100 East 42nd Street: Pershing Square Building
Pershing Square Building
100 East 42nd Street
York & Sawyer with John Sloane, 1923
With its foundations laid in 1914, two years before the enactment of the 1916 Zoning Resolution, the Pershing Square Building was an anomaly for new buildings at the time of its completion nine years later. As the New York Times reported one year before it opened, the Pershing Square building “will be unique among recent New York office structures, being designed without setbacks…”. By 1923, office buildings in New York City had long been adhering to a system of skyscraper design employing setbacks for increased height. At 24 stories, it was the last tall building in the city to be completed in the form of a pre-World War I office building. As such, in 1923 it stood as a reminder of a previous era, and today it exhibits a maturity beyond its years.
Named for the adjacent Pershing Square, which itself was named for World War I hero General John J. Pershing, the building’s top 21 floors were devoted to office space, while its lower floors were host to a number of commercial tenants. A monumental bank space occupied the second and third floors, whose 29-foot ceiling height is exhibited on the exterior by large arched window openings. Its granite base is punctuated by storefronts for the shops on the ground floor. The basement level contained a large restaurant, as well as an entrance to Grand Central Terminal, located across the street.
The Pershing Square Building’s site was previously home to the Grand Union Hotel, a French Second Empire style hotel constructed in 1872 and demolished in 1914. In its place, architects York & Sawyer with associate John Sloane designed the Pershing Square Building in the Italian Renaissance style. The building has a “palazzo” U-shaped layout with a deep light court beginning at the eighth floor. The arched windows and tiled hipped roofs at the top stories resemble an Italian villa. Its façades are graced with polychromed terra cotta and multi-colored and textured brick, the use of which was novel at the time of construction for decorative purposes.
Architects Edward York and Philip Sawyer both trained in the Beaux-Arts style and worked in the office of McKim, Mead & White before establishing their firm in 1898, which was best known for its bank and hospital buildings. The Pershing Square Building is a magnificent example of what they did best – spectacular bank spaces integrated into larger office buildings Other commissions in New York City included the original New York Historical Society, the New York Athletic Club, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Bowery Savings Bank. The latter was constructed immediately to the east of the Pershing Square Building around the same time in the Romanesque style, thus the two were designed to complement one another.
“Grand Union Hotel, 1914,” Mina Rees Library, CUNY Graduate Center, Accessed 29 January 2013.
“PERSHING SQUARE BUILDING FINANCED; S.W. Straus & Co. Underwrite $6,000,000 Mortgage Covering Building and Old GrandUnion Hotel Site. TWENTY-FOUR STORIES HIGH Mortgage Also Includes a First Lienon Income of Property, Estimatedat $816,000 a Year,” New York Times, April 25, 1922.
Stern, Robert A. M., Gregory Gilmartin, and Thomas Mellins, New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism
between the Two World Wars (New York: Rizzoli, 1987): 528.