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60 Hudson Street
60 Hudson Street from One World Observatory June 2015.JPG
View of 60 Hudson Street from One World Observatory
Former names Western Union Building
General information
Location 60 Hudson Street
Manhattan, New York
Coordinates 40°43′04″N 74°00′30″W / 40.71778°N 74.00833°W / 40.71778; -74.00833
Construction started 1928
Completed 1930
New York City Landmark
Designated: October 1, 1991
Reference #: 1749 (exterior)
1750 (interior)
Height 371 feet (113 m)
Technical details
Floor count 24
Design and construction
Architect Ralph Thomas Walker
Architecture firm Voorhees, Gmelin and Walker

60 Hudson Street, formerly known as the Western Union Building, is a telecommunications building in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. Built in 1928–1930, it was one of several Art Deco-style telecommunications buildings designed by Ralph Thomas Walker of Voorhees, Gmelin and Walker in the early 20th century. 60 Hudson Street spans the entire block between Hudson Street, Thomas Street, Worth Street, and West Broadway.

60 Hudson Street is 371 feet (113 m), with 24 stories. Its design shows the influence of Dutch and German Expressionism, with Art Deco detailing. The building's shape features asymmetrical massing and numerous setbacks. The brick facade uses a gradient color scheme with nineteen distinct hues, moving from darker shades to lighter ones as the building rises, and several ornate entrances at ground level lead to a barrel-vaulted brick lobby.

60 Hudson Street was initially the headquarters of Western Union, and its construction was commissioned by Western Union president Newcomb Carlton. The building was described as the world's largest telegraph building upon its opening, and served as the combined headquarters for all of Western Union's divisions, which were scattered across New York City prior to the building's completion. Though Western Union relocated elsewhere in 1973, its former headquarters remains a communications center, and since the late 20th century, has housed a colocation center, making it one of the most important Internet hubs in the world. The exterior and lobby were designated as official New York City landmarks in 1991.

Design

60 Hudson Street is 371 feet (113 m) tall and contains 24 stories. It occupies a trapezoidal plot measuring 193 feet (59 m) on Hudson Street to the west, 180 feet (55 m) on West Broadway to the east, 254 feet (77 m) on Thomas Street to the south, and 329 feet (100 m) on Worth Street to the north. The Worth and Thomas Street sides are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the West Broadway side. The Hudson Street side runs diagonally, intersecting both Worth and Thomas Streets.

The building was designed by Ralph Walker of Voorhees, Gmelin and Walker in the Art Deco style. 60 Hudson Street was the third Art Deco building in the New York City area that Walker designed, after the Barclay–Vesey Building (1927) and New Jersey Bell Headquarters Building (1929); it was followed by 1 Wall Street (1931) and 32 Avenue of the Americas (1932), as well as telephone buildings in Upstate New York. Within the New York City area, McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin designed numerous other buildings for AT&T or its affiliates during the same time span. 60 Hudson Street was one of several technologically advanced headquarters erected in the mid-20th century for communications and utility companies in the U.S. Unlike the AT&T buildings, 60 Hudson Street lacks a unified iconography in its ornamentation.

Form

60 Hudson 01
Seen from the northwest corner, near Hudson and Worth Streets

The massing of 60 Hudson Street includes numerous setbacks. Though setbacks in New York City skyscrapers were mandated by the 1916 Zoning Resolution in order to allow light and air to reach the streets below, they later became a defining feature of the Art Deco style. 60 Hudson Street's massing mostly uses rectangular shapes in spite of its trapezoid-shaped lot. This may have been a response to architecture critic Lewis Mumford's previous criticism of the Barclay–Vesey Building's shape; that building had been shaped around its parallelogram-shaped lot, which Mumford had described as an "annoying defect". Walker subsequently wrote that Mumford's criticism made him realize "a building could take its own form regardless of the land below". Accordingly, Walker designed 60 Hudson Street as an intricate set of interlocking slabs, which architectural writer Robert A. M. Stern described as fulfilling "Hugh Ferriss's poetic conceit of the tall building as a manmade mountain".

