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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Birth of the Skyscraper The First U.S. Zoning Law
The Heckscher Building
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The First U.S. Zoning Law
The Heckscher Building
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Although the zoning law was passed in 1916, very little construction occurred in New York for the few years after this because of the First World War. So the impact of the zoning laws was not really felt until about 1919, after the end of the World War I.

This is the Heckscher Building on Fifth Avenue at Fifty-seventh Street, one of the most prominent sites in New York. This was one of the first buildings in New York to use the 1916 zoning law. It was designed by Warren & Wetmore, a very prominent architectural firm, probably best known for the design of Grand Central Terminal, although in the 1910s and the 1920s they designed a lot of skyscrapers and high-rise hotels. The Heckscher Building was an entirely speculative venture on the part of the Heckscher family, a very wealthy New York family that was involved with real estate. In this very early example of a skyscraper that was built under the new zoning law, you have Warren and Wetmore following the letter of the law. The law said you go up and you set back, and you go up and you set back, and that is exactly what they did. So this building appears like a series of boxes piled one on top of another, with a fancy crown on the top. It uses early French Renaissance ornament, so it is within that New York tradition of using historic ornament, but it does not use the zoning law in a particularly expressive way. The massing of this building is actually kind of boring, and it is the ornament that makes the building lively.


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