Daily News Building
National Historic Landmark, National Park Service, 1989
City of New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1981 and 1998
Initially, the plan for the Daily News headquarters was to construct a printing plant with some room for offices. However, due to the land value in the area, the company decided to maximize profit and build an office tower for lease. In 1928, Daily News founder Joseph Medill Patterson formed a building committee that comprised experts in construction, real estate, building management, and newspaper operations, and left them to the task of collaborating with architect Raymond Hood to put together a sound proposal. The group worked together to find the best ratio of usable floor area to the total area, as well as the most economically efficient use of space. Hood was particularly interested in the theories and work of Le Corbusier and saw beauty in utilitarian design and function. His vision was that of large towers rising up amidst parks and broad avenues. As such, he sought to erect buildings using only a portion of the land area that they occupy. The Zoning Resolution of 1916, which permitted 25% of a plot’s land area to extend vertically as high as was desired and practical, fell perfectly in line with his vision. Hood’s original intention was to construct a 3-story base from which a tower would project skyward. However, due to financial objections by Patterson, the 3-story base was denied and Hood had to come up with another way to achieve the tapering effect he desired. His initial 3-story base was enlarged to 9 stories, and the tower was modified using setbacks instead of a uniformly straight design. Hood convinced Patterson to decrease the building’s volume on the west façade by 25 feet in order to create an open alley on that side. The alley would allow the building to have space on all sides, and hence fulfill his vision of a freestanding tower. He made his argument by citing the economic advantage of a building in which all the rentable spaces had proper air circulation and light penetration provided by windows (the developments of air conditioning and artificial light would not take place until several years later). Without them, the spaces created on the west side would have been loft spaces, which would bring in lower rents. Because of the building’s freestanding position and the necessary experimentation with massing, Hood hired architectural sculptor René Chambellan to work on plasticine models that would reflect his plan more effectively than drawings. In this medium, Hood was able to easily cut away and add sections to the building in the schematic process, as well as portray his final concept with utmost efficiency and dimensionality. Though Patterson had reservations about the monumentality and extravagance of Hood’s tower, he approved the design in 1928. The newspaper would later defend the building’s design to critics of the Modern movement who despised its simplistic form.
The building, which measures 125 feet on the East 42nd Street frontage and 275 feet deep to 41st Street at the base, consists of an office tower rising 36 stories (476 feet) and a printing plant originally rising 9 stories that are connected to form an L shape. The building has a steel frame and its exterior is made up of vertical piers of white vitreous brick, window spandrel panels of dark red and black patterned brick, and red window shades to match the spandrels. The use of brick cladding represented one of the most economical ways to enclose a building at the time. The vertical columns of windows, which are double-hung and made of painted steel, emphasize the building’s verticality and provide its only ornament. The most distinctive aspect of the exterior envelope is the series of asymmetrical setbacks that make up the building’s massing. On the north façade, there is one setback two bays deep at the 9th floor and one at the 33rd floor, where the outer two bays are inset one bay. On the west façade, there are two setbacks at the 9th floor – one at two bays from the north edge and the other at ten from the south edge. The 11th and 12th bays from the southern edge then rise to the 15th floor and at that point are pulled back two bays. The effect of this façade is a zig-zag pattern of setbacks and massing. The southern façade has one-bay setbacks at the 7th and 13th floors, and two-bay setbacks at the 27th and top floors. On the east façade, the seven bays from the northern edge project forward until the 33rd floor, where they level with the building plane. There are no setbacks on the printing plant portion of the building, and its decoration is similar to the tower. However, the window bays are grouped in threes with wider brick piers.
Patterson allotted $150,000 for the building’s ornamentation, which Hood decided to devote nearly 100% to the 3-story limestone entrance on the 42nd Street side. The entrance contains a bas-relief depicting the people of New York City with a background of skyscrapers. The Daily News Building is at the forefront and the sun’s rays are emanating from the top of it. The inscription at the top reads “THE NEWS” and at the bottom, in smaller print, “HE MADE SO MANY OF THEM.” On the western façade, there is another inscription in a granite slab, which reads:
HOME OF THE NEWS
“THIS NEWSPAPER ALWAYS WILL
BE FEARLESS AND INDEPENDENT.
IT WILL HAVE NO ENTANGLING
ALLIANCE WITH ANY CLASS
WHATEVER – FOR CLASS FEELING
IS ALWAYS ANTAGONISTIC TO THE
INTEREST OF THE WHOLE PEOPLE.”
