070B.jpg (37382 bytes) New York Architecture Images- Lower Manhattan

Barclay-Vesey Building Landmark


Ralph Walker of McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin.


140 West St.




Art Deco  


steel structure, buff-brick


Office Building


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The first office building to be really influenced by Saarinen's design was begun in 1923, the year after the competition, and it is called the Barclay-Vesey Building because it is on Barclay and Vesey Streets. It was the headquarters for the New York Telephone Company. It is an entire square block in a section of the city that was not part of the grid of streets. So it is not a rectangular block, it is on an oddly shaped trapezoidal block. It was designed by the architectural firm of McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin. This firm had been designing telephone company buildings since the nineteenth century and although the firm had different names, it was actually the same firm. So when this commission came to the firm, it was no big deal. They gave it to an associate named Ralph Walker, a very talented young associate, to design this building. Walker was very influenced by Saarinen's design and was interested in how to turn the zoning law to his advantage, and how to design buildings with dramatic setback massings that would make the buildings an important and dynamic part of the skyline of New York.

And so Ralph Walker designs one of the great buildings of the 1920s. It has a solid horizontal base and then it has the soaring verticals with window bays between vertical piers just as on Saarinen's design. It has very dramatic setbacks marked by buttresses and sculpture until you reach the top with its limestone detailing and its sculptural work. This building was widely published and it captured the imagination of New Yorkers. It was also very influential in getting other designers to use these kinds of forms on the city's architecture. It was so successful that Ralph Walker became a partner in the firm, which became known as Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker. And Walker designed several other very important skyscrapers in the 1920s.

The top of the building, as you can see, is very dramatic. You were supposed to be able to enjoy this building and experience its drama from both close up and from far away. This building, which, when it was completed in 1926, was right on the waterfront, now cannot be seen from the water because of Battery Park City. It was in an area of relatively low-rise commercial buildings, so this building towered over all the nearby buildings in order to be visible both from the water and from the land. Its top would capture your attention, and on the lower floors the ornament was very complex so you could also enjoy this building from close up. Walker, like Sullivan before him, wanted to use an ornamental vocabulary that was not historically based, and he actually invented his own style of ornament, which has this very complex foliate design in which are interspersed little babies and animal heads. And even in the center, above the door, there is a bell, the symbol of the telephone company. 

From the AIA Guide:

"Distinguished, and widely heralded, for the Guastavino-vaulted pedestrian arcades at its base, trade-offs for widening narrow Vesey Street. The Mayan-inspired Art Deco design by Ralph Walker proved a successful experiment in massing what was, in those years, a large urban form within the relatively new zoning 'envelope' that emerged from the old Equitable Building's greed. Critic Louis Mumford couldn't contain himself. A half century later, Roosevelt Island's Main Street used continuous arcades as the very armature of pedestrian procession. Why not elsewhere in New York to protect against inclement weather and to enrich the architectural form of the street? Why indeed, not next door, at 7 World Trade Center?"

Breathing new life into a Manhattan landmark
By Michael Reis

After two of its facades were destroyed in the September 11 attacks, expert stonecarvers have been called in to replicate the intricate stonework at the historic Barclay-Vesey Building in New York City.


In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the damage to lower Manhattan was not limited to the World Trade Center buildings. Many architectural landmarks surrounding the complex were also damaged, some of them severely. One of these structures was the historic Barclay-Vesey Building, which is currently undergoing a restoration effort that includes the re-creation of its intricately carved limestone elements.

Originally built from 1923 to 1927 as the headquarters for New York Telephone, the Barclay-Vesey Building was significantly damaged when the fourth structure in the World Trade Center complex -- Building Seven -- collapsed. When Seven World Trade Center fell, steel girders from the building hit the ground with such incredible force that they penetrated several feet into the pavement. And as a result of the tremendous impact of the collapse and resulting debris, two of the facades at the Barclay-Vesey Building were brutally affected. The face of the brick-and-limestone building had substantial holes that peered out onto the destruction of the World Trade Center complex, and much of the carved limestone was shattered well beyond repair.

