Cass Gilbert's West Street Building

Singer Building (middle) with West Street Building (right) from the Hudson, 1908.

Our favorite NYC skyscraper, the Woolworth Building has two younger siblings, the Broadway Chambers Building (1900), and 90 West Street (1907). Both buildings were designed by Woolworth Building architect Cass Gilbert, but Woolworth's gothic influence is truly seen in 90 West, which is clad head to toe in ornamental terra cotta.

West Street Building, 1907.

The New York Times described the building when it was first proposed, “It is to be twenty-three stories high and finished on the uppermost stories in beautiful colored terra cotta, harmonizing with the copper sheathed mansard roof. Its unobstructed frontage on the river will make it one of the landmarks to those who use the North River ferries.”

Blocks away from the office buildings on Broadway, the West Street building was located on the banks of the Hudson directly across the street from the docks to serve the adjacent shipping and railway industries. Gilbert and structural engineer Gunvald Aus designed the building to be completely fireproof using state of the art methods including double layer terra cotta on the facade making it more than a foot thick. Steel columns and stairwells were encased in thick tiles and each floor was separated by foot-thick arched tiles to prevent the spread of fire with granite at the base as wide as six feet. After completing the West Street building in 1907 Gilbert would go on to design the Woolworth Building, the tallest skyscraper the world when it opened in 1913.

In the 1970s the building was saved from demolition, with the World Trade Center urban renewal border stopping across the street from the terra-cotta tower. In the shadow of the 110-story Twin Towers, the West Street Building was no longer on the banks of the Hudson; the newly created Battery Park City would add 92 acres of landfill to the west of the ornamental skyscraper.

Damage to West Street Building after 9/11. Credit: Seabord Weather Proofing.

Damage to West Street Building after 9/11. Credit: Seabord Weather Proofing.

On 9/11 the building suffered severe damaged and burned for three days. Yet, the building's fireproofing saved it from complete devastation leaving much of the structure intact. Following 9/11 the skyscraper was restored, with the Boston Terra Cotta Company fabricating 7,853 new pieces of terra-cotta and over 100 replacement gargoyles and grotesques including seven contemporary faces – the building's owners, contractors, and project manager. 75 percent of the north facade's granite would be replaced during the restoration. During this time the building was converted from offices to house 410 rental apartments.