SKYLINES FROM CATHEDRALS TO COMMERCE
|Looking up from the Battery, c. 1923.|
Before the skyscraper, the New York skyline had been punctuated by the spires of churches reaching for the heavens. As the 1873 lithograph above shows, Trinity Church’s 284-foot spire soared over all other buildings. Fifty years later in the photo to the right, the church towers have been obscured by a secular skyline, and the Woolworth Building, dubbed the Cathedral of Commerce, reigned supreme.
|Bird’s-eye view of lower Manhattan, 1873, looking north.|
|Woolworth Tower – Cathedral of
Commerce in New York City, 1939.
In 1870, New York’s first Equitable Life Assurance Building on lower Broadway was the first office building to utilize passenger elevators, which broke the barrier of five stories, the limits of how many flights most people would want to walk. The practice of steel-frame construction, introduced in Chicago in the mid-1880s, and accepted by the New York building code after 1889, freed architects from any height limitations and buildings began soaring skyward, creating the massive skyscrapers that dominate the skylines of America’s great cities today.