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National City Bank Building
U.S. Historic district
Contributing property
National City Bank Building 55 Wall Street.jpg
(2012)
Location 55 Wall Street
Manhattan, New York City
Built 1836–1841
1907–1910 (additions)
Architect Isaiah Rogers (original)
McKim, Mead & White (additions)
Architectural style Greek Revival (original)
Roman (additions)
Part of Wall Street Historic District (ID07000063)
NRHP reference No. 72000872 (NRHP listing), 78001875 (NHL listing)
Quick facts for kids
Significant dates
Added to NRHP August 18, 1972
Designated NHL June 2, 1978

55 Wall Street, also formerly known as the National City Bank Building, is an eight-story building on Wall Street between William and Hanover streets in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan in New York City. The lowest three stories were built in 1836–1841 as the four-story Merchants' Exchange and designed by Isaiah Rogers in the Greek Revival style. Between 1907 and 1910, McKim, Mead & White removed the original fourth story and added five floors.

55 Wall Street contains a facade of granite, with two colonnades of twelve columns facing Wall Street, one on top of the other. Inside is a cruciform banking hall with a 60-foot (18 m) vaulted ceiling, Corinthian columns, marble floors and walls, and an entablature around the interior. The banking hall was among the largest in the United States when it was completed, and was later turned into a ballroom. The offices of National City Bank, predecessor bank of Citibank, were located in the corners of the banking hall. The fourth through eighth floors were used as office space, but have since been converted to residential units.

The Merchants' Exchange building was erected to replace an older structure that had burned down in the Great New York City Fire of 1835. 55 Wall Street subsequently hosted the New York Stock Exchange and the United States Custom House until a new Custom House building was developed on Bowling Green. The building was enlarged between 1907 and 1910 by McKim, Mead & White and served as the headquarters of National City Bank from 1908 to 1961. Citibank retained ownership in the building until 1992. The upper portion of the building was turned into a hotel in 1998–1999, and after the hotel's closure in 2003, the upper floors were renovated again and became a condominium development in 2006. The original banking room became a ballroom.

The exterior of 55 Wall Street was designated a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965, while part of the interior was similarly designated in 1999. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1978. It is also a contributing property to the Wall Street Historic District, a NRHP district created in 2007.

Site

55 Wall Street occupies a full block along Wall Street to the north, Hanover Street to the east, Exchange Place to the south, and William Street to the west. Each side of the building is a different length, and none of the sides are parallel. The dimensions of the building are 190.50 feet (58.06 m) on Wall Street, 140.67 feet (42.88 m) on Hanover Street, 196.75 feet (59.97 m) on Exchange Place, and 176.75 feet (53.87 m) on William Street.

The building is located near 48 Wall Street and 60 Wall Street to the north, the Wall and Hanover Building to the east, 20 Exchange Place to the south, and 15 Broad Street to the west. Immediately outside the building's northwestern corner is the entrance for the Wall Street station on the New York City Subway's Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line (served by the 2 and ​3 train).

Design

55 Wall Street is eight stories tall and has a basement; it is composed of the original three-story building and a five-story addition. The original building was designed by Boston architect Isaiah Rogers in the Greek Revival style and built between 1836 and 1841–1842. As constructed, the building was topped by a dome rising 124 feet (38 m). The dome was 80 feet (24 m) wide and had a height of 90 feet (27 m) above the main exchange floor; it was supported by "eight pilasters of fine variegated Italian marble". The original structure, with its dome, was the most prominent part of the Lower Manhattan skyline in the early 19th century.

Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White, along with William S. Richardson, was hired to enlarge the building between 1907 and 1910. McKim, Mead & White's work included removing the dome and top story; adding five floors and a second colonnade; and redesigning the exchange floor into a main banking floor. A net total of four stories were added. The first floor was also lowered slightly to resemble a basement, so that the actual basement would be labeled as a subbasement. The firm had previously designed commercial buildings, including numerous banks.

Facade

The facade is composed of ashlar granite masonry. The northern and eastern facades are composed of thirteen vertical architectural bays, each of which typically contains one window on each floor, while the William Street side has ten bays and the Exchange Place side has eight bays. There is an entrance for office tenants at 53 Wall Street, on the west side of the building, while the centrally-located main entrance on 55 Wall Street serves the former banking room.

