Cass Gilbert Society


West Street Building, New York, NY

West Street Building, Tom Blanck

West Street Building

90 West Street, New York, New York
Design & Construction:
1905-1907 [1905-1907 Irish-1999; 1905-1907 Christen-2001]
Cass Gilbert 

The twenty-three story West Street Building was the first of Cass Gilbert’s three neo-Gothic skyscrapers, to be followed by the Woolworth Building (1910-1913) and the New York Life Insurance Company Building (1925-1928). The design was commissioned by the West Street Improvement Corporation, headed by Howard Carroll, who envisioned the project as a first-class office building for the shipping and railroad industries. In 1905, West Street ran along the Hudson River shoreline, and the location of the new building was directly across the street from the docks and adjacent rail lines.

Gilbert approached an office building project as a real-estate transaction which required economy and efficiency—a “machine that makes the land pay” and as an opportunity to create a striking design. [Irish-1989] With the West Street Building, Gilbert moved away from the tripartite expression of a tall building that he had used in the Brazer Building and the Broadway-Chambers Building to an expression of verticality emphasized by the Gothic ornament and the dormered three-story mansard roof. Upon its completion, the design was widely praised by Gilbert’s architectural contemporaries.

The base of the building is granite, while the walls are clad in beige terra cotta from the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, with polychrome ornamental accents at the upper stories. The John Peirce Company was the contractor. Because of the waterfront site, there were challenges in constructing the foundations. Gilbert’s long-time associate, Gunvald Aus, the structural engineer, used pile foundations driven to meet the bedrock some 50 feet below grade, instead of caissons. The interior fireproofing that covered the structural steel frame was of terra-cotta tile fabricated by the National Fireproofing Company. [pp. 3, 8; pp. 115-117.]

The building, located immediately south of the World Trade Center site, suffered fire and structural damage after the towers collapsed on September 11, 2001. Because of the excellence of its construction and the terra-cotta fireproofing, the building survived. New building owners undertook a major restoration and converted the building into apartments.

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