History of the New York Life Building
On the same piece of land that once housed the grand first and second Madison Square Gardens, on Madison Avenue between 26th and 27th streets, rose the New York Life Building. Famed architect Cass Gilbert (1859-1934), an early proponent of skyscrapers, was awarded the commission to design the building. Erected between 1926 and 1928, Gilbert’s 34-story, 617 foot tall, neo-gothic office building eventually became one of the New York skyline’s most iconic buildings. You may recognize Gilbert’s name, as he designed another iconic New York City building, The Woolworth Building, in lower Manhattan.
The New York Life Insurance Building sits on nearly two acres and has an exterior comprised of 440,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone – the largest order of exterior stone, and more than twice the amount ever utilized in a single American building, in 1928. Gilbert exclusively used solid bronze to frame the building’s 2,180 windows; he also used bronze on many interior decorations as well as on the buildings large ornate doors. The building’s recognizable pyramidal roof, originally plated in gold leaf, eventually eroded and was replaced with gold colored tile. Historian Miriam Berman shares the results, “a roof that catches and reflects the sunlight by day and by night is one of the more easily recognized shapes on the city’s illuminated skyline.”
Towering over Madison Square Park, the New York Life Insurance Building is an important piece of the neighborhood’s historic architecture. Additionally New York Life, who are still headquartered in the building, has been an important partner of the Madison Square Park Conservancy since our very beginnings, and a leader in the revitalization of the neighborhood.
Interested in more Mad. Sq. History? Come to Mad. Sq. 200 presented by New York Life, the bicentennial celebration of the naming of Madison Square, where we will share free and fun historic activities and information on September 6, from 3-6pm.
Photo courtesy of: Museum of the City of New York. 51 Madison Avenue. New York Life Building.
C. 1952. Gelatin silver print. 10 x 8 inches.