NYC Architecture - The History of Buildings in New York

While known worldwide for the widest collection of skyscrapers found anywhere, New York has a wide range of architectural styles throughout the city. From the brownstone row houses, tenements and townhouses in residential areas to the Old St Patrick’s Cathedral and the beautiful designs of the Central Synagogue to the modernistic designs seen in buildings such as the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, there is no lack of variety within the architecture found in NYC. Skyscrapers caused a shift in commercial districts and disrupted some residential areas transitioning from low rise to high-rise designs. However, zoning changes have attempted to limit new construction based on lot sizes to allow natural lighting to reach city streets. Several modern architecture designs are following the example set by the Hearst Tower design that blends old and new architectural design with eco-friendly features within green buildings that are energy efficient and leave less of a carbon footprint. While many of the oldest buildings in NYC have been torn down to make way for the new, there are still numerous historical buildings designated as landmarks for visitors to enjoy.

1809 -Old St Patrick’s Cathedral : Designed by Joseph Francois Mangin, the construction began in 1809 making this one of the oldest structures in NYC. In addition to an impressive marble altar, the church houses a historic Erban organ dating back to 1852 in its original condition and still in use today. As a landmark in the historic Little Italy neighborhood, it is necessary see stop for tourist worldwide.

1846 -Trinity Church: This is actually the third church to stand on this site since1698. Today’s church is a wonderful example of Gothic Revival design by architecture Richard Upjohn. The 280-foot spire made it the tallest building in NYC until the first skyscraper was built. Visitors can learn about the church history in the church museum and stroll through the churchyard to see monuments to American history.

1851 -St Patrick’s Cathedral: Though plans began for the new St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1851, the cornerstone to the lavish design was not laid until 1858 and construction was interrupted by the Civil War. The white marble chosen for use in this Gothic Revival design is placed over brick. The church also has some of the most elaborate stain glass windows. Visitors and parishioners can view sculptures and other works of art within the cathedral.

1870 - Central Synagogue Central Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in New York. Designed and built in 1870 by architecture Henry Fernbach, the synagogue features a Basilican design plan and unique Moorish stone arches. Visitors are welcome and the synagogue hosts organ concerts free on Tuesdays October through May in the main sanctuary from 12:30-1:30 PM visit this website for more details.

1880 - Metropolitan Museum of Art Originally designed by architectures Jacob Wrey Mould and Calvert Vaux in a Ruskinian Gothic design, the museum has undergone dramatic changes through the years. In addition to the extensive art exhibits, visitors come from all over the world to view the architecture and design elements of the museum building and property.

1881 Dakota Apartments: The Dakota Apartments were built from 1881-1884 and were designed by the same architect that designed the Western Union Building and the Plaza hotel. A unique blend of German Gothic, English Victorian, and French Renaissance has made these apartments a favorite for celebrities. Celebrities such as Judy Garland, John and Yoko Lennon and Paul Simon have made this their home. The Dakota Apartments may be best recognized as the building in the movie, Rosemary’s Baby. Visitors come to view the building as well as the memorial garden, Strawberry Fields across from the Dakota Apartments that were dedicated to John Lennon.

1884 Statue of Liberty While not a traditional building, no visit to New York would be complete without a visit to the Statue of Liberty. Architect Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel worked together to make the statue possible. Thousands of visitors a year flock to Liberty Island and tour the inside of the statue to visit the observation deck.

1890 -Carnegie Hall - The architect that designed Carnegie Hall was William Burnett Tuthill. Turhill was an amateur cellist and he used his love for music and knowledge gained from studying concert halls in Europe to design a smooth interior, domed ceiling, and other unique features to project sounds with clarity and richness missing in many other music halls.

1892 -St John the Divine Since the cornerstone for this cathedral was laid in 1892, construction has been halted on numerous occasions, and even now, the cathedral is unfinished. Numerous architects have been involved in the design that is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic designs. When or if it is ever completed it will be the third largest church in the world! Among its many features is the world’s largest stain glass window that is made up of over 10,000 individual glass fragments. Visitors can take vertical tours straight up to the very top of the cathedral.

