Did you know that Lower Manhattan's Singer Building is the tallest building ever to be demolished intentionally?
Completed in 1908, the Singer Sewing Company building, formerly located at 149 Broadway at Liberty Street, once stood as a New York City icon reaching 612 feet, or 41 stories, into the sky. The building, in which the visions of French architect Ernest Flagg and Singer Sewing Company President Frederick Bourne were merged, earned a prominent place on the New York skyline and held the title of world's tallest building for more than a year. (In 1909, midtown's 700-foot-tall Metropolitan Life Tower on Madison Avenue surpassed the Singer Building and stood as the world's tallest building until 1913, when the Woolworth Building captured the title).
In 1902, the Singer Company -- then the leading manufacturer of sewing machines, churning out an estimated 500,000 a year - commissioned Flagg to help enlarge the original building while also purchasing additional properties to the north and west. At the time, Flagg -- who had originally opposed skyscrapers -- was seeking to reform building design and lobbied for structures that would stand no more than 10 to 15 stories high and be set back from property lines. In this way, he hoped to avoid having buildings cast dismal shadows on nearby streets while also helping to break up what promised otherwise to become a monotonous skyline.
Flagg created a design for a smaller, slender tower atop the building's original 12-story base. But because the Singer Company was determined to make its mark on the city, Bourne opted to nearly double the height of the tower, to 612 feet. Flagg adopted the bright red brick and bluestone design of the original building, incorporated iron-framed bay windows up the sides of the ornate tower and placing an enormous lantern at its peak.
In 1906, work on the building began with the reconstruction of its original 1896 base. By 1908, the finished product became one of the city's best-known landmarks -- standing as the tallest building in the New York skyline. The narrow, 65-sqare-foot tower provided limited operating space, but it functioned as an effective marketing tool for the sewing machine company: As the tallest building in the world for 18 months, the structure -- as well as the Singer name -- received worldwide attention through the mid-1900s.
In 1961, Singer, like many companies during the era, was eager to join the throngs of large companies relocating to Midtown Manhattan and soon announced its plans to sell the downtown tower. William Zeckendorf, chairman of the development firm Webb & Knapp, purchased the building, as well as the rest of the property on the block, with the intention of relocating the New York Stock Exchange to the site.
Zeckendorf's plan for the Stock Exchange failed, and in 1964, United States Steel purchased the old Singer Building. Challenged by the tower's lack of functional space -- which measured only 4,200 square feet per floor -- U.S. Steel decided to demolish Flagg's landmark structure in August 1967 to make way for what became the 54-story U.S. Steel Building - today's One Liberty Plaza -- complete with 37,000 square feet per floor.