it remains today. Mr. Levinson said he would like "Golden Boy" to come home, but an AT&T spokesman said there were no plans to move it anywhere. For once.

    * Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

  2. #2


    The owner's plans for the lobby of 195 Broadway, a candidate for landmark status, call for it to be open to the public.

    January 20, 2006

    So, You Think You Can See a Landmark?


    Sightseers are not allowed in the Woolworth Building lobby, far left, and public access is limited in the 346 Broadway clock tower room; the City Hall lobby, second from right; and the Tweed Courthouse interior.

    Old Pennsylvania Station was "vast enough to hold the sound of time," Thomas Wolfe said. The lobby of the old AT&T headquarters at 195 Broadway in Lower Manhattan was easily vast enough to hold the sounds of the 20th century.

    What will happen to it in the 21st? "This is going to become some kind of public space," said the building's new owner, David W. Levinson. City officials hope to make the lobby a landmark. Robert B. Tierney, the chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said configuring the lobby for the greatest public access is a crucial point in discussions with Mr. Levinson and his architect.

    If the space at 195 Broadway, with its forestlike rows of Doric columns, does end up opening its doors that freely, it will be in sharp contrast to most of the 14 existing interior landmark spaces downtown. Few welcome casual visitors.

    Interior landmarks are defined as spaces "customarily open or accessible to the public, or to which the public is customarily invited." But the law does not discuss what happens when tenants move or owners try to cope with post-9/11 fears.

    This reporter set out on Jan. 9 to see what luck he would have visiting the interior landmarks downtown. He showed up unannounced at each place, in the garb of a history-minded visitor - spectacles, old Harris tweed jacket, button-down shirt, bow tie, thick-soled shoes (actually, he dresses like that every day) - with a copy of the official Guide to New York City Landmarks tucked under one arm.

    He was allowed to walk through just one space without undergoing a search. Two buildings admitted him after scanning him. He was allowed to glimpse a couple of lobbies and sneaked a peek at another. At two buildings, he was told firmly to leave.

    "People should, in a nondisruptive way, be able to see these treasures," Mr. Tierney said. "I have a very specific interest, as the chairman of the commission, to try to make that happen where possible, through the powers of persuasion." But he acknowledged that security made that more complicated.

    These are the interior landmarks, ranked roughly by accessibility.

    FORMER AT&T LONG DISTANCE BUILDING, 32 AVENUE OF THE AMERICAS Security turnstiles are located at the elevator banks rather than the main entrance. Without having to go through a scanner, a visitor was welcomed by the guards to spend time looking at Jazz Age mosaics showing the continents linked by golden telephone strands, though he was told photos were not allowed. Later, William C. Rudin, the landlord, said the Rudin Management Company tried to balance tenant safety and property protection with public access. "It's a tough call," he allowed.

    FORMER UNITED STATES CUSTOM HOUSE, BOWLING GREEN Now the National Museum of the American Indian, it welcomed a visitor, but made him walk through a magnetometer. The reward was the vast rotunda with murals of New York Harbor by Reginald Marsh.

    NEW YORK COUNTY COURTHOUSE, 60 CENTRE STREET After going through a magnetometer, a visitor could linger under the vividly restored mural around the dome, "Law Through the Ages," by Attilio Pusterla. The pleasure was enhanced by being in a working environment that still serves the purpose for which it was built.

    FORMER NEW YORK LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY BUILDING, 346 BROADWAY A visitor could take in the small marble lobby, but was told by a guard that the space of greatest interest, the clock tower machinery room, was closed except on Wednesdays.

    FORMER WESTERN UNION BUILDING, 60 HUDSON STREET A guard allowed a visitor to stand outside the turnstiles and gaze down the long lobby with its glowing brick vaults. He cautioned that photos were not permitted.

    CITY HALL Turning away a visitor, a police officer on duty at the Broadway gate explained pleasantly that tours are offered. "All you have to do is call 311," he said.

    TWEED COURTHOUSE, 52 CHAMBERS STREET A guard at this building, now headquarters of the Department of Education, said a tour could be arranged by calling 311.

    SURROGATE'S COURT, 31 CHAMBERS STREET A private guard shook her head when asked about a visit. "You have to have a purpose to be admitted," she said. Later, Martha K. Hirst, the commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said her agency would revise its instructions to the guards "so they understand visitors interested in seeing the lobby area as a landmark can be welcomed."

    FORMER EMIGRANT INDUSTRIAL SAVINGS BANK, 51 CHAMBERS STREET The main hall, scene of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's inauguration party, is closed. But Ms. Hirst said, "We certainly may be able to work out a way in which folks can see or tour it."

    FORMER NATIONAL CITY BANK AND MERCHANTS' EXCHANGE, 55 WALL STREET Now a banquet hall operated by the Cipriani family, it is generally closed. This visitor walked in, unchallenged by any workers, while the hall was being readied for an event.

