This office tower helped guide Battery tugboats

They don’t make office buildings as enchanting and beautiful as the Whitehall anymore.

Completed in 1904, architect Henry Hardenbergh (of Plaza Hotel and Dakota fame) created a 20-story beauty with a limestone base and decorative touches like entwined serpents—the building overlooked New York Harbor at the Battery, after all.

The Whitehall Building isn’t on Whitehall Street, curiously. So where did the name come from?

Whitehall was the nickname the British reportedly gave to Peter Stuyvesant’s former home (left), which was constructed in 1655 when Stuyvesant was director general of New Amsterdam.

Mosaics of Manhattan’s Whitehall can be seen at the Whitehall Street N/R station, but they’re too grimy to photograph well, sadly.

As the city’s tallest office tower for a brief moment in the early 20th century, the Whitehall Building was a huge success—and almost a decade later, a taller annex was built, called the Greater Whitehall.

The Whitehall annex (towering over the first Whitehall at the right) had a second purpose: It  helped guide tugboats in New York Harbor.

“With its singular top, this building was visible from the dozens of piers that once lined the Hudson River,” states New York for New Yorkers. “It functioned as a control tower; tugboats received their instructions from offices in this building.”

The city’s once mighty shipping industry is long gone, of course. But the Whitehall still soars over the harbor.

[Second image: NYPL; third image: NYC-architecture.com]

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5 Responses to “This office tower helped guide Battery tugboats”

  1. Armand D. Says:

    I’ve worked on the elevators in 17 Battery. There was a lot of damage after 9/11.

  2. Zoé Says:

    Very interesting Ephemeral.

    When I think of NYC tugboats I always remember something my best girlfriend from Brooklyn told me. That all the very athletic football players in her Brooklyn high school “became firemen or tugboat operators” (like her husband did the latter).

    I have a model of an 1868 ‘Phantom’ New York pilot boat. It’s a gem.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I feel a connection to the Whitehall Building because my grandfather was a tugboat captain, and he learned his trade navigating the waters of New York City…I imagine it was a rough trade that required a lot of strength.

      • Zoé Says:

        That is so great Ephemeral! And here you are bringing us closer to our City with every post. Perfect!

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    I didn’t know about this building’s role. Thanks for sharing that.

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