IWalked New York City’s Socony-Mobil Building
If it retains no other distinction, the Socony-Mobil Building is definitely the shiniest building in New York City. This forty-two story building was the world’s first stainless steel skyscraper when it was unveiled in 1956. The Alcoa Company had nearly proceeded with an aluminum faced building of their own in 1946 that would have been located near the intersection of Park Avenue and East 58th Street and the first of its kind. That building, however, never materialized here in New York City (although a version was erected in Pittsburgh in 1953).
The Socony-Mobil Bulding was almost a drastically different structure however. The project’s original architect, John Peterkin, had proposed a brick structure with set-backs, possibly similar in nature to the Chanin Building. Dissatisfied with this initial design, the firm of Harrison & Abramowitz was brought in to assist. Throughout 1953 and 1954 the plans went through multiple iterations until finally an innovative concept of a metal exterior was approved.
The usage of steel versus more traditional materials was brought about via a series of careful negotiations and concessions. With the increased usage of aluminum for manufacturing and building materials, the steel companies were beginning to sweat their declining interest. Steel prices had also escalated to nearly one and a half times that of brick. Thus as a concession to encourage the builders to use steel in construction of the Socony-Mobile building, the United States Steel Corporation agreed to subsidize the costs and write-off the loss in hopes the project would generate further interests. In total the steel company would “donate” approximately 750,000 pounds of 0.037 inch stainless steel to their cause (over 7,000 panels).
With the building materials agreed upon and seemingly set, another challenge was now presented—how to control both the possible warping and glare that were anticipated. Luckily a single solution was developed that would address each concern. By embossing or etching designs upon the surface, this would both dim the reflections and lower the stress on the material. Now all that remained was consensus of a design to embed on each sheet. Unfortunately, progress again slowed as reportedly more than one hundred potential patterns were reviewed and debated. These designs varied from a simple square pattern to more obscure ones such as bicycle chains before a geometric pattern was selected. Critics have not always been kind to this decision as the building has at times been compared to both waffles or appearing as if it had the measles.
As to the building’s name, it has also been referred to at times as the Mobil Building in reference to its primary tenant who moved here from 26 Broadway in 1956 and resided here until 1987. Despite having moved their headquarters to Virginia in 1990, the building has continued to be recognized by the name of its former tenant.
Address: 150 East 42nd Street, New York City, NY
IWalked Audio Tours To See This Site: New York City’s Lower Midtown. (Purchase the MP3 tour here. iPhone application tour is available here. Please note, all NYC tours are now available as in-app purchases upon download of our FREE NYC Lite application, which includes a free 1.5 hour tour of a portion of the Upper West Side.)