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Broadway-Chambers Building Landmark


Cass Gilbert


277 Broadway 




Chicago School


Perth Amboy Terra Cotta Company. Brick with brightly glazed terra-cotta ornament. The top was copper, which oxidized nicely.


Office Building


   Cass Gilbert's first building in New York was this boldly designed tower. Gilbert's design juxtaposes the grandly ornamented pink granite clad base with the plain red and blue brick clad shaft. The tower culminates in a highly ornamented colonnade, attic story and projecting cornice. At the time, this design was hailed by architectural critic Montgomery Schuyler as "the last word" in the period’s dominant skyscraper style, which looked to the classical three-part column for inspiration. The building also features the first large scale use of polychrome terra-cotta architectural ornament in New York, a material that Gilbert would use extensively in later buildings. Even before construction began, building owner Edward Andrews, a Boston banker, aggressively pursued tenants that could pay some of the highest rents in the city, including the main tenant, the United States Life Insurance Company. By 1901, with the building fully rented, Andrews was able to collect $100,000 per year in rent, a considerable sum at the time. 


Architect Cass Gilbert worked in New York as a draftsman for the renowned firm of McKim, Mead & White for a year before establishing a successful practice in Minnesota. The opportunity to design the Broadway Chambers Building lured him back to New York. The success of this project established Gilbert in the city, where his distinguished career continued with his winning design for the U. S. Custom House and, later, the commission for the iconic Woolworth Building, also rendered by Hawley.
In a letter to Hawley dated May 25, 1899, just as construction had begun, Gilbert wrote, "Glad to hear of progress of watercolor - if it needs point of bright color and strong shadow on elevation why not a big flag . . . but if not that’s fine - needs very best work, if need more time take it, will send check for $150. . .." Six days later Gilbert wrote the owner of the building, "I have spared no expense in preparing the large perspective, which is made largely for the purpose of helping the renting of the building."
Still used as office space, the Broadway Chambers Building was designated a landmark in 1992.

The Broadway-Chambers building was world famous when it was completed, so much so that a letter sent from Europe with the address, "Mr. Broadway Chambers, USA", safely made it to the architect.

Architect Cass Gilbert eschewed the light monochrome materials available at the time ... he chose beige terra cotta highlighted with brilliant Pompeian red, blue-green, and greenish yellow for the richly embellished capital. ("The Landmarks of New York", by Barbaralee Diamonstein.)

"Since a successful formula for matte surfaces had not yet been developed, most of the glazes where lightly sandblasted to remove their glossy outer layer." ("Terra-Cotta Skyline", p. 55)