Singer Building

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Singer Building
SingerBuilding crop.jpg
Record height
Tallest in the world from 1908 to 1909[I]
Preceded byPhiladelphia City Hall
Surpassed byMetropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower
General information
TypeCommercial offices
Architectural styleBeaux-Arts
Location149 Broadway
New York City
Coordinates40°42′35″N 74°00′39″W / 40.70972°N 74.01083°W / 40.70972; -74.01083Coordinates: 40°42′35″N 74°00′39″W / 40.70972°N 74.01083°W / 40.70972; -74.01083
Construction started1897
Tip674 ft (205 m)
Roof612 ft (187 m)
Top floor41
Technical details
Floor count41 (+1 below ground)
Design and construction
ArchitectErnest Flagg
DeveloperSinger Manufacturing Company
Structural engineerBoller & Hodge

The Singer Building (also the Singer Tower[a]) was an office building and early skyscraper in Manhattan, New York. Serving as the headquarters of the Singer Manufacturing Company, it was at the northwestern corner of Liberty Street and Broadway in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan. The building was commissioned by Frederick Gilbert Bourne, leader of the Singer Company, and designed in multiple phases by architect Ernest Flagg, an early proponent of the Beaux-Arts architectural style.

The completed Singer Building was composed of a 14-story base covering the entire land lot, as well as a tower rising an additional 27 stories above a small section of the base. Included in the base were the original Singer Building at 149 Broadway, the Bourne Building on Liberty Street, and subsequent additions to both buildings. The facade was made of brick, stone, and terracotta, and the tower was capped by a dome with a lantern. The foundation of the tower was excavated to the underlying bedrock, while the base rested on relatively shallow foundations. The Singer Building used a steel skeleton, though the original structure was initially supported by load-bearing walls prior to modification. When completed, the building had a large lobby, 16 elevators, and an observatory.

The original 10-story Singer Building was erected between 1897 and 1898, while the 14-story Bourne Building was built adjacent to it from 1898 to 1899. The Singer Building's tower was built between 1906 and 1908 as part of another expansion, and both original buildings were expanded, becoming the base of an enlarged Singer Building. The Singer Tower was the tallest building in the world from 1908 to 1909, with a roof height of 612 feet (187 m). The Singer Building and the adjacent City Investing Building were razed in 1968 to make way for One Liberty Plaza, despite being regarded as a city icon. The Singer Building was the tallest building ever to be demolished at the time of its destruction.


The Singer Building was at the northwest corner of Liberty Street and Broadway in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, abutting the City Investing Building to the nroth.[6][7] The lot was nearly rectangular in shape, though slightly skewed due to the layout of the street grid.[8][9] The lot measured 74.5 feet (22.7 m) on Broadway by 110 feet (34 m) on Liberty Street.[9]


The Singer Building seen from Broadway, looking north from the Equitable Building

The Singer Building, as completed in 1908, was composed of several sections: the original Singer Building, the Bourne Building, an annex to both buildings, and the tower. All were designed by Ernest Flagg under commission to Frederick Bourne, leader of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.[10] Flagg, an early proponent of the Beaux-Arts architectural style, had also designed the company's still-extant previous headquarters at 561 Broadway between Prince and Spring Streets—in what is now SoHo, Manhattan—which was referred to as the "Little Singer Building" after the new building was erected.[11][12]

Plans and working drawings were prepared by George W. Conable.[13] Construction was overseen by an architectural office with an engineering department led by Otto F. Semsch,[14][7] as well as mechanical equipment consultants Charles G. Armstrong and steel consultants Boller & Hodge.[7] Over 40 other companies were involved in the construction process,[7] and nearly 100 construction contracts were awarded. There were no general contractors in the project; the owners communicated directly with the suppliers responsible for each contract.[15][16]

Contemporary sources describe the "Singer Tower" as only referring to the building's tower portion, rather than its base. The "Singer Building" name originally referred only to a portion of the base, although it subsequently came to refer to the entire structure.[4][5] When the tower addition was completed in 1908, its roof was 612 feet (187 m) tall,[17] and was topped by a 62-foot (19 m) flagpole, giving it a ground-to-pinnacle height of 674 feet (205 m).[18] The Singer Building was the world's tallest building at the time of its completion, as well as the world's tallest building to be destroyed upon its demolition.[19]


