One Liberty Plaza
Singer Building
City Investing Building

09.14.01 War, day three.

One Liberty Plaza is doomed, it seems - if not soon, eventually. The name has a grim symbolic resonance, of course, but our attachment to symbols now seems like an indulgence, a frivolity we can no longer afford. One Liberty Plaza has fallen, how horribly symbolic! Yeah, right. Now help us move this slab and get the people out of the underground concourse, okay?

You don’t need symbols when you have the real thing. We have liberty. A building neither grants it nor stands for it. Knock down every building named liberty, and the thing itself remains.

It was originally the U. S. Steel building - and while that’s not symbolic either, it’s instructive of an earlier era of post-war (pre-war?) capitalism. In the 50s and 60s, corporations were solid single-purpose entities whose names clearly reflected their business; and usually had an HQ in Manhattan. It was the era of centralized offices, of the rise of the technocrats, the managerial class, the organization man. (I’m being simplistic, obviously - the U.S. Steel building was finished in 72.) Manhattan is stuffed with these sorts of buildings, all from the same era of corporate consolidation. They all shared the same architectural pedigree, a blunt black Miesian slab. Some, like the Seagram building, have grace and a simple mute beauty; others resemble the U. S. Steel building. It’s a dense, ponderous brute, 54 floors tall, earthbound all the way. (The excessive amount of steel, interestingly enough, encases flame canopies designed to avoid fire-induced structural failure.)

The building replaced two interesting structures, shown at left. The thin needle of the much-loved Singer Tower once stood here, and the site also held the City Investing Building, one of the wildest structures I’ve ever seen - it's what you'd get if Caligula was mayor. Doing a little research today I found an amusing anecdote: the plaza for the U. S. Steel building was incomplete until 1980, because a tenant in a small building - a Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee shop! - refused to sell. So they waited until the lease expired, then knocked the shop down. The same damn thing happened to City Investors - there’s a small building in the corner that refused to sell, requiring the architects to work around it, as you can see. Same building?

I hope so. Additional pointless note: I’m having a good strong cup of Chock Full O’ Nuts right now; I always keep a can around in case I run out of local beans. Better coffee a millionaire can’t buy, you know.

The planes are landing again. I saw them fly over the house tonight and I wanted to, and did, cheer. Waved them past. Gnat waved hello as well. It’s a heartening sight.

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