There are various entablatures and cornices that wrap around the entire facade. Two colonnades face Wall Street. The other three facades on William Street, Exchange Place, and Hanover Street have no colonnades; instead, these sides contain pilasters between each bay on the second and third stories, except for the center bay on each side, which is a large arched window. When McKim, Mead & White expanded the building, the pilasters were extended tho the fourth through seventh stories of these facades.

Colonnades

New York 2016-05 101
Seen in 2016

The facade of the original structure featured twelve massive Ionic columns on Wall Street, each a single block of granite from Quincy, Massachusetts. These columns are each 30.67 feet (9.35 m) tall and measure 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter. The second- and third-story facade is recessed behind this colonnade, with rectangular brass-framed window openings. In the center of the second floor is a revolving door and two single doors beneath a brass double transom.

The renovation by McKim, Mead & White placed a second colonnade of Corinthian columns above the original facade. The Corinthian columns were sourced from Spruce Head, Maine, and Rockport, Massachusetts. These columns measure 3.75 feet (1.14 m) in diameter and their centers are spaced 14 feet (4.3 m) apart. Because the Corinthian columns are located above the Ionic columns, the arrangement of the colonnades is stylistically accurate. The upper colonnade has similar dimensions as the lower colonnade.

Interior

The original building's structural system is made of masonry, while the addition is composed of a steel structure. The roof has a cornice with a masonry parapet that surrounds all four sides. The steel frame is located on top of pilings that descend 35 feet (11 m) into the ground.

The interior has a total floor area of 241,000 square feet (22,400 m2). In addition to the main triple-height banking hall on the first floor, there was office space on the fourth through seventh floors, and staff facilities on the eighth floors. The original interior was completely demolished and refurbished during McKim, Mead & White's renovation. The banking hall was designed similarly to the waiting room of Pennsylvania Station, another project designed by McKim, Mead & White at the same time. The spaces include marble, mahogany, and brass decorations.

Banking hall

The banking hall, a cruciform space, measures 187 feet (57 m) from west to east and 120 feet (37 m) from north to south. When built, it was among the United States' largest banking halls. It was accessed by a pair of bronze doors on Wall Street, each weighing 3,300 pounds (1,500 kg). The room had a 60-foot-tall (18 m) ceiling with an 83-foot-tall (25 m) dome, measuring 52 feet (16 m) across. Monumental 41-foot-tall (12 m) Corinthian columns support an elegant entablature that circles the space at two-thirds of the room's height. The room also features elegant gray floors and walls, a coffered ceiling, and delicate mezzanine railings. There is low relief in the center dome. Light gray stone was imported from Europe for the columns and floors, although gray marble was also used for the floors and walls. The ceiling is lit by bronze chandeliers, and seals of the National City Bank were also placed throughout the space. The dome is decorated with 16 panels, of which four bear the directions of the compass, and the remaining twelve have astrological signs.

Cipriani Wall Street set up for the 74th Annual Peabody Awards
55 Wall Street banking hall, prepared for the 74th Annual Peabody Awards

The largest coffered vault in the banking hall is within its southern portion. When the National City Bank moved into the space in 1908, there was a large safe on the south side of the banking floor, measuring 24 feet (7.3 m) tall and 22 feet (6.7 m) wide. The safe had a protection system that ejected hot steam if someone attempted to break in. The safe was moved to the basement in 1957. A marble screen and bank tellers' desks were located around the safe. The other arms of the banking hall had desks for bank officers.

There were also three stories of offices at each corner of the banking hall. The spaces were designed with few decorations. The southeastern corner of the first floor contained the six-room president's suite, which included the executive and secretary's offices, two conference rooms, a hall, and decorated restroom. Another lavish suite was the conference rooms on the third floor. Pneumatic tubes and telegraph systems were used to transfer data between National City Bank's different departments. The office mezzanines were connected by balconies that ran on two sides of the room alongside the windows. A balcony was also constructed above the southern portion of the banking hall in 1925. National City Bank's president's suite was in the southeast corner, while bookkeepers and National City Bank's bond and foreign departments were in the other corner.

Upper floors

The fourth through seventh floors were rented out as office space. These floors have the address 53 Wall Street. Elevators for the office stories were placed at the northwestern corner of the building, near Wall and William streets. The fifth floor contained three dining rooms for office employees: one each for officers, men, and women. Also on the fifth floor were laundry, storage, and serving rooms, as well as a kitchen.