The 32-story building had been designed by McKenzie Voorhees & Gmelin Architects as the first Art Deco skyscraper, with a height of nearly 500 feet. At the time of its opening, its designers were awarded the Architectural League of New York's gold medal of honor in 1927 for "fine expression of the new industrial age." It was named the Barclay-Vesey Building after the streets to its north and south.

Although much of the exterior is brick, the feature elements of the facade are limestone, including large cubic pieces as well as ornately carved panels. The carvings depict a broad range of designs, with images of a bell -- New York Telephone's icon -- as a recurring theme throughout.

Replicating classic stonework

To reproduce the original limestone carvings that were destroyed, Tishman Construction, the general contractor, selected Petrillo Stone Corp. of Mt. Vernon, NY. Owners Ralph and Frank Petrillo of Petrillo Stone Corp. explained that their company has had a history of working with Tishman and that its proximity to lower Manhattan made them a nice fit for the job. "We spent days and days on the scaffolding," explained Frank Petrillo, who added that measurements are still being taken on a continual basis.

To handle such a challenging task, Petrillo's carving team includes some of the New York area's top artisans in the field, including Bob Carpenter, who trained as a carver in Europe and heads the team; Michael Orekunrin, a master stone carver who was educated in Nigeria and formerly worked at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for Cathedral Stoneworks; and shop foreman Doug Breitbart. The team also includes carvers and stonecutters Pooran Sanicharra, Ramesh Jodubar, Celine Canon and Johnny Parbhu; sandblasters Alvin Green and "Scap" Sahadeo; plannerman Fred Clayton and sawyer Joe Mangan. Alex Vays was the project manager for Petrillo Stone Corp.

To rebuild what was lost at the Barclay-Vesey Building on September 11, the carving team relied on what had survived the attack. Although two of the structure's facades were severely damaged, the stonework on the other two facades remained largely intact. And fortunately, many of the limestone designs that were destroyed on the building could also be found on the extant facades.

The first step in replicating the stonework was to take photographs and create molds of the existing stonework at the building. "We wanted to simplify things as much as possible," said Carpenter. "Every time I look at [the facade], I see something else. I took 30 to 40 molds of different areas, and we took pictures of everything. Then we took those to Astoria Graphics, and they blew them up to full size."

The images of the stonework are used to make latex matting that outlines the surface designs of the stonework. This matting is then placed over the slabs so they can be sandblasted in the same way that stone monuments are processed. A sand-blasting unit --purchased by Petrillo specifically for the Barclay-Vesey Building restoration -- is then used on the panels to achieve the necessary depth of the designs. Then, the artisans use routers set at a low speed to make sharper corners on the surface designs. By taking these steps, the carvers are able to complete the detailing of what is already dimensioned, and they do not have to spend an excessive amount of time removing surface material.

"We wanted to keep everything as close to the original as possible," Carpenter said. "The [original carvers] were brilliant. From the street level, you really learn the feel of the building. Even at two stories up, the detailing of the panels is incredible." To further convey the character of the original facade, the full-sized photos of the stonework are set up in the shop for the carvers to reference while they work.

The limestone is quarried by Victor Oolitic Stone Co. of Bloomington, IN, and it is cut into slabs by Michael & Sons of Bloomfield, IN. While the thinner slabs are 5 or 6 inches in thickness, some of the pieces were much larger. At the entrance, for example, pieces are as thick as 16 inches.

Before being delivered to the job site in Manhattan, all of the finished pieces are classified by number at Petrillo's shop so the installers can easily determine exactly where each piece should be installed. In total, the project will require 5,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone, with 2,000 square feet of finished surface area.

In addition to the limestone, the project also requires approximately 500 cubic feet of Stony Creek granite for the base of the building. This stone was quarried in Connecticut by Granicor, a Canadian firm, and it is supplied through Furlong & Lee of New York.

