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Inside Art Deco Beauty One Wall Street Before Its Makeover

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BNY Mellon—perhaps better known as the Bank of New York Mellon—is vacating its current headquarters at One Wall Street. The bank is leaving the 50-story Art Deco skyscraper at the corner of Wall and Broadway with quite a bit of cash in its pocket: $585 million, to be precise, paid by developer Harry Macklowe. Given the trend of late in the Financial District and elsewhere, it's a safe bet he turns One Wall residential; so Curbed jumped at the chance to take the very last tour of the building under its current ownership.

First, some history. Completed in 1931, it was originally the headquarters of the Irving Trust Company. It was designed by architect Ralph Walker—whose buildings have housed other successful residential conversions of today. But legend has it that Cass Gilbert (whose contributions to architecture are numerous: the Woolworth Building, the U.S. Custom House, etc.) had expected to get the contract. The story continues that he was so upset over losing the contract, he closed his account at the Irving Trust Company. In 1988, Irving Trust was acquired by the Bank of New York, which took over the building and even etched its name onto the exterior, so its legacy will remain even after they depart.

Funny side story: The Irving Trust Company was named after author Washington Irving. Irving had no expertise in finance or even anything to do with the company beyond allowing the use of his name. It is said to be among the first, if not the first, celebrity endorsement.

Back to the building, which was designated a landmark [warning: PDF] in 2001. The Bank of New York merged with Mellon Financial Corporation in 2007 and the building is now known as the BNY Mellon Building. But before BNY Mellon leaves, which a source said won't happen this calendar year, the building deserves to be seen. Last week, Landmark Branding and nAscent Art co-hosted the final tour of the building before the bank heads north by northwest.

The tour, led by BNY Mellon chief archivist Christine McKay, started at the bank's small museum space, which includes some of Alexander Hamilton's hair. Yes, really. It then proceeded to the Red Room, which is the disused two-story lobby at the building's One Wall Street entrance. (Everyone actually enters One Wall Street at 80 Broadway.) The stunning room was designed by famed muralist Hildreth Meière and features tile mosaic walls and ceiling said to rival Stockholm City Hall's.

Even though few people ever go into the room, and they are only visiting when they do, there are still several desks and office chairs there, plus a couch, several comfy chairs, and coffee tables, complete with magazines. Imagine if this were your lobby?

Finally, the tour went to the 49th-floor observation room. Perhaps you've been to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, or once, long ago, visited the 107th floor of the Twin Towers? As a room, this completely outdoes them. The massive two-story room has a ceiling clad with shells from the Philippines and striking Art Deco features. It was never open to the public and is usually used for meetings and receptions. The views are particularly impressive because One Wall Street is south and inland of the World Trade Center, making the southerly view especially cool, given how close it is to the tip of Manhattan island.

Harry Macklowe must be musing: "Hmm, this would make a pretty grand penthouse..."

—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Harry Macklowe Buys One Wall Street, May Take It Residential [Curbed]
· All One Wall Street coverage [Curbed]

One Wall Street

1 Wall St, New York, NY 10005