Like many of its neighboring office towers, the Goldman Sachs building was developed in, around, and over a historically significant part of the city. The tower is adjacent to two historic districts designated by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. East is the Stone Street Historic District, designated in recognition of its 17th- and 18th-century Dutch colonial street pattern of New Amsterdam and treasure trove of stylistically representative 19th- and early 20th-century small-scale merchant and commercial buildings erected after a devastating fire in December 1835. South across Pearl Street is the Fraunces Tavern Block Historic District and its early 19th-century, low-rise structures that survived the fire.
When landmark buildings are threatened by new development, public policy solutions have ranged from requiring the complete preservation of the building to grafting building elements, most notably the historic façade, onto the new structure. Solutions involving less-than-full historic preservation inevitably raise controversy. To some, such solutions represent faux historic preservation and are rejected out-of-hand. To others, such solutions reflect the pragmatic outcome of complex balances that are necessarily struck between preservation interests and other economic and social interests in the high-stakes cauldron of urban development politics and the physical evolution of cities. With its Villard Houses courtyard, the New York Palace Hotel at 457 Madison Avenue is a good example of this debate.
Here, the historic issues principally involved street-and below-street level conditions rather than existing buildings, and the public spaces became a major avenue for addressing them. To begin with, the new building was built directly on a portion of Stone Street, whose historic lineage dates back to the 17th-century period of Dutch settlement. To enable the tower’s construction, the City demapped and closed Stone Street between Broad Street and Coenties Alley, but required that the alignment of the new building’s lobby follow the Stone Street alignment and be a publicly accessible lobby through which the public could walk as if on Stone Street, from Broad Street to Coenties Alley, after which the “real” Stone Street continues to the east. A 1980 press release announcing the building’s development described the lobby path as “the Spirit of Stone Street.”
Owing to security concerns expressed by Goldman Sachs in the summer of 1999, the Department of City Planning agreed to the owner’s installation of turnstiles inside the building at both ends of the lobby corridor. Members of the public wishing to enter and pass through the lobby must now approach the security desk, where an attendant will immediately activate the turnstile to permit public passage. In addition, the building must post three signs: one at each entrance to the building stating that the public is welcome to follow the route of Stone Street; and a third installed by Heritage Trails New York in the adjacent urban plaza describing the historic significance and configuration of Stone Street.
The public spaces here adopt another convention for recognizing the past: special paving patterns, plaques, and exhibits that depict and explain the historic significance of the site. For example, the paving pattern of the sidewalk widening along Broad Street beckons the pedestrian to the building entrance, where a bronze-colored map derived from a 1660 drawing is set into the sidewalk surface. Along with brown paving stones, the map shows the original alignment of Stone Street (then called Hoog Straat) leading directly through the building’s lobby, as well as the location of other Dutch city landmarks, including Fort Amsterdam, the Bowling Green, and Marketfield Street.
Other plaques and exhibits in and out of the urban plaza and arcade next to Pearl Street describe how one of the city’s largest-ever archaeological excavations was conducted on-site with 30 archaeologists from 1979 to 1980, how it uncovered wells, privies, and cisterns from the backyards of early Dutch houses, and how it located the foundation of a 17th-century Dutch tavern that became New York’s first city hall. Embedded, transparent horizontal display covers reveal some of the archaeological material unearthed during this project, including an 18th-century cistern complete with household refuse and the tavern’s foundation walls. Gray paving stones outline the approximate location of the rest of the tavern’s walls, while cream-colored paving indicates the ground covered by the structure.
The linear, through-block urban plaza east of the building provides a functional space for relaxing and eating food purchased from neighboring cafés and stores on adjacent Coenties Alley. Two rows of 20 planters with trees march up and down the space. A long granite ledge near the trees and three wooden benches at the Pearl Street tip furnish seating. The space parallel to Pearl Street going to Broad Street looks public and provides seating, even if legally it is not required to be public.
Finally, the building incorporates a rare arcade typology, one that circumnavigates the entire base. Rimmed by rough granite columns, this spacious passageway is lit by hanging white and gold globes that conceptually reinforce the circumnavigation theme while subtly referencing the new global economy promoted by financial firms such as Goldman Sachs. More sidewalk widening borders South William Street.