65 Liberty St, James B. Baker, Architect, 1901 /
55 Liberty St, Henry Ives Cobb, Architect, 1910
— Exploring Lower Manhattan —
Chamber of Commerce
Even when it opened in 1901, 65 Liberty Street seemed like a tiny jewel among the towering behemoths of the financial district. The ornament-encrusted building served as the new headquarters of the New York State Chamber of Commerce, a venerable institution founded at Fraunces Tavern in 1768 (before the Revolution had made the Tavern famous).
Starting in Colonial times, the Chamber commissioned portraits of New York's preeminent merchants and leaders, from sea captain Preserved Fish, to patriots George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, to the great 19th- and 20th-century titans of finance - eventually amassing the likenesses of some 200 worthies. The Chamber's new quarters on Liberty Street were specially designed to accommodate this priceless collection, in a Great Hall measuring 90 feet by 6o feet, ringed in Honduras mahogany, and rising to a decoratively carved ceiling 38 feet overhead. The Chamber and the collection have moved on, but the building has been restored.
The 33-story Liberty Tower is one of the city's earliest romantic skyscrapers, a Gothic-inspired, terra-cotta tower completed three years before the better known Gothic-inspired, terra-cotta Woolworth Building. Its promoters, typical of the race for fame of Lower Manhattan skyscrapers, claimed for Liberty Tower the title, if not of world's tallest building, then at least of world's tallest building on such a small site. Among the many financial district employees who reported to work at 55 Liberty Street was the future 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who held a job in the Fidelity and Deposit Company's first floor offices in the 1920s, shortly before becoming Governor of New York State.
Today Liberty Tower claims the distinction of being among the very first Lower Manhattan skyscrapers converted to residential use, anticipating a major 1990s trend by almost two decades.