A celebration of the Singer Building(s)

For a few short months from 1908 to 1909, the building that stood at 165 Broadway was the tallest in the world: the forty-seven-story Singer Building, the skyscraper trophy built by the head of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.

Its unusual appearance—a narrow red tower shooting up from a chunky base—was among the most glorious on the young New York skyline. Its interior was festooned with bronze medallions engraved with the images of needle, thread, and bobbin.

Museum of the City of New York/Irving Underhill
Museum of the City of New York/Irving Underhill

Sadly, its novel design was deemed unfit and even unattractive by the 1960s.  It was ripped apart at the seams and torn down in 1968. It remains the tallest building in the world ever purposefully demolished.

Its demise was such an after-thought that the New York Times did get around to covering it, running on article … on page 49.

Its replacement, the steel monolith One Liberty Plaza, was constructed, unsurprisingly, for U.S. Steel and was completed in 1973, the same year as the opening of the World Trade Center.

However we still have one monument to the Singer Sewing Machine Company.

Museum of the City of New York/Edmund Gillon

In fact it was constructed before the one that was eventually demolished, an unusual L-shaped building with two entrances, one on Broadway and one on Prince Street in today’s SoHo.

Loaded up with wrought iron tracery and New Orleans–style flair, the 1904 “Little Singer Building,” as it’s nicknamed, was also designed by Ernest Flagg, the architect who would construct Singer’s strange little skyscraper four years later. In a district of cast iron, this makes for a striking, flamboyant interloper.

Greg Young

 

The above excerpts are from our book The Bowery Boys’ Adventures In Old New York. Find it in bookstores or order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or your independent bookstore.