The base of the building filled the entire land lot. It was composed of the 10-story original structure (later expanded to 14 stories) and the 14-story annex known as the Bourne Building.[7] The original Singer Building had a frontage of 58 feet (18 m) on Broadway and 110 feet (34 m) on Liberty Street, while the Bourne Building was 58 feet deep and had a frontage of approximately 75 feet (23 m) on Liberty Street.[20] From 1906 to 1907, the original Singer Building was extended northward by an additional 30 feet (9.1 m), and the Bourne Building was also extended westward.[21] The original Singer and Bourne buildings were about 200 feet (61 m) tall.[22]

The 41-story tower above the northwest corner of the base was square in plan, with floor dimensions of 65 by 65 feet (20 by 20 m).[7][9][17] When the dome and lantern at the tower's pinnacle were included, the Singer Tower was the equivalent of a 47-story building.[7][23] The tower was set back 30 feet (9.1 m) behind the base,[7][9] and filled only one-sixth of the total lot area.[23] There was a gap of 10 feet (3.0 m) between the Singer Building's tower and the City Investing Building immediately to the north, which was built nearly simultaneously. The narrowness of the setback was because the columns required to support the Singer Tower would have been too large to place atop the original Singer Building.[6]


The facade was made of red brick, light-colored stone, and terracotta.[8] Some 733,000 square feet (68,100 m2) of terracotta was used for both the facade and the interior partitions. About five million bricks were used in the entire project, including one million bricks in the tower section.[24][25] About 1,500 cubic feet (42 m3) of North River bluestone was also used,[25] as was 4,280,000 pounds (1,940,000 kg) of limestone, mainly above the 33rd floor.[26] The contractors for these materials included John B. Rose Company for the brick; Martin P. Lodge for the bluestone; J.J. Spurr & Sons for the limestone; and New Jersey Terra Cotta for the terracotta.[27][28][29]

For decorative elements, 101 short tons (90 long tons; 92 t) of sheet copper was used.[24] Whale Creek Iron Works provided ornamental iron while Jno. Williams Inc. provided the ornamental bronze.[30][5] There were 85,203 square feet (7,915.6 m2) of glass used in the entire building, about 10% of which was actually interior glass.[24][31] There was extensive ornamentation used throughout the building, such as the eight arches atop the tower's exterior.[32]


The original Singer Building formed part of the base of the completed building.

As built, the original Singer Building was faced with stone and brick. When it was built, the plans called for the lowest two stories to be clad with stone. The third story contained a balcony extending along both facades. The four following stories were faced with brick and contained windows with stone surrounds. The seventh story was clad with stone and had a balcony doubling as a cornice, while the facade on the eighth story was made of brick. The original top stories comprised a decorative copper-and-slate roof with dormers and stone chimneys. The main entrance was on Liberty Street and had sculptures and ornament.[33] The Bourne Building was faced with Indiana limestone on its lowest two stories and red brick above.[34] The base had ironwork ornamentation in their mullions and window railings.[35]

After the 1906-1908 modifications, the main entrance faced Broadway on the eastern facade. This main entrance had a three-story-tall semicircular arch. A two-story architrave was beneath the arch, with an engraved cartouche reading "Singer" at the center. The upper part of the arch had a fanlight with five vertical mullions, below which was a bronze grille measuring 13 feet (4.0 m) wide and 24 feet (7.3 m) tall.[36]

As a result of the modifications, the first three stories were faced with rusticated North River bluestone.[9] Four stories were added between the 7th floor and the three-story roof during that time, and the Broadway facade was expanded from two bays to five.[5][37] With the modifications, the vertical bays were separated with vertical strips from the 4th to the 10th floors, with pediments above the 6th-floor windows. The 11th and 12th floors of the modified base consisted of two rows of small windows, with the 11th-floor windows spaced between brackets supporting a 12th-floor iron balcony. The top two stories contained dormer windows projecting from the mansard roof.[36] The sloped portions of the roof were clad with slate shingles, while the flat portion was covered with self-glazed roof tiles.[38]


