As we follow my quest to see all the buildings once labeled “tallest in the world” I visited 40 Wall Street, which is a 71-story neo-gothic skyscraper in downtown New York City. It was built in only 11 months in 1930 by The Bank of Manhattan. The original plan was to be a 47-story tower, then 60 floors, 62 floors, and finally 72 floors during a competion for the distinction of “world’s tallest building” held by the Woolworth Building since 1913, which I wrote about visiting on Thursday. Along with the Bank of Manhattan building there was the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and Rockefeller Center being built in the “Race into the Sky”, as popular media called it at the time, and was representative of the country’s optimism in the 1920s.
Once finally completed in April of 1930 it was indeed the tallest building in the world and the architect thought he had won, but the Chrysler Building’s architect had constructed a 125 ft spire in the lobby and waited until the Bank of Manhattan building was completed and then raised it to the top and taking the title. Upset by the Chrysler Building’s victory the architects of the Bank of Manhatten, wrote a newspaper article claiming that their building was the tallest, since it contained the world’s highest usable floor and the observation deck in the Bank of Manhattan Building was nearly 100 feet high than the top floor in the Chrysler Building, whose surpassing spire was strictly ornamental and essentially inaccessible. Of course, this became a moot point when the Empire State Building was completed eleven months later in May 1931.
In December 1995, after years of neglect, the building was acquired by Donald Trump, who renamed the building the “Trump Building”. He claims he only paid $1 million for the building, but that it is actually worth $400 million, $600 million, and $1 billion depending on when he was asked. In reality, Trump has an outstanding mortgage on the property in excess of $50 million and when he tried to sell the building in 2003, he did not even get offers of $300 million.
Today the building is 100% commercial and the observation deck has been closed for years. You can enter the lobby and some stores on the ground level, but that is all. None the less this was still the tallest building in the world at one point, even if it was for less than two months, and I have now been to it. I hope you join me on Tuesday as I visit the Chrysler Building, which I found to be much more beautiful.