Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower

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Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower
Met life tower crop.jpg
The Metropolitan Life Tower in 1911
Alternative namesMet Life Tower
Metropolitan Life Tower
Record height
Tallest in the world from 1909 to 1913[I]
Preceded bySinger Building
Surpassed byWoolworth Building
General information
Commercial offices (originally)
Location1 Madison Avenue[1]
Manhattan, New York City
Construction started1905
OwnerAbu Dhabi Investment Authority
Roof213.4 m (700 ft)
Technical details
Floor count50
Design and construction
ArchitectNapoleon LeBrun & Sons
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower
Coordinates40°44′28.46″N 73°59′14.64″W / 40.7412389°N 73.9874000°W / 40.7412389; -73.9874000Coordinates: 40°44′28.46″N 73°59′14.64″W / 40.7412389°N 73.9874000°W / 40.7412389; -73.9874000
Architectural styleItalian Renaissance Revival
Part ofMetropolitan Life Home Office Complex (#95001544)
NRHP reference #78001874
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJanuary 29, 1972
Designated NHLJune 2, 1978
Designated CPJanuary 19, 1996
Designated NYCL1989

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower, colloquially known as the Met Life Tower, is a landmark skyscraper, built in 1909 and located on Madison Avenue near the intersection with East 23rd Street, across from Madison Square Park in Manhattan, New York City. Designed by the architectural firm of Napoleon LeBrun & Sons and Purdy and Henderson, Engineers, built by the Hedden Construction Company, the tower is modeled after the Campanile in Venice, Italy.[7] The hotel located in the clock tower portion of the building has the address 5 Madison Avenue, while the office building covering the rest of the block, occupied primarily by Credit Suisse, is referred to as 1 Madison Avenue.[8]

Inside the building is the New York Edition Hotel, a 273-room luxury hotel that opened in 2015.[9]


The top of the Met Life Tower in fog at night

The tower was a later addition to the original 11-story, full-block Metropolitan Life Home Office building (the "East Wing"), which was completed in 1893 and was also designed by Napoleon LeBrun & Sons.[10] Plans for the tower were first announced in June, 1905.[11] In 1953-57, the original Home Office building was replaced with the current building, designed by D. Everett Waid. Then, between 1960 and 1964, the Tower itself was modernized by Lloyd Morgan and Eugene V. Meroni.[10]

The building figured prominently in the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's advertising for many years, illustrated with a light beaming from the top of its spire and the slogan, "The Light That Never Fails." The reference was to a beacon at the top of the tower which flashed once at the quarter hour and the time of day at the hour.[12] The beacon was one of a few broadly visible features of the New York City nighttime skyline until the mid-20th century.[13]

There are four clock faces, one on each side of the tower, located from the 25th to 27th floors. Each clock face is 26.5 feet (8 m) in diameter with each number being four feet (1.2 m) tall. The minute hands each weigh half a ton.[citation needed] The original tower was sheathed in Tuckahoe marble, but during the 1964 renovation plain limestone was used to cover the tower and the East Wing, replacing the old Renaissance revival details with a streamlined, modern look. Much of the building's original ornamentation was removed.

At its southeastern corner, it includes an entrance to the 23rd Street New York City Subway station serving the 4, ​6, and <6> trains.


Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower under construction in 1908.

In 1905, Metropolitan Life bought a lot at the southeastern corner of Madison Avenue and 24th Street, on which it intended to build a 560-foot (170 m) building.[8] Finished in 1909, the building served as world headquarters of the company until 2005.[8] It was the world's tallest building until 1913, when it was surpassed by the Woolworth Building.[8][14] It currently stands as the 68th tallest building in the city.

In the early 1950s, Metropolitan Life started to renovate its entire headquarters, as well as demolish auxiliary structures to make way for a new limestone, art moderne building.[8] The tower, the sole remaining structure from the early 20th century, was extensively renovated from 1960–1964, and most of the ornaments on the tower's facade were removed or rebuilt during that time, including the clock and the pyramid-shaped roof.[8] The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978,[5][15] and a New York City landmark in 1989.[16] The Metropolitan Life Home Office Complex, inclusive of the tower, annex and the adjacent North Building was added to the National Register on January 19, 1996.[6]

A three-year exterior restoration project, which saw much of the building covered in scaffolding, ended in 2002 and added a new, computerized, multicolored nighttime lighting system, much like that of the Empire State Building; the colors change to denote particular holidays or important events. The gilded cupola at the very top of the building serves as an "eternal light" which stays illuminated even after the rest of the lighting system has been turned off for the night. The building figured prominently in the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's advertising for many years, illustrated with a light beaming from the top of its spire and the slogan, "The Light That Never Fails".

In March 2005, SL Green Realty Corp. bought the tower, intending to convert it to apartments. In May 2007, the tower and adjacent air rights were subsequently sold for $200 million to Africa Israel Investments.[17] In 2011, Tommy Hilfiger and a partner signed a contract to buy the building for $170 million, planning to transform it into Hilfiger's first hotel, with luxury condos. However Hilfiger backed off the project in September 2011.[18] Africa Israel then sold the tower to Marriott International in October 2011 for $165 million. Marriott announced in January 2012 that they are converting the tower to the New York Edition Hotel.[19] "Edition" is Marriott's boutique hotel line, run in association with Ian Schrager. The three Edition hotels, in London, Miami and New York, were sold by Marriott in January 2013 for $815 Million to the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.[20] The New York property was conveyed to its new owner on its completion. Marriott continues to manage the hotels under long-term contract. The hotel opened in September 2015.

