The U.S. Steel Building was built in 1972 for the U.S. Steel Company on a
site earlier occupied by the Singer Building.
The Singer Building was the world's tallest
at 612 feet when it was built in 1908.
The building's name changed to 1 Liberty
Plaza when the United States Steel company relocated.
The building was bought by Merrill Lynch,
then Olympia & York, and most recently Brookfield Financial Properties.
One Liberty Plaza is doomed, it seems - if not soon, eventually.
The name has a grim symbolic resonance, of course, but our attachment to
symbols now seems like an indulgence, a frivolity we can no longer
afford. One Liberty Plaza has fallen, how horribly symbolic!
It was originally the U. S. Steel building - and while that’s not
symbolic either, it’s instructive of an earlier era of post-war
(pre-war?) capitalism. In the 50s and 60s, corporations were solid
single-purpose entities whose names clearly reflected their business;
and usually had an HQ in Manhattan. It was the era of centralized
offices, of the rise of the technocrats, the managerial class, the
organization man. (I’m being simplistic, obviously - the U.S. Steel
building was finished in 72.) Manhattan is stuffed with these sorts of
buildings, all from the same era of corporate consolidation. They all
shared the same architectural pedigree, a blunt black Miesian slab.
Some, like the Seagram building, have grace and a simple mute beauty;
others resemble the U. S. Steel building. It’s a dense, ponderous brute,
54 floors tall, earthbound all the way. (The excessive amount of steel,
interestingly enough, encases flame canopies designed to avoid
fire-induced structural failure.)
The building replaced two interesting structures, shown at left.
The thin needle of the much-loved Singer Tower once stood here, and the
site also held the City Investing Building, one of the wildest
structures I’ve ever seen - it's what you'd get if Caligula was mayor.
Doing a little research today I found an amusing anecdote: the plaza for
the U. S. Steel building was incomplete until 1980, because a tenant in
a small building - a Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee shop! - refused to sell.
So they waited until the lease expired, then knocked the shop down. The
same damn thing happened to City Investors - there’s a small building in
the corner that refused to sell, requiring the architects to work around
it, as you can see. Same building?