    FEDERAL HALL NATIONAL MEMORIAL, WALL STREET "Closed for reconstruction," a sign says on the padlocked doors.

    FORMER CUNARD BUILDING, 25 BROADWAY The Postal Service has moved out. The doors are locked.

    VERIZON HEADQUARTERS, 140 WEST STREET A guard approached in 16 seconds. "Unfortunately, we're not allowed to let visitors right now," he said, not even to stand at the entrance and gaze at the painstakingly restored ceiling murals. Asked if the landmark would ever be open for tours, he said, "Probably in the future."

    WOOLWORTH BUILDING, 233 BROADWAY Its mosaic-encrusted Byzantine-Gothic lobby is "among the most spectacular of the early 20th century in New York," the landmarks guide says - and among the most zealously patrolled. A sidewalk sign seen in the past, "Tourists Are Not Permitted Beyond This Point," was not on display this day. But a guard intercepted the visitor a mere 12 seconds after he set foot inside.

    Guard: "Excuse me. You have to exit out. There's no sightseeing."

    Visitor: "I'm sorry?"

    Guard: "You have to exit out. There's no sightseeing."

    Visitor: "There's no sightseeing?"

    Guard: "No."

    Visitor, showing the official landmarks guide: "Oh, but this -"

    Guard: "I know what it says, but it's wrong. You have to exit, please."

    Visitor: "Oh, it's not a landmark? No? It's not a landmark?"

    Guard: "It's a private office building."

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  3. #3


    During my 'Architecture of NYC' class last semester, we walked through this lobby. It was amazing, it was also amazing the looks from the gaurds as we slipped through.

  4. #4

    Pan up to the ceiling.

    Back when the building was AT&T headquarters and I was a neophyte employee, my first stroll through the lobby left me with the thought that I would eventually be fired.

    Along with the more apparent skyscrapers themselves, lobbies were the symbols of American corporate power, and no lobby projected a company's quiet, confident dominance like 195. With over 1 million employees, it was the largest company on earth, three times the size of the giant GM, its stock the most widely held. As a monopoly, the company had trouble keeping under the government imposed limit on profits, so throughout their history, prices were always lowered.

    Funds were poured into their research arm, Bell Labs, where scientists were free to pursue any line of research, regardless of whether it had any immediate business value. Eleven Nobel Prizes were won by Bell Labs employees, ranging from the wave properties of matter and the background radiation of the universe to the invention of the transistor.

    The transistor, considered by many as the most important invention of the 20th century, was only to be used by the company in its own equipment, and not marketed commercially. Licences were freely sold to other companies. In post WWII Tokyo, Akio Morita took space in a bombed out department store, and began making tape recorders. In the 1950s, he got a license from AT&T for about $25,000 to produce transistors. He changed the name of his company to Sony, and began to market pocket radios in the U.S.

    I was surprised that the 195 lobby was not on the list of sites for Open House NY. It is a historic site of New York business.

  5. #5
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    This lobby was included on one of the first tours of downtown buildings a few year back sponsored the Alliance for Downtown.

    It is really magnificent.

    One used to be able to freely enter the Woolworth lobby, but now we're all potential security risks, alas...

    Entrance to City Hall used to be a breeze -- truly it was a place for the citizens of NY. But pre-9/11, but during the Giuliani years -- around the time of the re-design of City Hall Park -- that all changed and now one must state a "purpose" to enter. Still access is available and it is definitely worth a visit.

    Access to the Surrogates Court building on Chambers is no problem -- especially if you are there to visit the Municipal Archives on the 2nd Floor.

    The Western Union Building on Hudson used to house the Dept. of Buildings, so access was openly available. But DOB has now moved to the former NY Sun Building on Chambers / B'way.

  6. #6


    July 26, 2006
    Manhattan: AT&T Building Landmarked

    The former headquarters of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company at 195 Broadway — a sumptuous forest of neo-Classical granite and marble columns, inside and out — was designated an official city landmark yesterday by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The 27-story building between Fulton and Dey Streets was built in stages from 1912 to 1922 and served AT&T when it was the biggest company in the world. William Welles Bosworth was the architect. Other artists who worked on the structure include Paul Manship, Gaston Lachaise and Chester Beach. The building is now owned by the L&L Holding Company, whose chairman, David W. Levinson, has said he wants the monumental lobby to be used in some way as public space.

  7. #7
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    195 Broadway, New York
    AT&T headquarters 1916-1983





  8. #8
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Sep 2003


    The lobby is magnificent....

    But at the same time, a question slammed into my head...


    Which brings up a whole brood of other questions, such as how much are they (or similar companies) making now and why haven't they "contributed" to the NYC landscape in quite the same way (*cough*VERIZON*cough*)...

