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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
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Irving Trust Company Building
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Irving Trust Company Building
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To my mind, the greatest of all the buildings that were built during this period—and, in my opinion, the greatest skyscraper ever built—is the Irving Trust Company's building at 1 Wall Street, probably the greatest address in the world. Irving Trust, which was a very prominent, powerful bank, understood the importance of address. It was no accident that Irving bought this site. They wanted this address at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway. And because they had purchased, at enormous expense, such an important address, they also wanted to build a skyscraper that would be a masterpiece. They hired Ralph Walker, the architect who, a few years earlier, had designed the Barclay-Vesey Telephone Company Building. And in 1929 Ralph Walker designed his masterpiece. It is a building that towers over Trinity Church and over Trinity Church Cemetery, and is capped at the top by this huge crown—this very angular, crystal-shaped crown with huge windows inside it that light what was called the Observatory Room, which was not a public observatory but was a place where the board members and special guests of Irving Trust could go up and see the view of Lower Manhattan and the harbor. The building was designed to be extremely dramatic. It was designed to tower over the older buildings of the city. And here in Chester Price's great drawing of the building, you can see it rising up above Trinity Church—Trinity Church signifying the old New York and the Irving Trust Company Building signifying everything that was new and progressive about New York.

The building was very expensive. It has a steel-framed structure, but it is covered entirely in white limestone. There is no brick on the fašade; it is entirely limestone, and limestone was, of course, much more expensive than brick. And each block of limestone was custom cut. The whole building undulates so that you have these concave window bays here, and these were very expensive to cut. In fact, the undulating wall was compared to the wall of a curtain; and skyscrapers—steel skeleton-frame skyscrapers—were often referred to as being curtain-walled buildings, because you were hanging the fašade of the building as if it were a curtain that you were hanging on your windows. Ralph Walker said that his design gave new meaning to the term curtain wall, because, in fact, the entire building was a giant curtain of undulating limestone, and the entrance is as if the curtain is parting. It is as if you are at the Metropolitan Opera House and the double curtain is beginning to part, allowing you to walk into some of the most spectacular interior spaces in New York.

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