When the Bank of Manhattan Tower Was the Tallest Building in Queens



    For nearly fifty years, the Bank of Manhattan tower facing the new Queens Plaza and the elevated train tangle was the undisputed king of all Queens buildings. The 15-story building, finished in 1927, looks like something The Fountainhead’s Howard Roark himself might have designed. That year, American architecture was shedding Beaux Arts and adopting the more streamlined motifs of the Machine Age.



    That didn’t stop the Bank’s architects from adding all kinds of goodies way up high, like the four-sided clock, the water bearer, fish and seashells.

    The following year, the Bank of Manhattan launched an audacious plan to construct the world’s tallest building, in Manhattan.The result of the conception, located at 40 Wall Street, came up short — by a hair — to the Chrysler Building and its stainless steel spire. The building at 40 Wall is presently called The Trump Building.




    In 1925, the Long Island Star-Journal described the incipient Queens tower thusly:

    “The Bank of Manhattan’s new building for Queens Plaza will set the pace for the Long Island City skyline. The building will tower far over the present buildings. The projection is that Bridge Plaza will be the new Times Square of Queens. The 14-story building is to be graced with a four-faced clock. The Plaza is expected to become the business and financial center of Queens. Transit facilities give it access to the South Shore as well as the North Shore.”

    In 1975, the 34-story North Shore Towers in Glen Oaks usurped the Queens’ skyscraper height title from the Bank of Manhattan tower in Queens Plaza. The nearby sea-green, 45-story Citigroup tower rose to become Queens’ tallest building in 1989. Long Island Rail Road commuters en route to and from Manhattan can compare the Bank of Manhattan and Citigroup buildings as the trains rush past both.

    As anyone who remembers Queens Plaza not too long ago will know, the Times Square comparison turned out to be an overreach. But the Plaza has made a comeback in recent years, with the new pedestrian plaza across the street from the Bank of Manhattan building, and new residential and commercial towers springing up in the last five years. The recent arrival of the JetBlue airline offices in the nearby Brewster Building, where biplanes and Rolls-Royce automobiles were once assembled, is another part of the renewed Queens Plaza story.

    In late 2012, an art exhibit, “How Much Do I Owe You?” opened up several floors of the Bank of Manhattan tower to local artists to show their work. The building also temporarily opened its bank vaults (sans original contents) to the curious. However, the building still awaits redevelopment.

    Join Forgotten New York webmaster Kevin Walsh in a tour of World’s Fair relics from both 1939-1940 and 1964-1965 on Saturday, July 13. The tour is 69th in a series of ForgottenTours that began on June 1st, 1999. Meet on boardwalk leading to Flushing Meadows Park just south of Willets Point station, #7 train, just south of the ramps at noon. For more details, go here.

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