On the eighth floor was an attic containing facilities used by bank staff. The building's janitor lived in one corner of the eighth floor, where there was a suite with six rooms and a restroom. The eighth floor also contained dining rooms for men and women, as well as a kitchen, ice-cream room, and kitchen. Dining rooms were also provided for officers and guests, and there was an additional pair of bedrooms that shared a restroom. Space was also provided for National City Bank's library and for the No. 8 social club. Part of the patio on the eighth floor could also be used as an outdoor restaurant for employees.

Basement

A remnant of the building's usage by the United States Custom House was the jail cells used to detain smugglers and spies. The basement was used for such a purpose between 1863 and 1899, with 12 jail cells having been located in the basement. Embedded in a wall was a cannonball, a keg of gunpowder, and over 100 rudimentary bombs that were believed to have been armaments for custom house employees during the New York City draft riots of 1863.

The basement also contains the safe-deposit vault that was formerly on the main banking floor. The concrete floor of the basement is 10 feet (3.0 m) thick, requiring workers to blast the floor while they were installing it in 1957. The basement includes heating and cooling machinery as well.

History

Merchants' Exchange

(King1893NYC) pg790 THE OLD MERCHANTS' EXCHANGE ON WALL STREET
The original Merchants' Exchange was built in 1827 and destroyed on December 16, 1835.

The site of 55 Wall Street was previously occupied by a house built in 1656 and a block of housing built in 1789. The original building of the Merchants' Exchange was erected between April 1825 and June 1827, and opened for business on May 1, 1827. It was designed in the Greek Revival style by Alexander Jackson Davis, Ithiel Town, and Samuel Thompson. The two-story-with-raised-basement structure had a frontage of 114 feet (35 m) along Wall Street and had a depth of 150 feet (46 m) to Exchange Place. The main facade was made of white Tuckahoe marble, and the entrance portico had a marble staircase and four Ionic columns. At the top of the building was a colonnaded cupola rising 120 feet (37 m). The first structure was used by grain merchants, though it also had a post office, the New York Chamber of Commerce, and the New York Stock Exchange. While the original building contributed to a redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhood, it burned down in the Great Fire of New York in December 1835.

The Merchants' Exchange's committee of trustees convened in February 1836, proposing to build a larger building on the site of the older structure. The remaining lots on the block were acquired for this purpose. The same year, construction started on a new building designed by Isaiah Rogers. According to Rogers's private diaries, he moved his family to a house on the block while construction was ongoing. A time capsule was also placed within the building's foundations, though a search for the capsule in the 1990s was unsuccessful. The Quincy-granite columns were delivered as single blocks via sea; oxen pulled the columns along Wall Street from the dock to the building site. The building was completed in either 1841 or 1842. The last column was not installed until December 16, 1844, the ninth anniversary of the Great Fire. The new structure was initially occupied by the National Bank of Commerce until 1853, and a post office in the building operated until 1845. The Stock Exchange was also situated in 55 Wall Street until 1854.

Custom house

NYCustomHouseMerchantsExchange
55 Wall Street as it appeared in 1837

By 1861, the United States Custom House was looking to move into 55 Wall Street, since the custom house's former location at 26 Wall Street had become too small to accommodate all of the customs duties of the agency. 55 Wall Street's location was optimal for the custom house because the Subtreasury was nearby, thereby making it easy to transport gold. The federal government of the United States signed a lease with the Merchants' Exchange in February 1862, intending to move into the building that May, when the Merchants' Exchange was set to move out. William A. Potter subsequently renovated the building. The custom house moved to 55 Wall Street starting in August 1862, and 26 Wall Street was transformed into a Subtreasury building. The agency's departments were located one at a time, and the relocation was completed by December 1862. As arranged, clerks were situated in the central rotunda under the dome, while cashiers and auditors worked in the corner offices. The federal government bought 55 Wall Street outright three years later. The building also housed other tenants, including the American Bank Note Company, who operated a currency printing plant in the penthouse between 1862 and 1867. Among the notable employees of the building during this time was Chester A. Arthur, who was the Collector of the Port of New York in the 1870s and later became U.S. president. Writer Herman Melville also worked at the building as a ship inspector for 19 years.

