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Old Posted Mar 18, 2008, 11:21 PM
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Thumbs up NEW YORK | Chase Manhattan Plaza (28 Liberty) | 813 FT / 248 M | 60 FLOORS | 1961


A New York Grand Canyon Rides on Landmark Lane

A garden, filled with water, by the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, as seen from above 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza in a 1964 photograph.

By David W. Dunlap
March 18, 2008

“New York’s newest landmark” was how The New York Times described 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza on the morning after the sleek, aluminum-and-glass-skinned tower opened in May 1961 as headquarters of the recently minted Chase Manhattan Bank.

The description will fit perfectly again this year, as the Landmarks Preservation Commission intends — with the bank’s assent — to designate the “shimmering” building an official landmark. (The surprising news may be that it isn’t one already.)

And 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza’s plaza, a dramatic canyon among the financial district cliffsides, was renamed Tuesday in honor of David Rockefeller, the former chairman of Chase and the man most closely identified with the bank tower.

This is all by way of marking the 50th anniversary of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, of which Mr. Rockefeller was chairman and prime moving force, in what he has called an early effort “to breathe life into a moribund downtown.”

New Yorkers of a certain age will detect a paradox in celebrating the association with a landmark designation, since the group was a forceful opponent of the original landmarks law in 1965. And its first redevelopment proposal, 50 years ago, called for the demolition of hundreds of old buildings in what would later become four officially protected historic districts: South Street Seaport, TriBeCa North, TriBeCa South and TriBeCa West.

The proposal was developed by the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which also designed 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza.

How the half centuries fly!

Robert R. Douglass, the current chairman of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association (and a longtime associate of the Rockefeller family), certainly believes that landmark status is warranted for 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, where he has worked since 1971; both for Chase and at the law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

“It lives very well,” Mr. Douglass said. “It has a universal, almost timeless, appeal.”

In 1996, JPMorgan Chase & Company moved its headquarters to 270 Park Avenue, the former Union Carbide Building, which was also designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. But it still occupies about 70 percent of the two million square feet at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, mainly with its treasury and security services divisions. There is still a large Chase branch there.

Frank J. Bisignano, the chief administrative officer, said in a statement: “JPMorgan Chase is pleased that the Landmarks Preservation Commission is recognizing 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza for consideration as an historic landmark.”

Although Mr. Rockefeller’s 17th-floor office was renovated out of existence, the 60-story tower has never been rebranded. “Since the doors of the 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza building opened,” said Darlene R. Taylor, a spokeswoman, “the building has maintained that address and name.”

The preservation commission said in a statement released Tuesday that the building is “among New York City’s most important mid-20th-century skyscrapers,” crediting Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore “for the building’s elegant and yet powerful design, which incorporates a latticework of delicate mullions and thicker perimeter columns that rise without interruption for more than 800 hundred feet.” It was the sixth tallest building in the world on its completion.

Although the commission has not voted on the measure, its willingness to discuss the pending designation so publicly, particularly one with the owner’s stated approval, makes it all but a sure bet. After all, 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza was a landmark from the first day.

The aluminum and glass facade rose without setback in sheer walls 813 feet high, making 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza the sixth tallest building in the world at the time. (All five taller buildings were also in Manhattan.)

The blazing monolith stood in stark contrast with the slender pinnacles that composed the downtown skyline. Not every critic was pleased. But the building's drama, especially at twilight, was undeniable.

Even today, the silvery curtain wall of 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza can catch the eye as it emerges from dark masonry canyons.

A delightful counterpoint to the rigid geometries of the building, by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, is the monumental sculpture, "A Group of Four Trees" by Jean Dubuffet, which was installed on the plaza in 1972.

Windows in the main banking hall surround the Noguchi garden. On a summer twilight, the plaza seems to glow from below.

The rocks in Noguchi's garden were imported from Japan. They create a centerpiece behind glass in the main banking floor and fill the area around them with daylight.

The large expanses of glass around the lobby help blur the distinction between outside and inside.

The great expanses glass throughout the building created some astonishing panoramas, like this one from the 60th floor, overlooking the top of 40 Wall Street.

The individual most closely identified with 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza is David Rockefeller, seen here in his days as the bank's chairman, with a secretary, Edna Bruderly.

The plaza at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza was renamed for Mr. Rockefeller on March 18, 2008.
NEW YORK heals.

“Office buildings are our factories – whether for tech, creative or traditional industries we must continue to grow our modern factories to create new jobs,” said United States Senator Chuck Schumer.
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