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Monday, June 7, 2010

A Look Back at 1 Wall Street

Today marks the 105th anniversary of a record-setting real estate sale in Manhattan -- the purchase of 1 Wall Street for $700,000, or $4 a square inch, on June 7, 1905.

As skyscrapers began to proliferate in the financial district, the owner of 1 Wall Street refused to sell his old cigar store for "personal" reasons. (You can see the cigar store in the drawing, right, in the foreground.) Only upon the owner's death did the land finally change hands. The new owners, the St. Louis-based Mercantile Trust Company, erected a thin 18-story skyscraper on the lot, soon dubbed the "Chimney Corner" due to its  narrow shape. The Chimney Corner, opened in 1908, only lasted about twenty years. In 1928, the Irving Trust Company purchased the lot and the adjoining building at 7 Wall Street to raze them for a gigantic office tower. Though it is not known exactly how much Irving Trust paid for each individual lot, Daniel Abramson notes in Skyscraper Rivals that it would have been "in the range of $15 million....making it possibly the most expensive piece of real estate in the world."

When Irving Trust was preparing the build their new skyscraper, The New Yorker did some due diligence on 1 Wall Street and discovered that the bank was only the fifth owner of the lot since the 1600s. What makes it especially important to us is that the first owner, back in the 1650s, was Johannes Nevius, James's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

We surmise that Johannes's house was knocked down when the wall that gave its name to the street was built in 1653. Who built on the site next is unclear, but William Dyckman was living at 1 Wall Street in the 1820s. Presumably it was Dyckman's house that was replaced by the cigar store, then the Chimney Corner, and then Irving Trust. When the bank's cornerstone was laid in 1930, two men were invited to participate in the festivities: a descendant of Washington Irving, for whom the bank was named, and a descendant of Johannes Nevius.

Irving Trust still looms over the corner of Wall Street and Broadway today, though it is now known as the Bank of New York. Its original public lobby--now closed to the public--has fantastic mosaics by Hildreth Maier that we'll discuss in a later blog posting.

 * * *

Read more about New York's skyscrapers and Wall Street in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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