  9. #9


    They owned 22 telephone companies which covered almost the entire country. Most of the buildings were company-owned. The real estate value alone was enormous.

    When they requested a rate-change from the FCC, it was usually for a reduction in service charges.

    Not the same situation today. That is why real estate assets like the Verizon W42 are being sold off.

  10. #10


    Quote Originally Posted by Ninjahedge


    Which brings up a whole brood of other questions, such as how much are they (or similar companies) making now and why haven't they "contributed" to the NYC landscape in quite the same way (*cough*VERIZON*cough*)...
    AT&T, let's remember, attempted to do just that in its own fashion, just before it was disemboweled:

    It even -- briefly -- displayed the gilded "Spirit of Communication," which topped 195 Broadway, in its new lobby, before it and the goddess retired to Jersey:

    Last edited by ManhattanKnight; July 26th, 2006 at 11:04 AM.

  11. #11


    Must take a peek next time I'm in NYC.

  12. #12
    The Dude Abides
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    Although missing its "Golden Boy," 195 Broadway declared landmark 26-JUL-06

    The former A. T. & T. Building at 195 Broadway was declared the city’s 1,142nd individual city landmark yesterday by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which also designated its lobby as the city’s 107th official interior city landmark.

    The building, which fronts on Broadway and Dey and Fulton Streets, overlooks St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to the north.

    The office building was designed by William Welles Bosworth, who also designed the gardens and garden structures at Kykuit, the Rockefeller family estate in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

    “This magnificent building melds extraordinary architecture with an equally high caliber of painting and sculpture,” declared Robert B. Tierney, the commission’s chairman. “This building remains a singular achievement to this day, and we are thrilled about this designation,” he added.

    The designation is a bit late, however, as its greatest feature, the city’s most famous skyline ornament, “The Spirit of Communications,” a very tall and dramatic gilded statue by Evelyn Longman Batchelder, was whisked away when A. T. & T. abandoned the building and Lower Manhattan in 1983 for a new Post-Modern office building at 550 Madison Avenue designed by Philip Johnson. Mr. Johnson designed a very large, gilded, vaulted lobby to house the famous statute that had perched since 1916 atop the western end of the roof of 195 Broadway.

    Caged but visible, the extremely impressive sculpture was the city's finest and most elegant skyline ornament since August St. Gaudens's great gilded statue of Diana that had stood atop the tower of the old, demolished Madison Square Garden on Madison Avenue and 26th Street.

    Affectionately known as “Golden Boy,” it was eventually removed from 550 Madison Avenue by A. T. & T. to its headquarters in rural New Jersey when it turned over the building to Sony, its major tenant now.

    In January, 2000, A. T. & T. offered to return "Golden Boy" to New York, but in April, 2000 announced it had decided to keep it. A spokesman for the company, John Heath, was quoted in an article by Shaila Dewan in the April 4, 2000 edition of The New York Times as stating that "We were not able to find a suitable home for him elsewhere."

    The same article quoted New York City Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern as stating that the city would "put him on a pedestal with the Statue of Liberty" and that the city had offered A. T.& T. three sites, one at the Washington Market Park, one atop 195 Broadway, its original home, and one at 346 Broadway that had once been topped by a large bronze eagle.

    The designation report notes that “the western portion of the building, which housed A. T. & T.’s executive offices, is capped by a golden orb that once supported the gilded bronze figure of “The Genius of Electricity.”

    The Broadway building was built in three stages between 1912 and 1922 and according to the landmarks commission’s designation the building “was inspired in part by the contemporary excavation of the Temple of Sardis. “The facades of the 27-story office tower, which are detailed with swags, wreaths, lion heads and frets, are clad in Vermont granite, and defined by Ionic colonnades and Doric columns that recall the Athenian Parthenon. Relief panels designed by sculptor Paul Manship that depict the Four Elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) are set into the bronze spandrels above the entrances to the Broadway side of the building. Inside lies a serene forest of 43 cream-colored marble Doric columns....Manship designed the marble frieze that runs above the elevators along the Dey Street side of the lobby."

    A. T. & T. sold the Broadway building to Peter Kalikow, a former publisher of The New York Post and the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The present owner of the property is L & L Holding Company of which David W. Levinson is the chairman.

  13. #13


    Question: Was ATT buildind in any danger of being demolished?

    Walking up Park Avenue yesterday, I was admiring the DRAKE hotel......which as we know here is scheduled for a date with the wrecker's's a beautiful building that could never be replaced....if it was a few blocks up it would be an upper east side showplace.......where it is , its a reminder that Park avenue below 59th street had grand apartment and hotel buildings...this is the last remaining example.......its still there but no one cares that it will be gone soon.

  14. #14
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    It's just amazing that it took this long to get this one Landmarked.

    I had always assumed that it was Landmarked years ago.

  15. #15


    It's a beautiful building by all accounts.

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