On the Hudson Street elevation—the only side that is not perpendicular to any of the others—there is a two-story screen, behind which rise three rectangular slabs. The northern, center, and southern slabs are respectively 15, 21, and 19 stories tall. By contrast, the West Broadway elevation, which is perpendicular to both Thomas and Worth Streets, is symmetrical, with the top floors behind a central slab. Along the outer sections of the West Broadway facade, the setbacks are located at the 13th, 15th, 19th, and 22nd stories; the center section contains projecting dormers that rise an additional story above the previous setback, except at the 22nd floor. The series of setbacks on Thomas and Worth Streets are largely symmetrical, and are continuations of the setbacks on the outer edges of the West Broadway elevation. There are several projecting dormers along the setbacks near the western (Hudson Street) ends of both facades.

60 Hudson Street's form was also influenced by its interior use, as it was a "hybrid building" that contained offices along with mechanical equipment. There were numerous functions that did not necessitate sunlight and could operate using artificial light, such as the central operating system and the mechanical space, which was placed inside the building's core. The office space, conversely, was placed on the exterior walls, so 60 Hudson Street did not require light courts that were as extensive as in nearby buildings.

Facade

To cover the interior steel frame, Walker designed the facade with a grid of accented vertical piers, contrasting with horizontal spandrels. This emphasized the vertical lines of the building, and combined with the setbacks, created an appearance of cascades. A brick facade was used for 60 Hudson Street and for Walker's other communications buildings, since he preferred the material for its texture and its flexibility in color combinations. The ornamentation on the facade was made almost entirely of brick, concentrated around the base, as well as on the parapets on each setback (which were largely removed by the 1990s). This was likely influenced by Dutch and German Expressionism, as well as Walker's preference for "unity and harmony", his dislike of terracotta-on-brick ornamentation, and his observation that stone could change color within a short time. It is unclear who created the brick on the facade.

The bricks were tinted in various tones of red, arranged in a gradient, inspired by Louis Sullivan's use of "tapestry brick" in different hues. 60 Hudson Street was one of the first structures to use bricks in this manner. According to Walker, this was inspired by Western Union's inclination toward using a distinctive design for the building. There are 19 different shades of brick used in the building, which were created by baking the bricks in a kiln run under varying circumstances. The bricks were arranged so that the base has a facade of dark bricks, while the top stories were clad with lighter bricks. Dark bricks at the top and light bricks at the base were used to create contrasts on the facade. Though the facade mostly used brick in red and yellow hues, there were also bricks in very dark blue and purple hues. The facade served to give emphasis to the building's shape: the 1939 WPA Guide to New York City observed that 60 Hudson Street resembled "a huge red rock projecting out of the city". Stern wrote that 60 Hudson Street's decoration was "rather integral" to the brick facade, as opposed to at the Barclay–Vesey Building, which contained decorative elements and a facade in "contradiction" to each other.

Base

Main entrance, showing the bronze doors beneath the bronze lintel. At the top is a glazed window with diagonal muntins
A storefront with a "curtain"-shaped opening on the second floor

The base comprises the ground story and the second story. The lowest section of the facade is composed of three courses of pink granite, while the brick facade rises above that. Around the doors and windows, the brickwork is arranged similar to curtains. The critic Paul T. Frankl stated that designs like that of 60 Hudson Street were effective, comparing them to "brick tapestries hung from the sky". Most ornamentation is made of brick, though the friezes, window frames, and doorways are made of bronze.

On the Hudson Street side, the facade forms a two-story "screen", behind which rise the upper stories. The main entrance archway is in the center of this "screen", near the intersection with Jay Street. It consists of five bronze doors beneath a bronze lintel, as well as a glazed window above the doors, which is subdivided by diagonal muntins. The other archways on Hudson Street include storefronts on the ground level, and curtain-shaped windows with vertical muntins on the second story. A smaller doorway faces the corner of Hudson and Worth Streets, on the northwest side of the plot.

The facade on West Broadway is designed similarly to the "screen" on the Hudson Street side. There is a centrally positioned entrance with five doors, a bronze lintel, and a glazed window with diagonal muntins. Three storefronts are located to either side of the doorway on West Broadway; at the second story, two of these storefronts contain curtain-shaped windows, and the third contains a pair of sash windows set between vertical brick piers. On the Worth Street facade, there are storefront windows at either end. The central section of the Worth Street facade contains triple-hung windows, which concealed an auditorium inside. On Thomas Street, there are two storefront windows on the easternmost bays, as well as two double-height loading docks. The remaining bays on Thomas Street contain rectangular windows or ventilation grates, which are set between brick piers.