The reconstruction of the Barclay-Vesey Building is expected to be completed by September of this year. Petrillo Stone Corp. is also responsible for the installation of the new limestone and granite, and it is starting work on the project this month with a crew of six to nine workers.

Michael Reis is the editor of Stone World. /

Ties to Tradition

The skyscraper inspired both fear and awe.
( Rendering from the 1920's by Hugh Ferris)

The glories of the machine age were not accepted unconditionally. Some beheld the changes with misgivings and even fear. For many, the world was moving too fast, and they struggled to come to terms with the changes and recapture a sense of continuity with the past. To make sense of the skyscraper and the machine age, writers of the time tried to historicize and humanize the tall structures by placing them within an ancient tradition and emphasizing the contributions and skill of the individual laborer.

Some writers of the 1930's did not treat the skyscraper as a break from the past, but as another step in a continuing architectural tradition. These comparisons not only calmed those that were afraid of the speed and size that the modern age brought, but also justified the corporate gluttony of the skyscraper in a time of economic depression.

"Were not even the cathedrals extravagant, fantastic, and a little insane? Were they not built less for use than in order that the proud citizen might show what his community could do, and may not we be permitted to fling our towers into the sky with the same wanton exuberance?" ("Skyscrapers")

"Just as the rulers and great nobles of Europe, the princes of India, and the long line of Chinese dynasts, used architecture to exalt themselves in their publics' eyes, and as the surest monument to their achievements, so do our industrial rulers act today" (Dewing, "Towers" 593).

"If the race itself is a competition in advertising, so, in a manner of speaking , have been all the competitions in tall buildings from the time when Pharaoh vied with Pharaoh matching tomb against tomb, to the pious rivalry of the cathedral builders, each seeking to raise a pointed arch or a spire nearer to God" (Brock).

Alongside these attempts to root the skyscraper in the past and justify its extravagance was an even greater effort to humanize the skyscraper, to make it a product and symbol of the people. In his essay "The Relation of the Skyscraper to our Life" Barclay-Vesey Building architect Ralph Walker believes that the difference between the great structures of the past and the tall buildings of the twentieth century was the human factor. "Where we have a tall structure that has no relation to death like the pyramids, or to religion like the Parthenon, which was placed on a high elevation to emphasize the position of a goddess we have something of a human need."

The emphasis on the worker is found consistently in the writings about the Chrysler Building. In the promotional brochure the story of Walter P. Chrysler is told as the idealization of the American dream, the rise of the common laborer through hard work and ingenuity to the top of America's fastest growing industry. More important than story of Chrysler is the importance of the workers captured in the mural on the ceiling of the lobby painted by Edward Trumball.

"Here was the base and also the central theme: brawny man power, symbolic of the vitality and the force typical of our age. Here, too, at the root of the mural was the symbol that Mr. Chrysler wished to dominate the whole: The power of the individual worker who labors with his hands, the muscled giant whose brain directs his boundless energy to the attainment of the triumphs of this mechanical era in that never-ending struggle to bend the elements to his will" (15).

In Fortune's four part special report called "Skyscraper" an entire section was devoted to the workers and their tools. The articles assure the reader that the worker has not been lost, just changed and that "these are the new artisans."

"The trouble with all the talk about the decay of artisan ship is that it is true. It has always been true. It was true when the last wattle-weaver died and they took to building houses of brick. And it will be true when the tools and machinery of the contemporary arts are replaced by atomic explosions...The master-workmen of our time drive steel to steel with hammer strokes of air. But they still depend upon the judgment of hand and eye. And their necks are still breakable" (27).

According to Fortune, the lives of the steel workers were exciting, and dangerous. Most of the writings created a portrait of the fine life of the American steel worker. The following pictures were run with a full article on riveting, quoted below.