1893 - Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower - The Metropolitan Life Tower is best recognized by the large 26.5-feet diameter clock faces on the four sides of the tower. The tower was home to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company until 2005 at which time plans were undertaken to convert it to apartments. When planning a visit to the area, tourists enjoy the multi-light display from a computerized lighting system that displays colors that change according to events or holidays.

1899 -Park Row Building This is one of the first buildings to be called a skyscraper in NYC. Standing 391 feet, this building was one of the tallest in the world for ten years, until the Singer Building was built to the height of 612 feet, the Singer building was demolished in 1968.

1902 - Flatiron Building (Fuller Building) Constructed in 1902, the Flatiron Building, though not the tallest skyscraper in NYC, is certainly the most unusual! During the construction, many doubted the building would even remain upright and dubbed it the Burnham Folly! Today the Flatiron Building is the center of a popular shopping district attracting thousands of visitors each year!

1903-Grand Central Terminal Though there has been a train station or terminal in this area since the late 1800s, the Grand Central Terminal was not build until 1903 and involved a massive effort to convert the rail system to electric rails. The ornate design was collaboration among three architects that took ten years to complete. At its peak, over forty percent of the population in the US traveled trains into or from the Grand Central Terminal. Today it has been restored and hosts nearly seventy of the finest restaurants, cocktail lounges, and retail shops in the city.

1904 -St Regis-Sheraton Hotel - This hotel is an example of French Beaux-Arts design. An expansion of the original hotel added in 1927 included several stories to the hotel and doubled its size. The famous Old King Cole Bar is a popular NYC hangout. When New Yorkers think luxury, they often refer to this glamorous building!

1907 - Plaza Hotel Inspired by the beauty of French chateaus, Henry Janeway Hardenbergh designed the Plaza. Hardenbergh also designed the Dakota Apartments. Among its many features and elegant details are over 16-hundred crystal chandeliers. Visitors to the Plaza may recognize it from many movies including Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. The Plaza boutique now hosts specialty gift shops, spas, and restaurants that are visited by people from around the world each year.

1911 -Woolworth Building This building was completed in 1913 and served as headquarters for the Woolworth store chain. Designed by Cass Gilbert, it is one of the oldest skyscrapers in the city. The beautiful design closely resembles the Gothic cathedrals of Europe. Though the building is no longer open to the public for tours, there are residential apartments, businesses, and a branch of the NYU-SCPS campus within the building.

1927 - Temple Emanu-El The home of Temple Emanu-El resulted from merging with another synagogue in NYC resulting in the largest synagogue in the world. The Romanesque Revival design and grand size makes this one of the most elegant synagogues surpassing the largest synagogue in Europe. Visitors to the temple will get a glimpse of Jewish history and detailed medieval design elements.

1928 - Hearst Tower The original design of the Hearst Tower was commissioned in 1928 and remains as part of the new design seen in the building today. The original part of the building was begun as a base for a skyscraper. However, the Great Depression delayed construction. New construction brought a unique blend of old and new architecture that includes eco-friendly features that make this the first green office building in NYC.

1928-1930 Chrysler Building - Constructed from 1928-1930, the shiny exterior of the Chrysler Building is among the most recognized in NYC. Exterior designs such as eagle heads, radiator caps, and even the shiny surface of the upper floors were all added after Walter P. Chrysler purchased the construction. Visitors can view the outer building and tour the inner lobby. The floors of the building are leased to businesses and are not open to the public. The lobby is well worth a visit to note the Art Deco designs and features that make this building a historic landmark.