The Singer Tower's facade was made of brick masonry ranging in thickness from 12 inches (300 mm) at the top to 40 inches (1,000 mm) at the base.[39] The Singer Tower contained five bays on each side, each measuring 12 feet (3.7 m) wide.[40] Construction plans show that there were 36 windows on each floor, or an average of six on each side.[22] The faces of the tower were made of dark red brick, except for decorative elements such as trimmings, copings, courses, and windowsills, which were made of North River bluestone. Vertical stone bands, separating the outermost bays from the three center bays on each side, divided the tower's facade into three vertical sections on each side.[41] Horizontal belt courses wrapped around the tower above the 17th, 18th, 23rd, 24th, 29th, and 30th stories, while there were terracotta balconies on each side at the 18th, 24th, and 30th stories.[9] Iron balconies also projected from the building at intervals of seven stories.[35][41] Near the top of the tower, the vertical stone bands on each side formed a tall arch evocative of the tower's dome.[42]

An ornamental balcony projected about 8 feet (2.4 m) outward from the 36th floor, supported by brackets on the 35th floor.[22][38][43] The balcony was supported by cantilevers.[44] The corner windows of the 36th and 37th stories are surrounded by stone architraves, while the center bays on the 36th through 38th stories were framed by ornate stone arches. There were oval windows on each corner at the 38th floor. Above that level, a heavy stone cornice ran around the corners and above the arches.[38]

The top of the tower contained a 50-foot-tall (15 m) dome covering the top three stories.[9][44] It was capped by a lantern measuring 9 feet (2.7 m) across at the base,[44] stretching 63.75 feet (19 m) tall.[45] The dome's roof was made of slate, while the roof ornamentation, dormers, and lantern were made of copper sheeting.[42][46] In its final years, the dome's trapezoidal skylights were replaced with dormer windows.[38] Though the top of the lantern was 612 feet (187 m) above ground level, a steel flagpole rose 62 feet (19 m) above the lantern, bringing the height of the Singer Tower to 674 feet (205 m) when measured from ground to tip.[35][47] The flagpole was actually 90 feet (27 m) long, but the base of the flagpole was embedded into the tower.[47] The tower was lit at night by 1,600 incandescent lamps and thirty 18-inch (460 mm) projectors,[48] which were visible at distances of up to 20 miles (32 km).[24]

Structural features[edit]


The original Singer Building at 149 Broadway was initially supported by load-bearing walls, while the Bourne Building annex at 85–89 Liberty Street had an internal steel skeleton.[7] The original Singer Building was altered between 1906 and 1908 to use a steel skeleton.[49] The entire building used 850 steel columns.[50] The columns were generally constructed in two-story segments, except on the basements, first floor, and 14th through 16th floors.[49][51] The mansard roof of the base, excluding the tower, was supported by rafters.[52] Millikin Brothers Inc. was the structural steel supplier for the project.[16][44]

Typical floor plan in the tower section

The Singer Tower addition of 1906–1908 had a steel skeleton and weighed 18,365 short tons (16,397 long tons; 16,660 t).[40] The tower's columns were spaced 12 feet (3.7 m) apart on their centers.[17] Because the three center bays on each side contained windows, only the corners used fully diagonal bracing, and as such, were treated as square prisms.[52][53] Inside, there was another structure for the centrally-located elevator shafts, which were longitudinally connected to the corners of the tower.[22][41][54] The columns at the tower's corners were supported by a girder at the fourth floor, while 36 columns rose from the basement into the tower.[44][55] Four pillars were placed at each corner of the tower, and six more pillars were placed in the elevator shafts.[22][55] Each truss extended upward for two stories, causing the columns and braces to act as wind-resistant cantilevers.[22][52] The braces on the north and south contained eleven panels each while those on the east and west contained ten panels.[22] The four columns at the center of the tower supported its dome.[44][56]

The superstructure was erected using two boom derricks. One of them, with a capacity of 40 short tons (36 long tons; 36 t), a 75-foot (23 m) mast, and a 65-foot (20 m) boom, lifted the steel beams from ground level to a 17th-story platform. The other was installed on the 17th floor and had a capacity of 25 short tons (22 long tons; 23 t); this derrick erected the tower's steel.[57][58] Generally, it took less than five minutes to transfer the steel from ground level to the superstructure.[58] German steel was used in the Singer Tower's framing due to the builders' belief that German workmanship was better than that of Americans.[41][59] The superstructure of the tower was intended to withstand wind pressure of 30 pounds per square foot (1.4 kPa),[56][60][61] even though the highest recorded wind pressure in the neighborhood was less than 10 pounds per square foot (0.48 kPa) at the time of the Singer Building's construction.[60][62]

The internal structure also used 4,520 short tons (4,040 long tons; 4,100 t) of Portland cement and 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2) of concrete subflooring.[31] The Singer Building's floors generally used terracotta flat arches 10 inches (250 mm) deep, and many of the internal partitions also used terracotta blocks.[39]


