Romance of the Skyscrapers

From a collection of articles pertaining to Stoutenburgh lands we present the following:

Equitable Building Where Once Was A Tulip Garden

Equitable Building (Manhattan)Printed Feb. 24, 1926
Evening World
by Victor H. Lawn

Perhaps the greatest real estate sale during the year was the acquisition of the Equitable Building, No. 120 Broadway, by a syndicate closely identified with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers — one of the railroad employees “Big Four.” For a consideration approximating $40,000,000, the labor union came into ownership of this, the largest office building in the world.

Behind the great pile of stone and steel and concrete, which covers the block bounded by Broadway, Nassau, Pine, and Cedar Streets, lies a romantic story of old New York. There are chapters dealing with the Indians with the Colonial factions; with the Revolutionary War, with farm life and finance, with floriculture and religious worship. The soil is fertile with messages from the past.

No. 120 Broadway was far outside the limits of early Dutch New York. It was not until 1653 that title to a lot “seven rods wide on the road and running back about eleven rods” was granted to Hendrick Pietersen, a settler from Hasselt. This was forty-four years after Hendrick Hudson had first sailed into the Bay, forty years after the first house had been erected at what is now No. 41 Broadway, and twenty-seven years after Peter Minuit had purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for all of $24 worth of gewgaws.

Adjoining the Pietersen grant, through which Pine Street later was cut, was the grant to Jan Jansen Damen, by “William the Testy”, officially known as Governor Kieft. Two houses stood on these plots. The larger one, known as the “great house” stood to the north, diagonally across Cedar Street, on Broadway. The “small house, now occupied by Pieter Stoutenburgh” was at what is now Pine Street and Broadway. One of the picturesque Dutch haystacks with its pointed corners stood behind the great house and was often mistaken for a church when viewed from the bay. The house was ordered demolished in 1673 by Governor Colve because it stood too near the fortifications. The fort occupied the sites of the Custom House, and at this time the British and the Dutch were fighting for the city. The owner, Dr. Henry Taylor, said he was “willing to risk his house and to abide the result.” Eventually, according to a deposition concerning the surrender of the city in August of 1673, Capt. Manning and Dr. Taylor “opened the gates and let in the Dutch.”

Pieter Stoutenburgh made of No. 120 Broadway and the surrounding territory a beautiful showplace. Part of his farm was devoted to the culture of tulips. In the spring, the ground was alive with yellow, red, and orange tulips. For a long time, the tulip garden remained a showplace. The Stoutenburgh house lot retained its identity for more than two centuries and is now No. 112 Broadway.

After the tulips passed, the Scotch Presbyterian Church was erected, fronting on Pine Street. Later the plot became a burying ground.

In 1686, what was perhaps the first large real estate transaction in the city’s history, excepting of course the initial purchase, was when Major William Dyre, former Mayor, sold his corner at Broadway and Cedar Street to Thomas Lloyd. Lloyd parted with £90, less than $450, in making the purchase. Long before the Revolution he sold it to James Delancey, son of the Lieutenant Governor, for £1,065 about $5,000. When the Delanceys lined up with the Livingstons, Beeckmans, and other Tories this choice corner was taken away under the Treason Act of 1779.

For a long time, the Middle Dutch Reformed Church occupied this site and also part of the land sold by Stoutenburgh in 1700 for £80. It fronted on Nassau Street and then Kip Street. In 1860 the United States paid $200,000 for this property as a Post Office site and in 1882 the Mutual Life Insurance Company bought part of it for $650,000. In 1910 the company’s holdings in the block were assessed at $11,185,000. Now it is worth $40,000,000.

National Hotel, New York (1940s)Jacques Madelaine Joseph de la Croix, paid in 1796 for a 40-foot strip of the old Stoutenburgh property £3,950 ($17,500). By this time New York had begun to grow up. The Revolutionary War was over and things started booming in the capital. So he built a tavern there and later a great hotel, one of the city’s finest. He ran the National Hotel until 1835, when he sold it for $100,000 to Charles St. John.

New York HospitalOne of New York’s most famous physicians lived on the Equitable site. Dr. Samuel Bard, one of the three founders of the institution which is now known as the New York Hospital, made his old-fashioned home at Pine and Nassau Streets, the haven to which all New York’s elite came to complain of the lumbago, heartache, etc. This house too stood on the ground that once bore the tulips, which brought worldwide fame to New Netherlands.

The Equitable Life Assurance Society purchased the Cedar Street and Broadway corner from the American Express Company in 1867 for $300,000 the original confiscated Delancey tract that had sold for $5,000. Gradually the Equitable bought up other property, paying the United States Telegraph Company $375,000 for the land that the old tulip-raiser had sold for $400. In 1875 the old Robert Varick plot, Nos. 112-114 Broadway, was bought for $302,887 from Daniel Butterfield, and another fifty-foot plot at Pine Street and Broadway for which Varick had paid $8,500 in 1791 was bought from the Metropolitan National Bank in 1885 for $762,500. A final piece of property was the old Dr. Bard home, which then housed the Bank of the Commonwealth.

After getting control of the entire block, additions and improvements were made. The new building was erected in 1870 and several additional stories added in 1837. Long before concrete and steel construction it was considered to be the first fireproof building in the world. And it was.

Equitable Fire

Although gutted by a ferocious fire in January of 1912, during which six persons lost their lives, the ice-coated walls remained standing. The woodwork, which for a half century had been polished and oiled monthly, provided fine fuel for the flames. The woodwork went up in smoke, but the walls stood. The present great structure rose on the ruins immediately after.