Wed, 6 August 2014
One World Trade Center was declared last year the tallest building in America, but it's a very different structure from the other skyscrapers who have once held that title. In New York, owning the tallest building has often been like possessing a valuable trophy, a symbol of commercial and social superiority. In a city driven by commerce, size matters.
In this special show, I give you a rundown of the history of being tall in New York City, short profiles of the 12 structures (11 skyscrapers and one church!) that have held this title. In several cases, these weren't just the tallest buildings in the city; they were the tallest in the world.
Skyscrapers were not always well received. New York's tallest building in 1899 was derisively referred to as a "horned monster." Lower Manhattan became defined by this particular kind of structure, creating a canyon of claustrophobic, darkened streets. But a new destination for these sorts of spectacular towers beckoned in the 1920s -- 42nd Street.
You'll be familiar with a great number of these -- the Woolworth, the Chrysler, the Empire State. But in the early days of skyscrapers, an odd assortment of buildings took the crown as New York's tallest, from the vanity project of a newspaper publisher to a turtle-like tower made for a sewing machine company.
At stake in the race for the tallest is dominance in the New York City skyline. With brand new towers popping up now all over the five boroughs, should be worried that they'll overshadow the classics? Or should the skyline always be in a constant state of flux?
ALSO: New York's very first tall buildings and the ominous purpose they were used for during the Revolutionary War!
PICTURES, SOURCES and RECOMMENDED READING will be available at boweryboyspodcast.com
CORRECTION: Ack, I keep saying Crystal Palace Exposition when it's actually Crystal Palace Exhibition! I mean, they basically mean the same thing, almost, right?
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