'Wildly Visible' Roof Addition Sought for Landmark at Foot of Broadway

Renderings of the current building, left, and its appearance with the proposed roof addition. Credit: Gensler

May. 13, 2019

A two-story rooftop addition is proposed for One Broadway, the 12-story landmark office building at the foot of Broadway. Unobstructed vistas from up there, of New York Harbor, the Battery, Bowling Green and the U.S. Customs House, promise to be spectacular.

Then again, street-level views of the building’s big, glassy top would be unfettered as well. Therein lies the challenge for Gensler, the architecture firm that next month will be seeking the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s approval for the addition to the building, which will remain commercial.

Any visibility from the street of new construction on a landmark building, or building in a city-designated historic district, gets close scrutiny by the commission—so this one, at the intersection of Broadway, Battery Place and Greenwich Street, has its work cut out for it. An advisory opinion, voted on last week by Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee, was not auspicious.

“This is one of the most prominent places in New York City. It defines the southern terminus of the built environment in Manhattan,” said the committee’s chair, Bruce Ehrmann, adding, “this wildly visible, largely glass rooftop is, well, unflattering.” The committee voted unanimously to recommend rejecting it, saying the addition would be too bulky for the building, and features too much glass. (A roof addition proposed in 2005, rejected by CB1 but approved by the LPC, was never built.)

Constructed in 1882 and designed by Howard Hale Kendall as the Washington Building in the ornate Queen Anne style, One Broadway originally had a two-story mansard roof and three-story mansard tower on each side, along with a flagpole and cupola. The look of the building changed dramatically when JP Morgan took it over around 1920 for his International Mercantile Maritime Company, replacing the red brick with marble and adding a one-story mansard roof with a dormer.

“We took inspiration from the history of the building, the original Kendall design and followed the exact line of the very first roof,” Laurent Lisimachio, Gensler’s director of design, told the committee. The intent, Lisimachio added, “is to have something that is very complimentary, with minimal contrast to the existing building,” and with matching materials of the current roof to give what he said would be the impression of a continuous roofline.

Vera Sung was among those on the committee who disagreed, saying the addition didn’t flow “naturally” as part of the building.

“I feel it’s rather…,” and with that she paused, searching for the word as she widened her arms.

“Large,” she said.

The 218,000-square-foot office building, vacant except for a CitiBank branch on the ground floor, was sold last year to Midtown Equities for a reported $140 million.

The proposal for the addition is scheduled to go before the Landmarks Commission on June 4.