NYC: The Erstwhile Bancroft Building
Manhattan can be a disorienting place at times. Walking along W. 28th Street in 2011, I came to a break in the building line. Turning my head to the left, it turned out to be a gritty through-block parking lot with a great view of the top third or so of Empire State Building.
In this case, the Empire State seemed to grow out of an elegant fin de siècle 10-story, brick-and-limestone edifice. That building turns out to house the offices of Marble Collegiate Church (built in 1851.) The church itself was just out of view to the right – I had completely missed it! Until 2002, that same building also housed the New York Theological Seminary.
I found the building listed in Emporis as the Bancroft Building, but unfortunately, Emporis provides no other information. To the rescue came my favorite NYC website, Tom Miller's indispensable Daytonian in Manhattan. From Tom's thorough history and description of the Bancroft Building, I found that this architectural gem was designed by Robert Henderson Robertson and completed in 1896.
Henderson included a dignified limestone colonnade as the base of the building, while the main body was more playful, faced with red brick with white stone trim. The top of the structure featured a limestone cornice and pinnacles at each corner that echoed ones on the church next door.
It's early tenants included the YMCA, the New York Camera Club, and quite an assortment of architectural firms. By mid-century, the Marble Collegiate Church purchased the Bancroft Building and used it to house offices and a school.
Like many churches in New York City and around the country, Marble Collegiate Church eventually sought to raise needed funds by selling some of its real estate. So in October 2013, the Bancroft Building and the property under it was bought by HFZ Capital, a large developer with plans to raze the building and raise a large, modern, income-producing skyscraper in its place. Many in the neighborhood petitioned to have the building declared a city landmark, but the effort failed. The 119-year-old building was demolished in 2015. Things don't always work out this well for churches; the most famous example is St. Bart's vain attempt to sell the air rights of its Community House, adjacent to the church itself.
A few different plans for the replacement building have come and gone, including an 80-story residential tower by architect Moshe Safdie. Word on the street now is that HFZ Capital has engaged Bjarke Ingels of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to design a 34-floor office buiding for this space.
In Googling around, I discovered that the area I was walking through is called (since 1999) NoMad, as in North of Madison Square. It turns out that NoMad, and in particular, 29th Street, still has some handsome buildings that I should get around to photographing and writing about.