Friday, October 10, 2014

Cunard Line’s Atlantic Bookends

This article, written by Michael Gallagher, public relations executive and historian for Cunard Line, is part of an ongoing series of key moments in Cunard Line's history,

10 October 2014 – We are familiar with the imposing Cunard Building in Liverpool – one third of the World Heritage listed Three Graces on the Pier Head – but today we take a look at the equally-imposing Cunard Building in New York. These two bookends on the Atlantic really do convey how important Cunard Line was. They were land-based versions of the Cunard fleet of ships themselves: solid, reliable, elegant and defiant.

Cunard Building in Liverpool

In New York, Cunard Line had maintained a presence on or near Bowling Green since the mid-nineteenth century. The company had been initially based at 4 Bowling Green for many years – the area was known as “Steamship Row” for the number of ticket-booking agents located there. “Steamship Row” was replaced by the United States Custom House in 1899-1907. Consequently, Cunard moved offices to 29 Broadway and 21-24 State Street before relocating its headquarters to 25 Broadway.

After the First World War, and with the Cunard Building in Liverpool open for business, it was time to establish a grand presence in the Big Apple – the largest city and busiest port in the world. The Twenty-five Broadway Corporation, with Cunard Steamship Line as the primary occupant, built 25 Broadway in 1920-1921. Architect Benjamin Wistar Morris, in partnership with his former employer architecture firm Carrere & Hastings as consulting architects, designed the building. The 23-storey neo-Renaissance office building was completed in 1921 and Cunard moved in on 1 May. Morris won high praise for his design of the Cunard Building.

In addition to Cunard, several other large businesses signed leases in the new building, including the Atlantic Gulf & West Indies Steamship Lines, Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation, Consolidated Steel Corporation and international Motor Truck Corporation.

Cunard Building in New York

The building has a primary facade on Broadway, clad in Indiana limestone, and secondary facades on Greenwich and Morris. The four-storey base has five enormous arched openings, each with a carved keystone. The central section above the base is slightly recessed. The upper portion of the base has an open gallery or loggia. The Morris Street elevation has a granite water table, two-storey limestone base, and a central court, which separates the limestone east wing from the tan brick and limestone-trimmed west wing. The Greenwich Street elevation has a granite basement above, which is a three-story arched opening with two metal balconies.

The Ticket Hall, Cunard Building in New York
While the limestone facade is elegant, imposing and stately, the main building’s most impressive asset is the grand ticketing hall located in the lobby, which was designed for Cunard. It is inside this lobby where passage on Cunard liners was purchased. Morris collaborated with muralist Ezra Winter who produced a decorative program focused on shipping themes. The lobby is awash with starfish, seahorses, shells, sirens and Christopher Columbus’ sailing ships the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. The ceiling sculpture is by C. Paul Jenneweinn and the iron gates are by Samuel Yellin.

Ceiling in the Ticket Hall, Cunard Building in New York

Cunard vacated the building in July 1968 when they opened their new Head Office at 555 Fifth Avenue, where the company would remain until leaving New York for Miami in 1996.

After Cunard left, the building remained vacant for a number of years until it was taken over by the U.S. Post Office in 1976. The Cunard Building was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on 19 September 1995. A major tenant today is Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Photos courtesy of Cunard Line. All rights reserved. May not be copied or used without permission.