Russell G. Cory & Walter M. Cory
The building features large setbacks, polygonal corners, and alternating bands of steel strip windows, brickwork and concrete floorplates, creating a striking effect described by architectural critic Lewis Mumford in 1931: “the contrast between the long, continuous red-brick bands and the green-framed windows, with sapphire reflections or depths, is as sound a use of color as one can see about the city.” The modernity of the building’s design made it one of the few American structures not designed by a major architect cited in the 1932 “Modern Architecture: International Exhibition” show of the Museum of Modern Art, – whence derives the name of the International Style of architecture.
Like the Terminal Warehouse Central Stores Building on the next block uptown, trains could be driven directly into the ground floor of the building, which included not only a rail yard, but also loading and unloading facilities for trucks, warehouse areas for storage, repackaging, redistribution, and manufacturing facilities as well as areas to display goods. The office section is above the north facade. The structural requirements for the building, which has 26 million cubic feet (740,000 m3) of space, 1.8 million square feet (170,000 m2) of which is rentable, necessitated innovative interior engineering. During construction, the geology of the site forced a change from the original plan of a uniform 15-story building to the current layout of a 19-story section in the middle, flanked by 9-story wing on the west, and an eastern one of 18 stories.
The building was completed in 1931 by the Starrett Corporation and the Lehigh Valley Railroad, on the site of a former freight terminal for the latter. When William A. Starrett died in 1932, the Lehigh Valley Railroad bought the building outright, but by 1933 it was a losing proposition, with a net loss that year of $300,000. A number of factors contributed to the building not being an immediate financial success. The city’s construction boom of the 1920s came to a stop with the start of the Great Depression and there was less demand for the rentable space in the building; the cost of construction was more than expected, due to changes in the foundation necessitated by differing level of bedrock across the building’s footprint; and competition from another terminal with considerably cheaper rates announced to be built by the Port Authority – 111 Eighth Avenue, built in 1932 – depressed the buyer’s market further, as they waited for the new building instead of renting from Starrett–Lehigh. The Lehigh Valley Railroad disassociated itself from the building in 1944, and the rail lines were removed in 1966. By 1998, it was owned by the Helmsley real estate concern.
Location: New York City, USA
Type: Industry, Infrastructure, Offices, Warehouse
Client: Starrett Corporation
Cost: $ 6’000’000-9’000’000
Collaborators: Purdy & Henderson - Yasuo Matsui
Size: 2’300’000 square feet
Photography: Nigel Turner - Martin Jones