JOSEPH MEDILL PATTERSON – FOUNDER
JUNE 26, 1919
The lobby, which opened to the public on July 23, 1930, is one of New York’s most dramatic lobby spaces. The original space designed by Hood is circular and is enclosed in the addition designed by Harrison & Abramovitz, completed in 1960. The dome was designed to evoke the expanse of outer space, with the globe positioned partially below the floor level in a stepped down pit, to further emphasize the room’s expansiveness and circular shape. Around the lobby’s curving walls are maps and charts displaying science and weather information. Visitors are oriented within by a compass placed on the floor and bronze lines showing the distance to various other world cities. The interior lighting fixtures, bronze components, and elevator doors were all designed in the Art Deco style. The space is divided into two sections: the rotunda, which is accessible by the main entrance on East 42nd Street, and an elevator lobby connected to the rotunda by a series of hallways. Due to the crowds that flocked to the rotunda in its early years, another entrance was created on the western side to alleviate traffic.
When the Daily News purchased the lot on East 42nd Street, the area, which was then called the Upper East Side, was only beginning to be developed. It was filled with old buildings that were modest in scale and reminded one of a much smaller city than New York’s downtown. According to a Daily News article announcing the acquisition of their site, several other office towers were in the planning stages. As this section of the city was burgeoning, the value of the land demanded the maximizing of space. It was because of this fact that the economic advantage of leasing space to other tenants justified the addition of an office tower to the newspaper’s printing plant.
Hood was adamant in his opposition to the common building practice of placing structural columns in the middle of office spaces. He demanded the engineers to find an alternative way to configure the steel framing so as to achieve the aesthetic effect of completely open interior space. The plan resulted in columns forming unequal distances to the outside walls with the girders remaining the same length. The columns were off center, but structurally sound. This created a revolutionary structural configuration that allowed for the columns to be hidden within the walls.
Hood sought to create distinctive and symbolic buildings that would make an impact on the city’s built environment and represent the intentions and characteristics of his clients. The American Radiator Building, Hood’s first skyscraper in New York City, employed a bold color scheme that made it instantly recognizable and impressive. For the McGraw-Hill Building, Hood installed eleven foot letters at the top of the building spelling out the company’s name, turning the building into one large advertisement. For the Daily News Building, Hood designed a building whose stark simplicity and massing, as well as its tourist attraction lobby, would grab the city’s attention. At the time of construction, many critics despised the exterior appearance of the building, but revered its lobby.
The Daily News was the first tabloid newspaper to catch on in the United States. Its first incarnation, the Illustrated Daily News, hit New York newsstands on June 26, 1919. It was geared toward “the common people” of the city and tended to sensationalize the news with big pictures and short text, as well as emphasizing gossip rather than conventional news stories. By 1925, the paper had changed its name to The Daily News and was New York’s largest and most highly circulated. Its “common” audience tactic had clearly worked, so the newspaper displayed its proud motto in the building’s most prominent location – the entrance. The depiction of the people of New York City amidst their built environment further emphasized the paper’s interest in reaching the widest audience. The inscription “He made so many of them” was, according to Patterson, inspired by a quote by Abraham Lincoln regarding God’s love for the common man.
Of the five skyscrapers that Hood designed in New York and Chicago, the Daily News Building was his first that was fully modernistic and freestanding. The top floor of the building’s tower was one of its most revolutionary characteristics at the time of its unveiling. In order to conceal the service and water shafts, Hood chose to extend the walls above, which creates the effect of the building’s top being simply chopped off. This particular feature showcases the drastic departure from Hood’s previous affinity for the Gothic style, in which Gothic ornament was employed heavily at the tops. The Daily News Building’s use of setbacks to achieve both a tapering effect and compliance with the Zoning Resolution, as well as its alley to create open space on all sides, also signify Hood’s interest in the Modernist aesthetic. The irregularly placed setbacks represent a design choice, but their exposure and lack of continuity also emphasize a certain display of functionality. The creation of open space on all sides of the building is a direct experiment of the theories of Le Corbusier, whose writings on the efficiency of urban tower environments clearly inspired Hood in his work with skyscraper design.
The Daily News Building contributed in several ways to the designs of other buildings and to the Modernist movement nationwide. For his design of the RCA Building (1931-1933), Hood repeated the massing used for the Daily News Building. He insisted that the use of such massing had to do with the zoning laws, yet his masterful employment of setbacks is what made his designs distinctive. The “razed” roof concept employed in the Daily News Building was also repeated at the RCA Building and others, and Hood’s open alley solution to air and light circulation on all sides was also copied for other structures. At the time it was constructed, the building’s exterior was considered a blight on the skyline by many critics, including novelist Ayn Rand, who opined that it was the ugliest building in the city. As with most architectural appreciation, the building has come to represent the style and progressive theories of its time. As such, it has been designated a landmark on both the city and national registers. Our modern admiration for the Daily News Building provides it with a distinguished place in the history and cultural heritage of New York City, for its aesthetic contributions of both its interior and exterior.
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