Upper stories

The rest of 60 Hudson Street's facade is modeled in a mostly consistent format. On Hudson Street, Walker designed the facade with a pattern of wide and narrow piers that alternate. On the other facades, the piers were largely flat against the rest of the facade, except behind the setbacks at the upper levels, where the piers were more prominent and designed similar to buttresses. At several locations on the north and south facades, there were windowless bays that concealed stairways behind them. On the Worth Street side, the center window openings on the third floor are filled with copper chevron-shaped louvers.

Interior

When he designed the Barclay-Vesey Building, Walker had believed that it should serve "as a machine which had definite functions to perform for the benefit of its occupants." In a similar manner, 60 Hudson Street was described as "housing the production of the service which this company renders". As with his previous commissions, Walker designed the interior in a similar style to the exterior, at a time when many buildings were being designed with modern-styled exteriors and historically-styled interiors. In contrast to the complex stone designs of his previous commissions, the ornamental program at 60 Hudson Street is more subdued and exclusively uses brick. The interior spaces of 60 Hudson Street cover almost 1 million square feet (93,000 m2).

Lobby

The lobby is a 25-foot-wide (7.6 m) corridor that extends west–east between Hudson Street and West Broadway. It is usually not accessible to the public. The corridor is designed similar to the nave of a church, with a barrel-vaulted brick ceiling. Extending off this corridor are two elevator banks, one on each side, as well as numerous additional doorways to service areas, stairwells, and the storefronts at each of the building's four corners. Also on the south side are a telephone alcove; an entrance to the lobby outside the building's former auditorium; and a passageway to the former cafeteria, Small vestibules separate the main corridor from Hudson Street and West Broadway. On Hudson Street, between the vestibule and the main hall, is a wide entrance hall. This space contains plaster on the upper portions of its walls, as well as an arched ceiling supported by octagonal brick piers.

Unlike most other Art Deco lobbies of the time, which incorporated traditional motifs with modern materials, 60 Hudson Street's lobby largely uses a modern brick design. The lobby is clad largely in brick and tile, though the floors are made of terrazzo tile and the bottoms of the walls are clad with red granite. A Western Union publication described the lobby as the "only all-brick corridor in any office building in America". Many elements of the facade were also used in the lobby, such as the brick reliefs and chevrons; curtain-shaped thresholds and doorways; use of bronze trim; and the mailboxes and doors, which are designed in a style reminiscent of the exterior setbacks. The use of interior brick is inspired not only by Sullivan's "brick tapestries", but also by designs of brick halls created by Peter Behrens, Barry Byrne, and Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint. The tops of the walls contain curved covings, giving the appearance that the walls and ceilings have been blended together. Additionally, the lobby contains bronze and brick furnishings such as lampposts and signage.

Other interior spaces

The second floor contained a gymnasium, a library, and a school for the education of messengers, while the upper floors contained mechanical shops, offices, and equipment rooms. The ninth floor included laboratories for the company, and the 24th floor served as a "presidential suite". The eleventh through fifteenth floors were devoted to facilities for Western Union's different modes of communication: simplex printers, multiplex transmitters, marine and stock ticker tapes, Morse code equipment, and telephone equipment. Four additional floors were set aside for the possible future expansion of these facilities. This reinforced 60 Hudson Street's role as "the heart of a nerve system of wires and cables reaching to every corner of the nation and the world."

The building featured 70 million feet (21,000,000 m) of cable and 30 miles (48 km) of conduits, as well as a power plant. Pneumatic tubes led from 60 Hudson Street to twenty-five branch offices in Lower and Midtown Manhattan, allowing for the easy transport of pneumatic tube mail in the city. These tubes were later repurposed to hold wires for the Internet companies that occupied the building.

History

Context and planning

Western Union building, Manhattan jeh crop
Upper stories, seen from a few blocks away

Western Union, founded in 1851, became a major provider of telegraph services in the late 19th century. In 1875, it built the Western Union Telegraph Building at 195 Broadway between Dey Street and Fulton Street. Western Union was acquired by AT&T in 1909, and the next year, AT&T revealed plans to improve Western Union's offices "for the accommodation of the public and the welfare" of workers. William W. Bosworth was commissioned to design a new headquarters on the same site, the present 195 Broadway, which was completed in 1916. The newer Broadway building came to be mainly associated with AT&T, to the extent that by the 1920s, Western Union did not have a building with which its headquarters was mainly associated. Simultaneously, work proceeded on 24 Walker Street, a shared-operations building erected five blocks north on the current 32 Avenue of the Americas site in 1911–1914.

