New York Architecture Images- Lower Manhattan

20 Exchange Place



Cross & Cross


20 Exchange Place




Historicist Skyscrapers


limestone 54 floors, 231.6m (760 feet) high, 30 elevators




City Bank Farmers Trust Co. towerCity Bank Farmers Trust rotunda


The clustering of skyscrapers on Manhattan's oldest streets created a Brobdingnagian world, which Abbott was determined to capture, despite difficult lighting conditions. For this photograph, she stood at William Street and directed her camera along Exchange Place (not Stone Street), a 25-foot-wide "back yard" to office towers with street addresses on Broadway and Wall, Broad, and William Streets. The three main buildings depicted on project researcher Everett Gratama's map are: (1) Wall and Hanover Building at 63 Wall Street (background); (2) Farmers Trust Company at 22 William Street (right); and (3) National City Bank at 55 Wall Street (left). The pedestrian bridge connects the top floor of the National City Bank with Farmers Trust.

Today, the three principal buildings in this photograph remain, but the bridge has been removed.



Without any doubt, this building and the Irving Trust Bldg (1 Wall Street) are the most intelligent skyscrapers of the era in the Financial District. As did Ralph Walker the same year with the latter, Cross & Cross considered the formely City Bank Farmers Trust's sheathing as a thin skin covering the steel and glass structure, more like a limestone veil, than to hide it. Even the discreet ornementation was a response to structural or technical requirements like, by example, the buttresses at the fifteenth floor, ended by egyptoids heads which are, in reality, air exhausts. By another way, the beautiful result is a tour de force, if considered the difficult site, a snub-nosed triangle. From a four-setback canted prism rises a slender tower, designed like a gigantic column, from which the corners are chamfered (quite the sensation of a gouge carving in the clay) and surmounted by a flat dodecaedric crown. The lobby is a marvellous rotunda ringed with red marble columns topped by eagles, from which the ceiling dome is constituted of black and silver adorned concentric rings mounted up to a large hemisphere concealing the lights.

At the time of the City Bank Farmers Trust Building's 1929 construction notice, it was to be the tallest structure in the ever-increasingly skyward-striving neighborhood of lower Manhattan. When designed in 1929, the building was originally planned to have a pyramidal top, as well as a notably taller tower, but eventually the Depression forced changes to the plans: the original top floor arrangement was altered and the builders had to be content with an actual height of 226 m.

The strongly chamfered, 54-story shaft of the building doubles the form of the 15-story base, although the latter is also slightly trapezoidal, following the shape of the plot. The building is clad in white Alabama limestone, with the mid-portions of elevations formed by brickwork that has long since lost its original white colour.

Exterior decor includes sculptured themes as well as engraved details of historic or merely decorative nature. The bronze doors are decorated with images of transport vehicles and the domed lobby has gold-toned travertine floor and a wealth of marble, mosaics and paintings. Sculptor David Evans created ideological and decorative items of bronze and nickel for the lobby.

Among the building's modern features that seemed especially to impress the press of the day were an elaborate pneumatic tube system, a building-wide circulating ice water system, a basement reservoir of liquid soap, a new bronze substitute of nickel alloy with copper, three-way duct lines, the largest telephone exchange ever constructed, and a new-fangled double-decker elevator that serviced two floors at once.