New York on the rise during the skyscraper era

With the Freedom Tower finally topped by its spire, it’s an appropriate time to look back at the early 20th century and see how the city’s most iconic tall buildings appeared during construction.

Did New Yorkers circa 1900 have any idea that the 22-story building (below) rising on the flatiron-shaped plot at Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and East 22nd Street would become one of the first skyscrapers?


It’s not quite what we think of as skyscraper today, but for 1902, it’s pretty impressive—as is the lower Broadway construction project destined to become the Woolworth Building (below).


It turns 100 this year, a beauty with an innovative steel-frame structure. And at 782 feet, it’s still one of the 50 tallest buildings in the country.


Without its clock tower, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower (above), built between 1927 and 1929 off Flatbush Avenue, looks even more phallic than usual.

It went residential in the 2000s, but in this Brooklyn Historical Society photo, you can see an elevated train track behind it.


Last but not least is this image above of a half-built Empire State Building.

Three thousand workers put it together in just one year and 45 days—making it the world’s tallest building from its opening in 1931 to 1972, when the World Trade Center took that title.

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14 Responses to “New York on the rise during the skyscraper era”

  1. Mal Says:

    In the last photo with the Empire State building, what is the name of the striking building at the bottom left, please?
    I thoroughly look forward to my daily visits to your very interesting blog. The images and stories of your wonderful city are one of the highlights of my day.
    Many thanks for your work.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks! I really don’t know what that structure is, but it certainly is striking. Does anyone know?

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    It’s amazing that the clock in the first picture, bottom right, and telling time is still there. I’ve walked by that clock hundreds of times.

  4. Ricky Says:

    The photo of the Empire State building must have been take from the Chrysler Building, so the striking building must have been somewhere around 37th and Madison or 39th and Park…

  5. jzombie Says:

    That would be the Chanin Building:

    • Mal Says:

      Thanks very much, JZ. It’s a cracker!
      I must say that I’m surprised that it’s still around. I had a sinking feeling that it might have been demolished in the interim.
      This is a great blog. Thanks to everyone involved!

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you jzombie. A street-level view:

  7. Middlemay Farm Says:

    Reblogged this on Books at Middlemay Farm.

  8. cattychick Says:

    Whenever I see a photo of the Flatiron Building, I think of the cover of From Time to Time, Jack Finney’s sequel to his amazing Time and Again. If you are a fan of this blog – which I very much AM, you would love these two books about a contemporary New Yorker who travels to the Manhattan of the 19th century. Breathtaking detail. This blog is fabulous!

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you–I have heard other readers praise Jack Finney’s novel, but I confess I haven’t read it. I have to move it to the top of the pile….

  10. Beth G. Says:

    Time and Again is a great book. From Time To Time is not quite as good as the first but still worth the read. Finley did exhaustive research of the time so it’s like being there when you read the story.

  11. tikanyis Says:

    Great! From the Flatiron Building “on up”!

  12. Walter Sias Says:

    I was very pleased to discover this page. I want to to thank you for ones time for this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely appreciated every part of it and i also have you saved to fav to see new stuff in your blog.

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