GRP020-112.jpg (44877 bytes) New York Architecture Images-Gramercy Park

New York Life Insurance Company


Cass Gilbert


51 Madison Ave.






limestone clad


Office Building






madison_sq.jpg (83811 bytes)

Site of the original Madison Square Garden 1890-1925 by Stanford White (the scene of his murder).
The History
Built in 1928 by Cass Gilbert, designer of the landmark Woolworth Building, this massive 40-story structure is topped by a golden pyramid roof and occupies a site with an equally grand history. From 1837-1889, the land was home to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad depot, a concert garden and P.T. Barnum's Hippodrome. Until 1925, the site housed the original Madison Square Garden, designed by architect Stanford White.

Architectural Features
Pass through the grand bronze entryway doors, and you'll find yourself in a lobby that seems infinite, illuminated with the hushed glow of 18 enormous hanging lamps. Even if you're just taking the grand stairway to the subway station in the bottom of the building, be sure to look up on your short journey, or risk missing the elaborate coffered and vaulted ceilings. 

NEW YORK LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY BUILDING, 51 Madison Avenue (aka 45-55 Madison Avenue, 31-51 East 26th Street, 24-50 East 27th Street, and 364-378 Park Avenue South), Manhattan. Built 1926-28; Cass Gilbert, architect.

Landmarks Preservation Commission. Designated June 20, 2000; LP-2067


The 40-story tower (thirty-four stories plus the six-story crown) for the New York Life Insurance Company, one of the "big three" insurance companies, was designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert in 1926 and constructed in 1927-28. The building is Gilbert's third and final version of the neo-Gothic skyscraper in New York City, following the successful use of the style for 90 West Street in 1907 and later for the 1913 Woolworth Building (both designated New York City Landmarks). With the New York Life Insurance Company design, Gilbert melded the neo-Gothic embellishments of his earlier buildings with the cubic geometries of 1920s skyscrapers, making this building a significant transition from the historical revival-style skyscrapers of the 1900s to the Art Deco towers of the late 1920s. New York Life's desire for a monumental headquarters building allowed Gilbert to finally achieve his wish of creating a skyscraper clad in stone. Details included the richly-molded surrounds of the entrance, window spandrels, and gargoyles at the roof line. The structure's pyramidal tower makes the building a distinctive contribution to the Madison Square neighborhood and the New York City skyline. The New York Life Insurance Compant was founded in 1841 as the Nautilus Insurance Company in New York City. The building was constructed during the administration of President Darwin P. Kingsley, an internationally-renowned businessman who expanded the firm's operations and developed new types of insurance policies. The New York Life Building, the most prominent insurance company building constructed between World War I and the Great Depression, was also the last signature home office building constructed for an insurance company in New York City. It was designed to protect a strong corporate image through its siting, style, and silhouette. Rising above Madison Square Park, the building is a powerful symbol of the New York Life Insurnace Company's lasting stability.

Special thanks to 

Historic New York City and National Landmark is on Site of Original Madison Square Garden

NEW YORK, N.Y., December 10, 2003 - New York Life Insurance Company's Home Office building on 51 Madison Avenue in Manhattan celebrates its 75th anniversary this week. Designated an official landmark by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission and listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark, the New York Life building symbolizes the company's 158-year history of trust and stability. Its distinctive golden pinnacle, standing six stories high, is featured prominently in its current print and broadcast advertisements. Often referred to as the 'Cathedral of Life Insurance,' the building is housed on the original site of Madison Square Garden.

"Our Home Office building at 51 Madison is more than just an extraordinary work of architecture - it has come to represent New York Life's values of financial strength, integrity and humanity," said Sy Sternberg, chairman and chief executive officer of New York Life. "We are proud to be a prominent feature in New York City's celebrated skyline and to commemorate the building's 75th anniversary."

Designed by Cass Gilbert, the famed architect who also designed New York's Woolworth Building and the U.S. Supreme Court, the building was inspired by the Salisbury Cathedral in England and is sheathed by 440,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone. Its Gothic-styled structure, complete with 72 gargoyles, 40 stories and 2,180 windows, occupies a full city block adjacent to Manhattan's Madison Square Park. On December 12, 1928, the company's then President Darwin P. Kingsley formally dedicated the building, and President Calvin Coolidge pressed a button in the White House that unfurled a U.S. flag in the new building.

The site is steeped in history. In the 1860s, the property housed the Grand Roman Hippodrome, P.T. Barnum's circus arena, and later became the home of the original Madison Square Garden. Additionally, Winston Churchill's mother, Jenny Jerome, once lived in a home next door to the site.

The building's famous golden pinnacle was erected in 1967 and stands 617 feet above street level. The tower was lighted on the company's 140th anniversary in 1985 and has been lighted ever since. New gold leaf ceramic tiles were installed ten years later to commemorate New York Life's 150th anniversary. The building is the star of a national television advertising campaign that has aired since 1999 and, according to studies, has become recognizable to over 35 percent of American people nationwide.

New York Life Insurance Company, a Fortune 100 company, is the largest mutual life insurance company in the United States and one of the largest life insurers in the world. Founded in 1845 and headquartered in New York City, New York Life offers life insurance, and through its affiliates, annuities and long-term care insurance. New York Life Investment Management LLC, a New York Life affiliate, provides institutional asset management, retirement planning and trust services. Other New York Life affiliates provide an array of securities products and services, as well as institutional and retail mutual funds.