The Brooklyn Bridge In Context

The titled listed for this photo at the Library of Congress is simply “Brooklyn Bridge”; when you look at the metadata there’s a note that the original title “continues ‘… from the Washington Building.'” It’s a great shot, showing the bridge behind a wide swathe of lower Manhattan, but it shows a few other things.

The Washington Building is at One Broadway. It was constructed in 1882 and then had its facade heavily modified in 1919. It’s got a great site, facing Battery Park and the harbor to the south and Bowling Green to the east. Its roof, as can be seen from the photo, provided a nice bird’s eye view before taller buildings were constructed west, north, and east of it. This angle shows a few big buildings – the castle with a conical turret is the 1885 Cotton Exchange at Beaver and William Streets; the tall light-colored office building just to its left is the 1890 Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company of New York, the building with the big dome left of that is 55 Wall Street (see below), and the very large dark-colored building with the top-floor arcade in the lower right is the Produce Exchange.

55 Wall Street has a slightly odd history. It was constructed as the Merchants’ Exchange following the Great Fire of 1835, when the old exchange burned down. It was four stories high, more or less fireproof, and had a central hall (the dome) surrounded by a rectangle of offices. Then around 1910, the rectangle was doubled in height as the building was converted serve as the headquarters of the National City Bank of New York, later known as Citibank. Seen from above today, the dome is hardly visible because the rectangle has grown; in the view above, the dome is the most prominent feature.

But most the buildings we see in this angle, looking north and east, are small industrial buildings: warehouses and ship-related business supporting the adjacent East River docks, and various small industries that had not yet been driven out of downtown. Many of those buildings – particularly the ones with gable roofs sloping down to the front and back – date from the first half of the 1800s; almost all of them in this view are long gone.

For what it’s worth, the Washington Building, the Farmers’ Loan and Trust, and the Produce Exchange are discussed in The Structure of Skyscrapers. The Cotton Exchange and 55 Wall both miss the cut-off of ten stories.

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