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The Candler Building: A short history

February 01, 2001 |

When Atlanta businessman Asa G. Candler took the early profits from The Coca-Cola Co. he founded and invested it in speculative real estate projects in Atlanta, Kansas City, Baltimore and Manhattan, he had no idea of the lasting legacy one project-the aptly named Candler Building-would leave on New York City's venerable Times Square.

Surrounded by pre-World War I theaters and light-industry factory structures, Candler assembled an L-shaped plot of land. With a design by New York architectural firm Willauercar, Shape & Bready, Candler erected a 225,000-sq.-ft., 24-story structure on 42nd Street, clad predominantly in white terra-cotta tiles. Construction started in 1912 and ended in 1914.

At the time of its completion, the Candler Building was the tallest structure in New York City north of 24th Street. And while the building was a thoroughly state-of-the-art skyscraper in every respect, its windows, balustrades and cornices were adorned with late Gothic and early Renaissance terra-cotta ornamentation.

The Candler Building was also significant as an example of the free-standing tower form, built just prior to New York City's 1916 Zoning Resolution for Skyscrapers, according to Christopher S. Gray, former director of the Office for Metropolitan History in New York, who nominated the Candler for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building also boasted state-of-the-art fire safety in the use of freestanding, smoke-proof fire towers, Gray notes. The smoke-proof fire tower was a separate, enclosed stairway accessible from the main parts of the building only by open balcony. If an occupied space in the building fell prey to fire, the stair tower provided a smoke-free means of egress and, wrote Gray, "eliminated the need for a traditional open metal fire escape" on the structure's exterior.

In 1913, this was the "last word" in high-rise fire protection.

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. took ownership of the Candler Building in 1993, after a second foreclosure, and undertook the recent restoration. By that time, the Candler Building was one of the last remaining white terra-cotta skyscrapers in Manhattan.

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