AT&T, under indictment of the Sherman Act, sold its shares in Western Union in 1913 due to the threat of antitrust action. Under the tenure of Western Union president Newcomb Carlton, the company's operations grew and its equipment was upgraded to modern standards.

Construction

Western Union began land acquisition at the site of 60 Hudson Street in 1924, ultimately buying up the whole block between Worth, Hudson, and Thomas Streets and West Broadway. The site was located close to 24 Walker Street, as well as the company's major clients in Lower Manhattan: the American Stock Exchange at their Trinity Place building, the New York Cotton Exchange, the New York Produce Exchange, and the ticker service on Wall Street. It was projected that the Western Union Building's completion would raise land values along Worth Street.

In May 1928, Western Union filed construction plans for the Hudson Street site. Work started in August 1928, and excavations started the following month. At the time of the site's official groundbreaking, the building was expected to be completed in January 1930. Construction was to take two years because of the complexities of the project: the building was required to be fireproof and resistant to theft and outside interference, while the cable and conduit systems were supposed to handle 100 million messages yearly. The construction process also involved a deadly incident in April 1929 when 3.5 short tons (3.1 long tons; 3.2 t) of steel girders fell from the 22nd floor, killing four workers and injuring 11 more.

Western Union years

Western Union started moving from 195 Broadway in August 1930. Two months later, on October 5, the telegraph lines from 24 Walker Street were "cut over" to 60 Hudson Street, with the help of 3,000 men. Telegraph service was maintained throughout the twelve-hour "cut over" period, and so this was considered a large engineering achievement for the time. Just before the building's opening, Carlton protested against plans to demolish the adjacent Sixth Avenue elevated railroad in preparation for the construction of nearby subway lines, stating that it would inconvenience Western Union employees; the line ultimately remained open until 1938.

The Western Union Building was a premier nexus of worldwide communications during the heyday of the telegraph and was called the "Telegraph Capitol of America". When 60 Hudson Street was Western Union's headquarters, equipment for communications was installed on the roof. The equipment was frequently updated to use the most modern technology, making the building desirable to communications companies. In 1948, Western Union sold 60 Hudson Street to a Chicago-based company for $12.5 million, subsequently leasing back the structure. The proceeds from the sale would be used to pay back long-term debt and pay for modernization of the company's equipment.

Western Union moved its headquarters to Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, in 1973, though it continued to occupy much of 60 Hudson Street until 1983, when a second sublease was made. Afterward, Western Union gradually moved out of its space. 60 Hudson Street remained a major telecommunications hub, as the wires of six long-distance communications providers converged under the building.

Internet hub and offices

60 Hudson 33 Thomas jeh
60 Hudson Street (left); 33 Thomas Street, also known as the AT&T Long Lines Building, is at right

After Western Union left, 60 Hudson Street was converted into a colocation center and grew into one of the most important internet hubs in the world. Hundreds of telecommunications companies interconnect their respective internet networks (known as peering) as well as conventional TDM traffic through numerous meet-me rooms and optical and electrical lines placed throughout the building. Many data center colocation providers are tenants in the building. Epsilon Telecommunications, one such company, has built optical and electrical cabling facilities throughout the building since 1997. Various data centers including Epsilon, Equinix, Digital Realty, and zColo house internet and telecommunications providers for the purpose of collocating high capacity transport equipment used to terminate traffic both inbound and outbound with each other. The exteriors and ground-floor lobbies of 60 Hudson Street and two other telecommunications buildings were designated city landmarks by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1991.

In addition, after Western Union moved out of 60 Hudson Street, some of the space was occupied by city and state agencies. This included the New York City Department of Correction, which moved there in 2002. However, this use was relatively short-lived, as the city's departments of buildings and correction left 60 Hudson Street in 2010, and the space was subsequently used by internet providers.

There has been some controversy about the usage of 60 Hudson Street as a colocation building. Residents of the surrounding neighborhood complained in 1999 that the cooling structures on the building were too loud. 60 Hudson Street's then-owners, Hudson Telegraph Associates, agreed to mitigate noise coming from the building. In 2006, a New York City panel approved the storage of nearly 2,000 gallons (7,500 liters) of diesel fuel on six floors of the building, part of some 80,000 gallons (300,000 liters) of fuel oil stored in the building. Community opposition had been raised regarding concerns that the presence of the fuel oil posed a fire hazard that could result in a catastrophic failure of the building. 60 Hudson Street underwent some renovations starting in 2015.

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