In February 1888, William J. Fryer Jr., superintendent of repairs of New York City's federal-government buildings, wrote to the United States Department of the Treasury's Supervising Architect about the "old, damp, ill-lighted, badly ventilated" quarters at 55 Wall Street. Architecture and Building magazine called the letter "worthy of thoughtful investigation". This led to an act of Congress which allowed site selection for a new custom house and appraiser's warehouse. Soon after, Fryer presented his report to the New York State Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber said in 1889 that "We have not seriously considered the removal of the present Custom House proper, since it is well located, and, if found inadequate, can easily be easily be enlarged to meet all the wants of the Government for an indefinite time to come." By the end of the century, the custom house's location at 55 Wall Street was no longer advantageous, as it was easier to use a check or certificate to make payments on revenue.

Despite opposition to the new structure, a bill to acquire land for a new custom house and sell the old building was passed in both houses of the U.S. Congress in early 1891. No progress was made until 1897, and under the Tarsney Act, Cass Gilbert was selected to design a new U.S. Custom House at 1 Bowling Green. James Stillman, president of National City Bank (predecessor bank of Citibank), subsequently arranged for his company to buy 55 Wall Street and make it the headquarters of National City Bank. At the time, the bank was among the United States' largest, though it was located in a dilapidated space at 52 Wall Street, directly to the north. The building was sold to National City Bank on July 4, 1899, for $3.265 million. The arrangement had been facilitated by Stillman's friendships with president William McKinley and U.S. treasury secretary Lyman Gage.

National City Bank

Conversion

GENERAL VIEW - National City Bank, 55 Wall Street, New York, New York County, NY HABS NY,31-NEYO,158-1
The upper five stories were added as part of the 1907–1910 renovation.

The U.S. Customs Service remained for eight years after the sale. The transaction had been criticized by Democrats in the House of Representatives, who stated that the sale was an "extravagant" use of money, and in a non-partisan vote in 1905, the House blocked an appropriation that would have paid the Customs Service's rent to City Bank. As part of City Bank's agreement with the federal government, the bank had paid all except $40,000 of the purchase price. National City Bank had not yet taken title to 55 Wall Street, though the city's tax assessors valued the building at $5 million. In 1906, the New York City government sued City Bank for non-payment of taxes. Representatives of the bank said that because it had not taken title to the building, the bank should not have to pay property taxes. House Republicans eventually approved the rent appropriation for the building in June 1906.

Stillman wished to expand the building, hiring McKim, Mead & White in 1904. Stanford White was the original head of the project, though he died in 1906 before work started. White had suggested redesigning the building to resemble the Pantheon in Rome, and Stillman subsequently sent a City Bank vice president to Italy to study the Pantheon's architecture. Up until early 1907, it was unclear whether City Bank would construct a new 18-to-20-story structure or expand the existing building, so McKim, Mead & White were asked to prepare two sets of plans. The Customs Service moved its offices to Bowling Green on November 4, 1907, after which renovation of the building commenced. The renovation included replacing the fourth floor, adding four more floors, and completely destroying and rebuilding the interior. 55 Wall Street became the new home of National City Bank on December 19, 1908. Messengers carried the bank's $500 million holdings between the old and new offices in leather satchels containing $10,000 apiece. Several days later, the building opened to the public.

Usage

Upon the completion of the renovation, National City Bank's law firm Shearman & Sterling had offices on the upper stories. According to Forbes magazine in 1917, the branch at 55 Wall Street "does more business in its head office than is done under any other nongovernmental banking roof on the face of the earth." A balcony was constructed in 1925 on the south side of the main banking room. National City Bank and the Farmers' Loan and Trust Company merged in 1929. National City Bank took over the expanded bank's banking operations, while Farmers' Trust became the City Bank Farmers Trust Company, a subsidiary of National City Bank and took over the trust operations. Subsequently, City Bank Farmers Trust constructed a new structure at 20 Exchange Place immediately to the south to house the operations of the expanded bank, and 20 Exchange Place was completed in 1931. First National Bank also moved to 55 Wall Street from its former location at 2 Wall Street, at the corner with Broadway, after the New York City Department of Buildings had deemed 2 Wall Street to be unsafe. The two buildings collectively served as National City Bank's global headquarters and were connected by a now-demolished pedestrian bridge over Exchange Place.

