63 Wall Street


About this page

I lived in an apartment in 63 Wall Street from November 2010 to October 2012 (before Hurricane Sandy). Because I enjoy New York City history, I created this page to collect information I learn about this historic property. This page is a work in progress.

Table of contents

Use this list to jump to a section, or just scroll down.

About 63 Wall Street

Once it was home to a large bank that employed the patriach of the Bush political dynasty. Today the gothic/neoclassical skyscraper at 63 Wall Street is an apartment building named "The Crest." Bounded by Wall Street, Hanover Street and Beaver Street, it has also been called The Wall & Hanover Building and The Brown Brothers Harriman building. It envelops various street addresses including 59 and 61 Wall Street, 77 and 79 Beaver Street, and 4 Hanover Street.

The present building was completed in March 1929 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Map via gis.nyc.gov.

Earliest buildings

Most people know Wall Street as the symbolic capital of American finance. The street dates to the construction of a wall around 1644 at the north boundary of the New Amsterdam colony. Less than a mile long, the street has hosted such high points of American history as George Washington's inauguration and the passage of the Bill of Rights, as well as shameful chapters such as the New York City slave market, the 1920 terrorist attack that killed 38 people, and the Great Crash of 1929. This page will skip the major points of history and focus only on the present location of 63 Wall Street.

This etching, from the New York Public Library, shows a 1908 artist's rendering of Wall Street in 1774. The present location of 63 Wall Street is just to the left of the words Hanover Street. Click on the image to highlight the property.

The earliest record I can find of a specific use of this site is 1833, when Brown Brothers bank moved its U.S. headquarters to the Joseph Building at 59 Wall Street. (The bank is not to be confused with the Brown Brothers stock photo agency.)

A 1909 book, "A hundred years of merchant banking: a history of Brown Brothers and Company," by John Crosby Brown, includes this image of the Joseph Building. Click on the image to highlight the building.

The Great Fire

Brown's book further describes the property:

"Brown Brothers & Company... rented an office at No. 59 corner of Wall and Hanover Streets then known as the Joseph Building. This building was afterward purchased either by James Brown or his brother in England and from that day to this the firm has occupied the same corner. In December 1835 occurred the great fire which destroyed a large section of the lower part of the city. A large portion of the south side of Wall Street from Hanover Street toward the river was burned but Nos. 51, 53, 55, 57, 59 and 61 including the premises occupied by Brown Brothers & Company were saved."

It's remarkable that the Brown Bros. building was spared in the fire. A history of the New York Fire Department says that during the great fire of 1853, all the buildings on the south side of Wall Street between William Street and the East River burned except the buildings on the block between Hanover and Pearl.

This engraving of the Great Fire of 1835 shows in dramatic fashion what happened to the street. (Image from the New York Public Library.) The image is titled, "View of the great fire in New-York, Decr. 16th and 17th 1835 as seen from the top of the Bank of America, cor. of Wall and Wm. St." The Bank of America building was on the north-west corner of Wall and William. I think the building on the far right of this image would have been on the same block as the Brown Brothers building.

By 1846, things looked pretty much put back together in this engraving, via the NYPL. Click on the image to highlight the small 4-story building just beyond the near telegraph pole.

The 1865 Building

In 1864, amid the economic uncertainty of the Civil War, Brown Brothers located to temporary quarters while they constructed a new office at 59 Wall Street. The new building opened on May 1, 1865.

Here are two photos of the 1865 building years later, after it was expanded. Once again, these images are from Brown's 1909 book:

Brown writes,

"The new structure was among the first thoroughly fire-proof buildings in the city. Unlike the modern method of construction, where the steel frame carries the outer shell, the walls of this building were very heavy and were intended to carry the weight of the entire structure."

The Financial District of Manhattan was one of the first places in the world to be wired for telegraph and telephone communication. The Brown Brothers offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore were connected by a private telegraph wire on July 1, 1885, with long-distance telephone coming in 1891. In 1899 the New York office added a telephone exchange.

A New York Times article from September 3, 1916 indicates the same structure was standing at that time, and had been expanded:

"Brown Brohters' main building is the eight-story structure at 59 Wall Street, the southeast corner of Hanover Street, fonting 57.9 feet on Wall by 128.6 feet on Hanover Street.... In 1865 the corner was improved with a four-story structure, and it was regarded as the most up-to-date fireproof building in the city at the time. The banking offices were on the ground floor and a broad staircase led to the upper stories. Later, when elevators became a necessary adjunct to office buildings, the structure was practically rebuilt with extra stories."

As for the buildings that were torn down in 1916 to make the Brown Brothers Building larger (3, 4 and 5 Hanover Street), the Times article describes them as follows:

"The three buildings are said to be fully a centry old and they bear every appearance of a venerable age. In the old days they served the purpose of residences and later were altered for business and are now five stories high. They face the lower terminues of Exchange Place and are the only remaining landmarks in that locality indicative of New York's early busines times."

Irving Underhill photos

The eight-story Brown Brothers Building appears in at least two images by the famous New York documentary photographer Irving Underhill. This one, taken in 1911, shows Wall Street looking East from Nassau Street. The image is from the Library of Congress. I have cropped it to more clearly show the building. Click on the image to highlight it.