Metropolitan Life North Building[edit]

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower (right) and the Metropolitan Life North Building (left)

By the late 1920s, the 1909 Met Life Tower and the 1919 North Annex were becoming too small to house the continuously growing activities of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Looking to expand, the company considered building on a full block site between East 24th and East 25th Streets.

Ecole des Beaux Arts-educated architect Harvey Wiley Corbett left his position on the Rockefeller Center design team in order to take up this project in 1928 and was joined by prominent architect Dan Everett Waid. The final design for the new building was proposed as a 100-story tower that would thin out as it rose.[21] However, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 caused the company to scrap plans for a giant skyscraper and instead built only a portion of the proposed tower. The North Building, completed in 1950, currently has a 32-story base for the proposed 100-story tower, built with the structural strength and the number of elevator shafts needed for a later completion.

In popular culture[edit]

Seen from below
  • The tower appears prominently in the first part of the "Darkness and Dawn" science fiction trilogy from the 1910s written by George Allen England. The tower is the temporary home of the two remaining post-apocalyptic survivors Allan Stern and Beatrice Kendrick.
  • The tower is mentioned in W.E.B. Dubois's 1920 short story "The Comet" where the main characters Jim and Julia look out over the city.
  • The clock tower is mentioned in the opening of Murray Leinster's 1919 story "The Runaway Skyscraper," the clock running backwards indicating that the skyscraper was traveling in time.[22]
  • In the animated TV series Futurama, the tower is seen in the future as wider and its face replaced with a digital clock.
  • In the video game BioShock Infinite, the building is the location of Booker DeWitt's office.
  • In Christopher Morley's 1919 book "The Haunted Bookshop" character Aubrey Gilbert "could see the ruby beacon on the Metropolitan Tower signal three quarters."
  • In Kim Stanley Robinson's 2017 book "New York 2140", several characters live in the building and plot events occur in the building.
  • In Antti Tuuri's 2005 book "Skyscrapers", "Taivaanraapijat" in Finnish, young Finnish migrant gets hired to build the tower. Book is going to be translated in English.
  • The tower is one of only two visible structures besides the Empire State Building in Andy Warhol's eight-hour film Empire, and the flashing of the time beacon on top of the tower every 15 minutes is one of the few concrete events in the film.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NYCityMap".
  2. ^ Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower at Emporis
  3. ^ "Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower". SkyscraperPage.
  4. ^ Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower at Structurae
  5. ^ a b "Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Building". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. September 15, 2007. Archived from the original on October 20, 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  6. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  7. ^ "Before This Seven-Day Wonder in Construction Is Completed It Will Be Overtopped by the Tall Tower of the Metropolitan Life.; A Reminder of Venice. How the Tower is Built. The Struggle with the Wind. Differs from Other Skyscrapers. An Extraordinary View." The New York Times, December 29, 1907. p. SM5
  8. ^ a b c d e f Gray, Christopher (May 26, 1996). "Streetscapes/Metropolitan Life at 1 Madison Avenue;For a Brief Moment, the Tallest Building in the World". The New York Times. Retrieved November 11, 2015.
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b Mendelsohn, Joyce (1998), Touring the Flatiron: Walks in Four Historic Neighborhoods, New York: New York Landmarks Conservancy, ISBN 0-964-7061-2-1, OCLC 40227695, pp.22-23
  11. ^ "500-Foot Tower To Replace Church". The New York Times. June 21, 1905. p. 14. Metropolitan Life's Plans for a New Structure; Parkhurst's Church There; The Company Will Raze It and Erect There One of the Tallest Buildings In the World.
  12. ^ a b Angell, Callie (1994). "Guide to Empire" in The Films of Andy Warhol Part II (exhibition brochure). The Whitney Museum of American Art. p. 16.
  13. ^ Connors, Anthony (April 12, 1998). "Then and Now: The Met Life Building". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  14. ^ "Met Life Tower Named A New York Landmark", The New York Times, June 14, 1989. p. B4
  15. ^ George R. Adams (January 24, 1977). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower". National Park Service. Cite journal requires |journal= (help) and Accompanying 6 photos, exterior and interior, from 1950-1976 (1.28 MB)
  16. ^ New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Dolkart, Andrew S.; Postal, Matthew A. (2009), Postal, Matthew A. (ed.), Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.), New York: John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1, p.79
  17. ^ "Clock Tower at Five Madison Goes for $200 M". The New York Observer. May 15, 2007. Archived from the original on May 17, 2011. Retrieved March 1, 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  18. ^ "Marriott Buys the Clock Tower". StreetBeat. Retrieved November 22, 2011.
  19. ^ "Five New EDITION Hotels Announced for Gateway Cities" Marriott press release (January 19, 2012)
  20. ^ Hotel News Resource (January 7, 2014). "Marriott Sells Three EDITION Hotels for $815 Million".
  21. ^ "Madison Sq Tower to Rise 100 Stories". The New York Times. November 3, 1929. p. N1. Metropolitan Life Will Erect the Tallest Office Structure for Own Use on Whole Block. Unusual Design is Drawn Accommodation for 30,000 Workers --Moving Stairs Planned for the First Thirteen Floors. Will Occupy Entire Block. Light Value Stressed.
  22. ^ Webster, Bud (2013). Past Masters, and Other Bookish Natterings. West Warwick, RI: The Merry Blacksmith Press. p. 164.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Singer Building
Tallest building in the world
Succeeded by
Woolworth Building
Tallest building in the United States