National City Bank merged with the First National Bank in 1955, becoming First National City Bank. During the same period, the main banking room at 55 Wall Street was restored in the 1950s, with the project being completed by 1958. The two-story safe-deposit vault was moved to the basement between September and November 1957. Shortly afterward, in March 1958, City Bank Farmers Trust took over the construction of a skyscraper on 399 Park Avenue, which the Astor family had previously been in the process of developing. The new structure was to contain most of the operations of First National City Bank. In 1961, City Bank Farmers Trust moved to the newly completed 399 Park Avenue. Four years later, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated 55 Wall Street's exterior as one of the city's earliest official landmarks.

Years after First National City Bank moved its headquarters, 55 Wall Street continued as a full-service retail branch, still carrying the moniker Branch #001. It also remained a substantial location for private banking operations, though First National City Bank was renamed Citibank in 1976. A "universal tellers’ station" was installed in the banking hall in 1979, a project that was designed by the Walker Group and undertaken by the A. J. Construction Company. Part of the exterior parapet wall was also restored during the same time. The developer George Klein bought 363,000 square feet (33,700 m2) of 55 Wall Street's air rights in 1983, as part of the construction of the adjacent 60 Wall Street, a move that was backed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Shearman & Sterling moved out of 55 Wall Street in 1987. The same year, Jeffrey Gural, Barry Gosin, and Philip Pilevsky bought 55 Wall Street for $49 million. Milgrim Thomajan & Lee, a large law firm based in Midtown Manhattan, leased 120,000 square feet (11,000 m2), becoming one of the major tenants of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Later use

City Bank Building NY Wall St
Lower colonnade

Gural, Gosin, and Pilevsky subsequently spent over $20 million to renovate the building. While the renovation was ongoing, the building's chief engineer won a $3 million lottery jackpot and resigned. The group sold 55 Wall Street in 1990 to private Japanese investors for $69 million. The buyer was later identified as Tokyo-based builders Kajima. Citibank ended its branch banking presence at the building two years later, and Migrim Thomajan & Lee went bankrupt. Afterward, 55 Wall Street was used mostly for filming shoots, since the rotunda was unoccupied and much of the office space on the upper floors was also vacant. The building was depicted in advertisements, like those for Cadillac and the mutual funds company PNC Inc., as well as for films such as Batman Forever and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Because of 55 Wall Street's various landmark statuses, this precluded potential tenants from easily renovating the exterior, and the rotunda was only attractive to large retailers, while office tenants were relegated to a side entrance. Even so, several firms had shown interest in leasing the office space, despite the lack of potential tenants for the rotunda.

Real estate developer Donald Trump made an offer to buy 55 Wall Street in 1996 for $20 million, which he stated was a bargain cost. At the time, many tenants had left the building after their leases expired, and an excess amount of vacant space in Lower Manhattan had reduced property values in the area. Trump ultimately decided not to buy 55 Wall Street, and it was instead purchased by one of Credit Suisse First Boston's subsidiaries for $21.15 million. Kajima had incurred a major loss in selling the building, and Credit Suisse wanted to convert 55 Wall Street into a residential structure or a hotel. In September 1997, the building was purchased by a group headed by restaurant-and-ballroom company Cipriani S.A., businessman Sidney Kimmel, and Hotel Jerome operator T. Richard Butera for $27 million. By that point, there was high demand for luxury hotels in Lower Manhattan.

Starting in 1998, the building was completely renovated into a luxury hotel, and the banking room became a ballroom and luxury restaurant space called Cipriani Wall Street. Midway through the renovation, Cipriani was replaced with Regent Hotels & Resorts as the prospective operator of the hotel. Kimmel also bought out Cipriani's share of the management contract for 55 Wall Street. The Regent Wall Street Hotel opened in 2000 with 144 guest rooms, a restaurant, and a fitness center. After the September 11 attacks destroyed the nearby World Trade Center in 2001, 55 Wall Street served as a relief center for workers and area residents, and was used by Tribeca Film Festival attendees. However, the hotel lost business overall, and as a result, it closed in 2003. The building was renovated again, and Cipriani converted the units to residential condominiums in a project that was completed in 2006. The main banking floor was converted to Cipriani Wall Street, which hosted the Peabody Awards from 2015 to 2019.

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