Here's a second photo showing the same building, from 1909 and also by Irving Underhill and via the Library of Congress. Click on the image to highlight it.

The 1929 building

On March 7, 1928, The Times carried a report announcing plans to construct a new Brown Brothers building, designed by Delano & Aldrich.

"The present buildings on the plot sold are to be razed May 1, and when the new building is completed Brown Brothers & Co. will occupy the basement, ground floor, first floor, mezzanie and second floors exclusively.... The building, while facing on three streets, will have its principal façade overlooking the monumental National City Bank Building immediately to the westward. The fact that Wall Street deflects to the northward slightly at William Street gives the new building an imposing location, which, when seen from Broadway, will appear as a tower almost on an axis with Wall Street, a fitting balance to the Street, with the spire of Trinity Church at the opposite end."

Barely a year later, March 17, 1929, The Times ran a short item about the completion of the building, under the headline "Skyscraper Built Quickly."

Here's a brochure marketing the building, describing it as, "modern in every respect yet conservative in its selection of tenants."

The above document is from the Skyscraper Museum exhibition "The Rise of Wall Street", which is worth checking out.

Also featured in the Skyscraper Museum exhibition is a 1930 Fortune magazine infographic mapping all the buildings on Wall Street, including the new Brown Brothers building. It includes this pithy description of it:

The building had its first misadventure just a few months after it opened—a bomb scare:

Berenice Abbott photos

The building was constructed during a massive boom in construction in Lower Manhattan, and was quickly overwhelmed by taller buildings on all sides. In the 1930s, Federal Arts Project photographer Berenice Abbott documented this massive reinvention of Wall Street in her "Changing New York" series. The Wall & Hanover Building shows up in several of her photographs. Click these three photographs to see the building highlighted.

Wall Street district, from roof of Irving Trust Co. Building, Manhattan. (May 04, 1938)," via NYPL.

"Stone and William Street, Manhattan. (May 12, 1936)," via NYPL. (Despite the title, this image shows Exchange Place looking east from William Street. The sky bridge isn't there any more.)

"'El' Second and Third Avenue Lines, Hanover Square and Pearl Street, Manhattan. (March 16, 1936)," via NYPL. The elevated was torn down in the 1950s.

The business of BBH

Throughout its history and through today, Brown Brothers Harriman has been a private bank that seldom makes headlines. Among the most intriguing things about the company is that it employed Prescott Bush—the father of President George H. W. Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush. Prescott Bush joined Harriman in 1926 and became a partner after the merger with Brown Brothers in 1930 or 1931. He served as a U.S. Senator from 1952 to 1963 and returned to Brown Brothers Harriman after the Senate. He died in 1972.

Prescott Bush appears in a LIFE magazine photo in the Brown Brothers Harriman office in 1945:

It was published in LIFE's January 7, 1946 issue.

(In addition, George H. W. Bush's grandfather, Bert Walker, was the president of Harriman before it merged with Brown Brothers. It seems unlikely he ever worked at the Brown Brothers Harriman building.)

In 2004, The Guardian in London published a report saying that in the 1930s and 40s, Prescott Bush and other directors of BBH did business with German industrialist Fritz Thyssen, who helped bankroll the Nazis. The BBH-Nazi connection is a favorite among consipiracy theorists, but given that bankers do business with all kinds of customers without regard to their motivations, and no one was ever charged with a crime, history seems on course to forget about this.

The 1999 book Wall Street: Financial Capital by Robert Gambee includes a photo by Sam Varnedoe showing the corner entrance to 59 Wall Street before the conversion. This entrance is now closed; it sits between two entrances to a Thomas Pink shirt store.

The 2003 sale and residential conversion

The exodus of banks from Wall Street toward more modern offices elsewhere began before 9/11. Brown Brothers Harriman went looking for a new office in 2000. They eventually settled on a building in the Marine Midland Building at 140 Broadway.

With BBH gone, 63 Wall was sold to a developer for $60 million in 2003 to be converted into apartments.

The renovation, which was backed by $133 million in Liberty Bonds and a $14 million tax break, was billed as "the first residential building to open on Wall Street after the historic events of September 11, 2001." The building is owned by a corporation run by Nathan Berman and Yaron Bruckner and managed by their company, Metro Loft Management. Metro also manages the adjacent building at 67 Wall Street, which is connected at the mezzanine level, and 20 Exchange Place, the impressive tower pictured in the Abbott photo with the sky bridge.

The building today

Sixty-three Wall Street has 476 rental apartments, a large common space on the mezannine level,a laundry room, a small gym, and a sun deck open to residents. Some of the apartments also have private terraces.

The retail shops on the ground floor currently hold:

The building exterior includes sculptures of what look like ancient Greek coins. I'm trying to learn more about what they are and what they represent. One of them is an Athenian Owl.

Here's an aerial photo of the Financial District I took out the window of a plane landing at LaGuardia Airport. Click to see the building highlighted.

Wait, how many floors?

The initial stories about the building's construction say it is 35 floors. The elevators are numbered to floor 35 (plus a mezzanine). When the building was sold in 2003, it was reported to be 36 floors. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation says 36 floors. City Realty says it's 37 floors. And The Crest web site displays a floor plan for a penthouse on the 37th floor.

For more information

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