The underlying layer of bedrock was 92 feet (28 m) deep, above which were layers of quicksand, hardpan, rocks, clay, and soil. In addition, the water level was 20 feet (6.1 m) below the Singer Building.[63][64] However, the ground composition under the lot varied significantly, as the hardpan was compact in some places and loose in others.[65] Below the water level, the ground was saturated with groundwater, making it unfeasible to dig the cellar conventionally.[62] The Foundation Company was the contractor for the foundations.[16][65]

The foundation for the tower was excavated to a depth of 85 feet (26 m) using pneumatic caissons.[b] The caissons were used to extract the underlying soil, then filled with concrete to create piers.[62][64][66] Each caisson pier was designed to carry 30,000 pounds per square foot (1,400 kPa).[40] A gridiron of steel girders was placed atop the caisson piers.[67] Because of the design of the tower addition's wind-bracing superstructure, the upward pull on some of the piers was greater than the dead load that these piers carried. As a result, numerous eyebars of different lengths were embedded in ten of the caissons, with the concrete being poured onto the eyebars.[56][60][68] The rods were embedded 50 feet (15 m) into the caisson piers. The system, devised in house by Flagg's office, was more than twice as expensive as a conventional foundation would have cost for a building of the Singer Tower's size.[40][69] The original plan was for the caissons to be sunk only 20 feet (6.1 m) deep, but the builders changed plans midway through the excavations, so that the caissons would go to hardpan.[66]

The original portions of the building were built on grillages 24 feet (7.3 m) below the sidewalk level.[65] These foundations were strengthened when the tower was added.[37] The total weight of the Singer Building, including the tower addition, was carried by 54 steel columns atop the concrete foundation piers.[70]


The Singer Building was intended to be fireproof, and the tower section mostly used concrete floors, with wood used in some doors, windows, railings and decorative elements.[71][72] The base used more wood, mainly in the floors, windows, and doors.[71] All of the stairs in the building were made of cast iron.[35] The interior trim in the Singer Building was made of metal painted to resemble wood, including in the doors. Actual wooden furniture was used in the Singer Company's main offices on the 34th floor.[72][73] There were also ornamental plaster features executed by H. W. Miller Inc.[5][74] The plaster was used extensively for the walls and ceilings.[72] The usable office space in the building totaled 9.5 acres (38,000 m2).[17]

The Singer Building took water from the New York City water supply system, where it was filtered through ammonia coils and then through two filters into two suction tanks.[75] Inside the Singer Building, there were seven water tanks to serve a projected demand of 15,000 U.S. gallons (57,000 l; 12,000 imp gal) each hour. Three tanks on the Singer Tower's 29th, 39th, and 42nd floors had a combined capacity of 15,000 U.S. gallons (57,000 l; 12,000 imp gal), and served various portions of the tower. Additionally, to provide water to the base, there was one tank of 5,000 U.S. gallons (19,000 l; 4,200 imp gal) was in the Bourne Building and three tanks of a combined 18,000 U.S. gallons (68,000 l; 15,000 imp gal) in the original Singer Building.[22][76] This allowed all offices in the tower portion to be provided with cold, hot, and ice water.[76] Two heaters in the basement provided heated water to the entire building. There was also a refrigeration plant with two pumps and a small freezing system capable of producing 500 to 1,000 pounds (230 to 450 kg) of ice daily.[77]

The Singer Building contained a vacuum steam system, although the ground floor lobby and the basement vaults were heated by an indirect-steam system. Heating came from steel radiators on each floor; the radiators in the ground-floor banking rooms and the Singer Company's 33rd and 34th floor offices were enclosed within ornamental screens.[78] About 1,600 steam radiators were installed throughout the building.[79] In addition to providing heat, the building's boilers also provided power to the entire building.[80] The boilers had to generate 150,000,000 pounds (68,000,000 kg) of steam pressure to meet demand.[24] Initially, the Bourne and original Singer buildings had boilers aggregating 546 horsepower (407 kW) and power generators with a capacity of 387.5 kilowatts (519.6 hp).[81] With the 1906-1908 addition, boilers aggregating 1,925 horsepower (1,435 kW) were installed,[47][80] and generators with a capacity of 1,400 kilowatts (1,900 hp) were added, replacing the old ones. A steel smokestack at the northwest corner of the building was shared with the City Investing Building to the north.[81]

