New York Life — a skyscraper with a golden crown

The 40-story tower crowned by the 6-story shining golden roof in the shape of an octagonal pyramid on the northeast corner of Madison Park belongs to New York Life Insurance Company. The crown was originally covered by cooper-and-gold leaf, which eventually eroded and was replaced with gold-colored tile. The effect is fantastic — the golden roof catches the sunlight during the day and shines brightly by night. 

Completed in 1928, the building is the latest of three neo-Gothic skyscrapers in New York by Cass Gilbert. The first one is 90 West Street (1907), followed by the world-renown Woolworth (1913), the Cathedral of Commerce — not only a spectacular skyscraper but the tallest building in the world for 17 years!

New York Life Building is a steel-framed white limestone-clad neo-Gothic skyscraper. Its facade is decorated with grotesques, among other embellishments typical for Gothic Revival. At the same time, it uses geometrical forms characteristic of 1920s skyscrapers, making it a special link between the historical revival styles and Art-Deco skyscrapers. 

Grotesques and other embellishments on the facade of New York Life Building

The New York Life Insurance Building is located on a site that kept reinventing itself, much like the phoenix bird. Between 1837 and 1871, it served as the Cornelius Vanderbilt’s railroad passenger depot. After the city prohibited trains traveling below 42nd Street in 1874, Vanderbilt rented it to P.T. Barnum for his Great Roman Hippodrome — a seasonal theatrical open-air venue. In 1879 after the death of Commodore Vanderbilt, his grandson William Kissam Vanderbilt took it back and opened a sporting arena called Madison Square Garden. Also an open-air space, it proved unusable in the heat of the summer and cold of the winter. Demolished, it gave way to the premier turn of the century entertainment venue — the second Madison Square Garden. The remarkable building designed by Stanford White went up in 1890 and stood there until its demolition in 1926 to make room for the New York Life Building.

Occupying the site since 1928, the golden-roofed skyscraper has been landmarked and is not going anywhere anytime soon.

View of the Madison Square Park skyline with New York Life building on the left and MetLife Tower on the right

One Comment Add yours

  1. Michael Lazar says:

    Good article!
    Thanks for sharing!


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