The very first headquarters for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, at 23rd Street and Madison Avenue, was built in 1893, facing into the southeast corner of Madison Square Park. Within a few years, the insurance company would expand out — to fill the entire block, wiping away that darkened church to its right — then up, with a 52-story clock tower added in 1907 to make it briefly the tallest building in the world.
If the smaller, original portion of the building looks nothing like the present Metropolitan Life Tower that sits at this corner today, that’s because massive renovation work in the 1960s (surprise!) tore away any of the ornamentation. Its placement on the New York skyline saved the detailing on the tower, but those at street level have been sadly erased. Thank you, 1960s!