The interior view of the lobby mezzanine


The lobby, accessed from Broadway,[38] was finished with Pavonazzo marble and had 42 short tons (38 long tons; 38 t) of bronze work.[82][83] The lobby was characterized as exuding "celestial radiance".[10] The lobby ceiling was supported by two rows of eight square marble columns trimmed with bronze beading.[42][72][83] There were large bronze medallions atop each column, depicting either the Singer Company's monogram or a needle, thread, and bobbin.[10][42][83] The tops of the columns had decorative pendentives,[83] which supported glazed plaster domes above.[74] The pendentives were ornately decorated with gold leaf.[84] The drums of the domes originally contained flat, circular amber glass lights in steel frames, which were later replaced with modern glass lighting fixtures.[72]

Immediately outside the entrance, on either side of the lobby, were stairs leading up to a balcony and down to the basement,[38][85] while the south wall also contained stairs to the original Singer Building.[72][85] The elevators were clustered on the northern wall, opposite the stairs to the original Singer Building.[38][85][86] A balcony, trimmed with bronze, overlooked the lobby.[83] There were Italian marble stairs at the rear of the lobby, which split into two flights connecting to either portion of the balcony.[72][83] A master clock on the central landing of the rear stairs controlled all of the other clocks in the building.[72][87]

In addition to the main lobby, there were two secondary entrances on Liberty Street: one to the original Singer Building and one to the Bourne Building. Both secondary entrances also connected to the main lobby to the north. There was also retail space on the ground floor.[86]


The boiler room and mechanical plant were in the basement, and consisted of five boilers and five generators.[81] The boilers were clustered under the western portion of the building, while an engine room was in the center. A pump room and machine room were on the southeastern corner, a chief engineer's office, electrician's room, and waste paper room. A compressor room was at the northeastern corner.[88]

From the basement, a corridor extended east to the safe deposit vaults.[88] There were ten vaults used by the Safe Deposit Company of New York, within a space of 10,000 square feet (930 m2). The vaults each contained several thousand safe-deposit boxes and the vault walls were formed of several layers of steel. The door to the largest vault weighed over 16 short tons (14 long tons; 15 t). In addition, the vaults abutted 26 coupon rooms and three committee rooms for the company.[89]

Other floors[edit]

The 2nd through 13th floors contained offices flanking a "T" shaped corridor facing away from the elevators.[72] The ceilings of the 2nd through 13th floors were generally painted in white water color while the walls were light tan.[84] The average floor in the base contained 40 offices.[17]

The floors of the tower contained a "U"-shaped layout surrounding the elevators in the center of the building, with emergency stairs in the tower's core. In the Singer Building's tower, there were very few partitions, except for elevators and restrooms.[72][90] The average floor in the tower contained 16 offices.[17][22] On these floors, the ceilings were painted ivory and the walls were olive green.[84] The Singer Company's main offices on the 33rd through 35th floors, where there was a plethora of ornamental plaster.[74]

The highest publicly accessible point in the Singer Building was 564 feet (172 m) above the curb, at the lantern balcony.[43] When the observatory opened on June 23, 1908,[91] visitors paid $0.50 (equivalent to $14 in 2019) to use the observation area at the top of the building. From this observatory, visitors were able to see up to 30 miles (48 km) away.[92] After two people jumped from the observatory and died, the Singer Tower received the nickname "Suicide Pinnacle" and the observatory was closed.[82] From the observatory, a series of steep ladders and stairs led to the lantern.[46]


There were fifteen Otis electric traction elevators in the completed building,[93][94] as well as one electric-drum elevator, for a total of sixteen elevators.[95][96] The tower portion had nine elevators, eight of which ran from the lobby.[15] Four of these were "local" elevators making all stops between the lobby and the 13th floor, two of which continued down to the basement. Four "express" elevators ran from the lobby to the upper floors, three of which terminated at the 35th floor and the fourth at the 40th floor. Another "shuttle" elevator served only the 35th through 38th floors.[15][97] The elevators could carry loads of up to 2,500 pounds (1,100 kg) and could travel from the lobby to the top floor at 600 feet per minute (180 m/min), faster than any other elevator at the time.[93][96][98]

