THE STARRETT-LEHIGH BUILDING
601 West 26th Street, New York
The building was completed in 1931, and was a massive factory-warehouse offering a novel solution to freight distribution and a dramatic example of curtain wall construction. With tracks leading directly from the piers into the building, freight cars carried by boat from New Jersey could be moved in 30-foot elevators to truck pits on upper floors. The horizontal bands of windows and cantilevered concrete floors sweeping around the perimeter of a huge city block gave New Yorkers an indigenous example of the new International Style in architecture.
Although architecturally innovative, the Starrett-Lehigh Building never fulfilled its promise. The Holland Tunnel (1927), Lincoln Tunnel (1937), and George Washington Bridge (1931), created a new environment in which New York City's commercial activity was primarily long-distance trucking. Water transportation was no longer essential for the movement of goods.
Its modern and streamlined design prompted inclusion by the Museum of Modern Art in the International Exhibition of Modern Architecture in 1932. Starrett-Lehigh was declared a New York City landmark in 1986 and is part of the West Chelsea Historic District, designated in 2008.
The building features large setbacks, polygonal corners, and alternating bands of steel strip windows, brickwork and concrete floorplates, creating a striking effect. The building has over 1.8 million rentable square feet.
Russell G. Cory, Walter M. Cory, Yatsuo Matsui
The building was completed in 1931 by the Starrett Corporation and the Lehigh Valley Railroad, on the site of a former freight terminal. When William A. Starrett died in 1932, the Lehigh Valley Railroad bought the building, but by 1933 it was a losing proposition, with a net loss that year of $300,000. Several factors contributed to the building not being an immediate financial success. The city's construction boom of the 1920s came to a stop with the start of the Great Depression and there was less demand for the rentable space in the building. Furthermore, the cost of construction was more than expected due to changes in the foundation necessitated by the levels of bedrock across the building's footprint. Competition from another terminal with considerably cheaper rates announced to be built by the Port Authority, 111 Eighth Avenue, built in 1932 – depressed the buyer's market further, as they waited for the new building instead of renting from Starrett-Lehigh. The Lehigh Valley Railroad disassociated itself from the building in 1944, and the rail lines were removed in 1966.
The building needs very little artificial light because of its large expanse of windows. It is supported from the inside by steel beams because its walls, made entirely of glass, cannot directly support its own weight.
Originally, the building used 30-foot elevators to lift trucks and freight cars brought in from the Lehigh Valley Railroad freight yard to the upper floors of the building. Now, local food trucks drive straight into the building and are lifted via these elevators to each of the floors’ reception areas to serve lunch for the current tenants.
There’s a secret garden on a roof - a farm run by volunteers who are all employees of the many companies in the building.