1930 – General Electric Building 570 Lexington Avenue The GE building, first known as the RCA Victor Building was deeded to GE before construction was completed in ---and is sometimes known simply by the address so as not to be confused with a later GE building constructed at Rockerfeller Plaza. The distinguished crown of the building done in a gothic inspired wave design was said to represent radio waves. A close-up view of the crown can be seen on this website.

1930 - Empire State Building The Empire State Building retained title as the tallest building in NYC until the construction of the Word Trade Center’s north tower in 1972. After the Trade Towers were destroyed in the Sept 11th attacks, the Empire State Building is again the tallest building in NYC at a height of 1454-feet to the tip of the spire. Built in Art Deco styling, the building is considered by many to be an American icon and has been listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

1931 - Waldorf-Astoria Hotel This version of the hotel, replaced the original Waldolf-Astoria that was constructed in 1911. The original once stood on the site where the Empire State Building now stands. In 1931, it was the largest and tallest hotel in the world. Today visitors frequent the 5-star restaurants, and weddings and other ceremonies can be held in the elegant facilities.

1931 - Brill Building- The Brill Building has been home to countless musicians since opening its door in 1931. Located at the corner of 49th Street and Broadway, you cannot miss the ornate building that has recently been designated as a city landmark. Most of the popular pop songs from the 50s and 60s came from the artist that made the Brill their headquarters.

1932 - Radio City Music Hall - Long known as an entertainment center, Radio Music City Hall has often been referred to as the Showplace of the Nation. The Art Deco styling inside and out soon became famous throughout the entertainment industry. As the showcase for Rockerfeller Center, the music hall first opened to the public in 1932. Now managed by Madison Square Gardens, Radio City Music Hall continues to attract thousands of visitors each year to a variety of entertainment features.

1939 - Museum of Modern Art The museum originally leased gallery space in Manhattan's Heckscher Building from 1929 until the present museum was completed in 1939. The current building was designed in the International Style by architects Edward Durell Stone and Phillip Goodwin prior to its opening in 1932 and redesigned in 1997 by Japanese architect, Yoshio Taniguchi before the museum reopened its doors in 2004. The museum houses the largest collection of source material on modern and contemporary art and hosts a top-class restaurant.

1947-1953 - United Nations Headquarters The United Nations center encompasses an eighteen -acre plot in Manhattan. The modern high rise styles of the UN buildings are easily identified worldwide. The design was a team effort of a commissioned committee of architects. Visitors to the UN can send postcards home bearing official United Nation stamps that can only be mailed from the UN. Tours are given daily.

1959 - Solomon R Guggenheim Museum Frank Loyd Wright was the architect commissioned to design a museum to be called the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in 1939. The project experienced delays for almost twenty years before completion in 1959. The unusual design needed several modifications in addition to the purchase of more property. World War II and other factors further delayed the construction. The completed museum was not opened to the public until six months after Frank Loyd Wright’s death and now stands as a tribute to his career and contribution to modernistic architecture.

1960 – Lincoln Center – Lincoln Center is a unique complex of buildings within a sixteen-acre site that was earmarked for renewal during the urban renewal emphasis of the 1950s and1960s. The center’s three original buildings include the David H. Koch Theater, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Metropolitan Opera House. Presently the center includes twenty-nine indoor and outdoor facilities hosting movies, theaters, concerts, and religious services year round.

1962 - TWA Terminal JFK Airport The modernistic terminal designed by Eero Saarrien was meant to depict the age of flight. Construction began in 1956 but the construction was not completed until a year after the Saarrien’s death. The terminal has been closed since TWA was sold and there are plans for the terminal to be used as a conference center, restaurant, or aviation museum.

1972-1978 - CitiCorp Center This NYC landmark was designed by Hugh Stubbins Jr for Citibank. Engineer William LeMessurier was also involved in the design and construction that presented a multitude of challenges. After construction, it was discovered that the welded joints in the original design had been changed to bolted joints too weak to withstand hurricane force winds. Changes were made in secret over the next three month that reinforces the joints and the potential safety hazard was kept secret for over twenty years!