The base had seven elevators: four in the Bourne Building and three in the original Singer Building. Two of the elevators in the base, one each in the Bourne and original Singer buildings, served all floors from the basement to the roof. The other five ran only from the first floor to the 14th floor.[96] The original Singer Building's elevators were in a single group on the southeastern side of the building, while the Bourne Building's elevators were in two pairs opposite each other.[85] The building's managers hired female elevator operators, whom they characterized as "businesslike in appearance and polite in manner", as opposed to the "slovenly male operator with the ever-ready 'back talk'".[99] The cabs were also equipped with telephones for the elevator operators and starters to communicate.[100][101]


Original building and annex[edit]

In February 1890, the Singer Manufacturing Company acquired the lot at 151–153 Broadway.[102] The next month, they bought the lots at 149 Broadway and 83 Liberty Street, at the northwest corner of the two streets.[102][103] The three lots had cost the company over $950,000 (equivalent to $25,352,000 in 2019), and at the time were occupied by four- to six-story buildings.[102] The three lots were separate prior to the Singer Company's acquisition, but were combined post-acquisition.[104]

Ernest Flagg filed plans for the original Singer Building in early 1897. The plans called for a 10-story stone-and-brick building with banking rooms on the lowest two stories, the Singer Company's offices on the center stories, and rental office space on the middle six stories.[33][105] During construction, while workers were excavating the site in June 1897, a water main burst and flooded the lot.[106] Despite this, the original Singer Building was completed in early 1898.[7][107]

In December 1897, before the original Singer Building was completed, Bourne bought three five-story structures at 85–89 Liberty Street, on a plot measuring 74.8 by 99.8 feet (22.8 by 30.4 m).[105][108][109] Flagg was retained to design the 14-story Bourne Building on the site, and when he submitted building plans in 1898, the annex was estimated to cost $450,000.[110][34] Bourne did not take title to the Bourne Building's site until September 1899,[111] and the Bourne Building was completed the same year.[7] By 1900, the original Singer and Bourne buildings were both fully occupied.[105] The tenants included the law office of Augustus Van Wyck,[112] as well as the Trust Company of America.[113] Boiler manufacturers Babcock & Wilcox were long-term tenants, occupying Singer Building for more than forty years from the beginning of the 20th century.[114]


Aerial view of Lower Manhattan in 1919 looking east; the Singer Tower is at center right

Further acquisitions followed in the 1900s. Bourne bought an iron-front building at 155 and 157 Broadway, which had a frontage of about 39.8 feet (12.1 m) on Broadway, in 1900.[105][108] This was followed in 1902 by the purchase of 163 Broadway, a house with a frontage of only 12.5 feet (3.8 m),[115] and in 1903 by the purchase of the five-story 93 Liberty Street, which added a frontage of 27 feet (8.2 m).[116] By 1905, the Singer Company controlled most of the block along both Broadway and Liberty Street; the original Singer Building was an L-shaped structure extending west and then north from the northwestern corner of Broadway and Liberty Street.[117]

Tower construction[edit]

Concurrently with the land acquisitions, Flagg had been retained to design a second addition to the Singer Building in 1902. By early the next year, he was planning a building that would be the tallest in the world, with over 35 stories.[7] However, the Singer Manufacturing Company did not reveal specific details until February 1906, when it announced that it would build a 594-foot (181 m) tower, the world's tallest.[92][118] Revised plans were filed in July 1906, which provided for a stronger wind-resistant structure.[119] The company intended to occupy the space above the 31st floor, and planned to rent out the bottom section of the tower to tenants to subsidize their use of the upper floors.[7] The Singer Company projected that it would earn $250,000 of rent per year, given a baseline rental cost of $3 per square foot ($32/m2).[120] Numerous engineers were hired to create the construction plans as soon as the architect's plans and specifications were published.[121]

Before the foundations were built, the builders made several test borings to determine the composition of the underlying soil.[23][65] Contracts for digging the foundation were awarded in August 1906 before the plans were approved.[122] The plans for the Singer Tower were approved on September 12, 1906,[123] and excavation began later that month,[63][64][123] with work officially beginning on September 19.[16][123] A timber platform was constructed to extract soil to Broadway.[64] The first steel shipments, for the anchorages, arrived in October 1906.[121] Foundation work was done on February 18, 1907.[123]