"The gang photographed on page 90 is Eagle's Gang, a veteran of the Forty Wall Street [Manhattan Bank Building] job, reputed in the trade to be one of the best gangs in the city. The gang takes its name from its heater and organizer, E. Eagle, a native of Baltimore. It is the belief of timekeepers, foreman, and the leaders of other gangs that Mr. Eagle is a man of property in his home town and indulges in the sport of riveting for mysterious reasons. There are also myths about the gun-man and the bucker-up, brothers named Bowers from some South Carolina town. They are said never to speak. Even in a profession where no man is able to speak, their silence stands out. The catcher is George Smith, a New Yorker. There are no stories about George" (28).

Writings about the skyscraper also attempted to include not only those who worked on the skyscraper but those who worked in and around it.

"The skyscraper, ever concentrating more people above the same areas of ground, gives the tenancy incalculable momentum and on the public's content with this new way of living the success of the skyscraper depends" (Dewing, "Towers" 590).

In a series of articles in the North American Review of 1931, Arthur Dewing discussed the public's architectural rights in relation to the skyscraper. For the most part Dewing is against the skyscraper as "an elevation of industry above mankind." However he also argues that every citizen owns part of the tall buildings on the logic that if the corporations mortgage the building from a bank and the bank depends on thousands of common people with savings accounts then we all own some little piece, however small, of the skyscrapers and should have a say in their construction. It is a rather ridiculous argument by today's standards, but it is representative of the conscious effort to empower the people in the face of the rapidly expanding urban jungle.

Perhaps nowhere is the effort to qualify and humanized the skyscraper more clearly illustrated than in the display on the observation deck of the Chrysler Building. Here the Chrysler Building is part of the past, rising up out of a goat farm with the help of the hand made tools of Walter himself. It is a fairy tale, told to those that needed to cling to the traditions and ways of the past to usher in the marvels of the machine.

"One of the features of the observation floor will be an exhibition at the entrance which will include a picture of the Chrysler Building site as it was slightly more than fifty years ago--a goat farm, and another of the old four-story buildings which were torn down to make way for the present structure. Between these two pictures will be displayed the mechanics' tools which Mr. Chrysler made with his own hands, and above this, as if rising out of the tool box, will be a drawing of the new building" ("Finishing Touches").


The fairy tale of individualism wrought by the machine carries over into the marketing of Chrysler's automobiles. The ads emphasize the mythic American individual, asking the prospective buyer to ignore the reality of thousands of identical Chryslers rolling off the assembly line day after day. (Click on the ads to see them enlarged.)




Was partly damaged due to the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks. The nearby World Trade Center towers collapsed.
- The lobby goes through the middle of the building from Washington to West Streets, with each entrance having its own address (Washington Street is nowadays closed to motor traffic and paved).
- The 152-meter building is considered to be the first Art Deco skyscraper and its designers were also awarded the Architectural League of New York's gold medal of honor for 1927 for fine expression of the new industrial age.
- The form of the building was decided upon after studies of relation between land cost and construction cost, a 32-storey design was chosen as the most economical.
- The massive form with floors of 4,830 m² without any light courts was possible because the telephone installations didn't require natural light.
- Drawing from Saarinen's Chicago Tribune competition entry, the brick-clad building is topped with a short, sturdy tower, with the vertical piers ending on "battlements" on top and with sculptural ornaments on the setbacks.
- The entrances are decorated with bronze engravings with a main theme of bells, the symbol of the Bell Telephone Company.
- A neo-Romanesque vaulted arcade runs the whole length of the Vesey Street side.
- The lobby floor is covered with bronze plates depicting the construction of New York's telephone network, and the ceiling has frescoes with the theme of the history of communication.
- The building occupies an entire rhomboid-shaped block, and was built to accommodate office space for more than 5,000 workers.
- The viewer is constantly presented with two conflicting images of the tower: an obliquely-angled mass and a steel-supported facade with angles sharp as paper creases.