The superstructure was constructed afterward. A temporary elevator was installed while the tower's superstructure was being erected.[124] During the construction process, city building inspectors alleged that the builders had violated city law by installing concrete flooring instead of hollow-tile floors. As a result, the builders were ordered to replace some of the non-compliant arches.[125] By August 1907, the steel frame had reached 36 stories, surpassing the Washington Monument's height.[126] That month, Prince Wilhelm of Sweden visited the 29th floor to see the construction process.[127] On October 4, 1907, the building topped out with the hoisting of the flagpole.[128][129] After the building topped out, the interiors were furnished and plastered.[74] Despite the high wind conditions, there were no serious accidents in construction.[14] There was a small fire on the 40th floor in February 1908, described at the time as "the highest fire in any building in the world".[130]

Base expansion[edit]

In conjunction with the tower's construction, in late 1905, Flagg was hired to design a westward annex to the Bourne Building and a northward annex of the original Singer Building. The Bourne and Singer buildings were to united internally, and the old Singer Building was to be expanded to 14 stories.[20] The top story of the Bourne Building would also be expanded so that it would cover the same area as the Bourne Building's lower floors.[131] Plans for the Bourne and Singer extensions were filed in late 1906 and early 1907, respectively.[123]

During the construction of the Singer Tower, the original Singer Building was shored up and additional foundations were built.[37][66][132] The top three stories of the old Singer Building, including the mansard roof, were temporarily taken apart in June 1907, so that four additional stories could be inserted above the existing seventh story. As such, the old eighth story of the old Singer Building became the new 12th story. This added 15,600 square feet (1,450 m2) of usable space without disturbing tenants on the lower floors.[37][133] Several columns were erected at the old building's front and rear elevations, extending from the basement to the 11th floor to support the raised roof. Holes were created in the existing floors of the Singer Building so that they could be supported by steel columns instead of by the bearing walls.[49] The old Singer Building was extended north by 74 feet (23 m), with the three additional bays on Broadway designed in the same style as the original two.[5]

In the Bourne Building, the three existing elevators were removed and replaced with four elevators, necessitating the complete replacement of the framing around the old elevator shafts.[49] The main entrance to the original Singer Building was replaced with a small window.[5]

Completion and further use[edit]

Singer Building with the Hudson Terminal in 1909

On May 1, 1908, the tower was opened to the public.[63][123] The construction workers held a dinner that week to celebrate the completion of work.[134] A month later, on June 23, the observation balcony opened.[91] The Singer Building quickly became a symbol of Manhattan with its floodlighted tower.[14] The Singer Building was the tallest in the world for a year after the tower addition's completion. The record was surpassed by the 700-foot (210 m) Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower at 23rd Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan's Flatiron District, completed in 1909.[10] Although it was the world's tallest building, the Singer Building was not the tallest structure in the world; that record was held by the Eiffel Tower, which was 1,063 feet (324 m) tall.[8]

In the building's first few months, the elevators were involved in at least two deadly incidents: that of a painter on May 4,[135] and that of a plumber's assistant on July 24.[136] Additionally, in a publicity stunt in 1911, the aviator Harry Atwood flew around the Singer Building.[137] The expanded building's tenants included Chatham and Phenix National Bank, whose main office moved to the Singer Building in 1916.[138] The vaults were originally occupied by the Safe Deposit Company of New York.[89][139] The power source for the building's steam plant was converted from coal to oil in 1921, making the Singer Building the city's first office building to use oil as a fuel.[140]

In 1921, the Singer Company placed the building for sale at an asking price of $10 million.[141] The building was sold in 1925 to a buyer representing the Utilities Power and Light Corporation, a holding company for several states' power companies. The transaction involved a cash deal of $8.5 million.[142] The same year, a subbasement vault was dug for the Chatham and Phenix National Bank after the bank's merger with the Metropolitan Trust Company, and three of the lower floors were renovated for the bank's use.[143]

Over the Singer Building's existence, its lighting was changed at least five times,[5] The copper ornamentation on the tower's dome was restored in 1939.[82] The flagpole and roof crestings were removed entirely in early 1947.[5] The building experienced an electrical fire in 1949 that forced the evacuation of the entire building, although only one person was injured.[144][145] The revolving doors at the base had been removed by 1958, being replaced with standard doors. A year later, new elevators and elevator doors were installed to comply with building codes. Toward the end of its existence, the Singer Building's two large ground-level storefronts were subdivided into smaller ones.[5] Taller buildings continued to be constructed in New York City, and by its 50th anniversary in 1958, the Singer Building was only the 16th tallest in the city.[146]


In 1961, Singer announced that it would sell the building and move to Rockefeller Center.[147] According to property records, the Singer Company sold the building to Iacovone Rose, who immediately sold it to Financial Place Inc.[16] The building was then acquired by real estate developer William Zeckendorf, who sought unsuccessfully for the New York Stock Exchange to move there. In 1964, United States Steel acquired the Singer Building, along with the neighboring City Investing Building.[148] U.S. Steel planned to demolish the entire block to erect a new 54-story headquarters on the same site.[149]

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was created in 1965,[150] in the wake of several notable buildings in the city having been either demolished or threatened with demolition.[151] Although the Singer Building was considered to be one of the most iconic buildings in New York City, it did not receive landmark designation, which would have prevented it from being torn down. In August 1967, the commission's executive director Alan Burnham said that if the building were to have been made a landmark, the city would have to either find a buyer for it or acquire it.[152] Sam Roberts later wrote in The New York Times that the Singer Building had been one of the city's notable structures that "weren't considered worth preserving".[153] Demolition had commenced by September 1967.[154] A New York Times writer observed in March 1968 that the lobby looked like "a bomb had hit it".[14] The last piece of scrap had been carted away in early 1969, and the New York Daily News observed, "The Singer fell victim to a malady called progress".[155]

The U.S. Steel Building (later known as One Liberty Plaza) was built on the site, being completed in 1973.[86] One Liberty Plaza contained 37,000 square feet (3,400 m2) per floor, compared with the 4,200 square feet (390 m2) per floor in the Singer Building's tower.[10] One Liberty Plaza had at least twice the two former buildings' combined interior area.[156] At the time of the Singer Building's demolition, it was the tallest building ever to be destroyed.[19][157][158] The record remained until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which caused the collapse of the nearby World Trade Center.[8] Afterward, the Singer Building remained the tallest building to be destroyed by its owners,[159] until 2019, when deconstruction of the 707-foot (215 m) 270 Park Avenue building started in Midtown Manhattan.[160]


Diagram of the world's tallest buildings from 1908 to 1974; the Singer Building is at far left

Flagg, a noted critic of existing skyscrapers, justified taking on the project as a way of generating support for skyscraper reform.[161] As late as 1904, one architectural magazine wrote that "Ten stories were his limit."[162] According to Flagg, buildings over 10 or 15 stories needed to have a setback tower occupying no more than a quarter of the lot.[104][4] He had once written, "Our rooms and offices are becoming so dark that we must use artificial light all day long."[6] Flagg's opinions on city planning and skyscraper design were expressed in the Singer Building's design.[104] Architectural writers Sarah Landau and Carl W. Condit wrote that the building's design partly influenced the city's 1916 Zoning Resolution, which required skyscrapers in New York City to have setbacks as they rose; this was designed to prevent the city's mid-20th century skyscrapers from overwhelming the streets with their sheer bulk.[c] However, these setbacks were not required if the building occupied 25% or less of its lot.[86]

New York Times architectural critic Christopher Gray said that the Singer Building's tower resembled "a bulbous mansard and giant lantern".[10] Architectural writer Jason Barr stated that the Singer Building was a "transitional building" in skyscraper development.[8] Landau and Condit described the building as "an aesthetic triumph that enriched the city by demonstrating the sculptural possibilities of the steel-framed skyscraper".[86] When the building was being demolished, Ada Louise Huxtable said, "The master never produced a more impressive ruin than the Singer Building under demolition."[165] Not all critics appraised the Singer Building positively; the New York Globe called the Singer Building an "architectural giraffe" and said that such a tall building would hinder the ability of fire services to rescue people on the upper floors.[14]



  1. ^ The "Singer Tower" name generally referred only to the Singer Building's tower, which covered a small portion of the lot.[4][5]
  2. ^ The building's chief engineer cites 30 caissons,[66] but the number of caissons is also cited as thirty-four.[9][67]
  3. ^ As per the 1916 Zoning Act, the wall of any given tower that faces a street could only rise to a certain height, proportionate to the street's width, at which point the building had to be set back by a given proportion. This system of setbacks would continue until the tower reaches a floor level in which that level's floor area was 25% that of the ground level's area. After that 25% threshold was reached, the building could rise without restriction.[163] This law was superseded by the 1961 Zoning Resolution.[164]


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External links[edit]

Preceded by
Philadelphia City Hall
Tallest building in the world
187 m
Succeeded by
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower
Tallest building in the United States
187 m
Preceded by
Park Row Building
Tallest building in New York
187 m
Succeeded by
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower