Southbridge Towers Story
Southbridge Towers, completed in 1971 on a site consisting of 331,577 square feet in Master Block #94 in the Borough of Manhattan, is a cooperative containing 1,651 dwelling units in one of the choicest New York City locations, adjoining the Civic and Financial Districts. It is part of the New York State Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program, which was instrumental in bringing middle-income residents to the downtown area. The development is divided into studios, 1,2, and 3-bedroom apartments in five six-story buildings and four 27-story high risers. With plans and specifications designed by Gruzen & Partners (architects, planners, engineers), it was originally constructed and sponsored by Tishman Realty and Construction Company at a cost of $29 million dollars – a project which took over 10 years to complete - and thereafter was first managed by Sulzberger-Rolfe, Inc. Southbridge is now managed by the PRC Management Company.
A glimpse into the history of Southbridge would not be complete without recalling Lower Manhattan's illustrious past. In the 17th century, this area was called Nieuw Amsterdam, founded by the Dutch settlers in 1626. Bowling Green, at the foot of Broadway, was soon thereafter established as the City’s first public park. In the 18th century, the area became a financial and government center, gradually losing its residential base over time, until artists began to expand downtown from the neighboring SoHo community in the mid 20th century.
Some of the City’s oldest surviving buildings are located in Lower Manhattan, such as the Fraunces Tavern restaurant and museum (where George Washington bid farewell to his troops in 1783, a site which then served as offices for the Departments of State, Treasury and War), the Federal Hall National Memorial (built in the 19th century at 26 Wall Street on the site where Washington was inaugurated as the country’s first President in 1789), and St. Paul’s Chapel (at Broadway and Vesey Street) which is the only colonial church still standing. Even the street names remind us of our history, as Southbridge is bordered by Fulton Street (renamed in memory of the great steamboat engineer/inventor, after having been called "Fair Street" east of Broadway), Gold Street (previously called, "the Golden Hill"), Pearl Street (previously known as "The King’s Road" and "Magazine Street") and Frankfort Street, which was a boundary for the Jacob Leiser estate. Parenthetically, Jacob Leiser (1640-1691), a native of Frankfurt, became one of 17th century New York’s most prominent merchants and land developers, then led a 1689 rebellion and was ultimately executed for treason after assuming the role of King William III’s governor of New York, hosting English-America’s first intercolonial congress, and organizing the first intercolonial military action independent of British authority. He was a forerunner in the country’s battle for self-determination.
Other neighboring street names reflect the landscape of the area: Water Street (the first street laid out in the bed of the East River), Front Street (laid out beyond Water Street, and fronting the East River), South Street (the southerly line of the East River shore, as finally established), William Street (known at different periods as "The Glassmakers’ Street" before named in compliment to William of Nassau) and Nassau Street (formerly known as "The Piewoman’s Street" before receiving its appellation again in deference to William of Nassau). Venturing a bit further, we have Maiden Lane, the original "Maiden’s Path," a rural valley road; Wall Street, lining the city wall; Washington Street, laid out while our national hero occupied the nation’s highest office; Stone Street, the first street paved with stone; and Broad Street, laid out although a ditch in the center occasioned the unusual width, hence requiring Bridge Street which, in Dutch times, led to the bridge across the Broad Street canal. Nearby Cliff, Ann and Beekman Streets were named after the owners of the estates. In 1844, Rose Street was home to the Mayor, as his official residence, on a street lined with mansions.
New York City – then predominantly operating out of Lower Manhattan and briefly the capitol of the United States from 1789 to 1790, and State capitol until 1797 – quickly became the country’s leader in finance, commerce and shipping, but with additional growth and development, the City’s focus moved further and further uptown. By the 1950s, the area many had claimed as "Capital of the World" was heading towards decline. Rents and occupancies were low, suffering from obsolescence while midtown boasted posh new buildings and facilities. Some prominent Wall Street businesses had left the area and others feared an exodus to come.
It was not until Chase Manhattan Bank decided to build its flagship headquarters in the financial district, through the vision and commitment of David Rockefeller, Executive Vice President of Planning and Development, that revitalization of Lower Manhattan began. In his memoirs, David Rockefeller credits Robert Moses as having suggested that he put together an organization to speak on behalf of the downtown financial community to offer a cohesive plan for the physical redevelopment of the community, in order to persuade politicians to allocate necessary resources. Thus, in 1958, the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, Inc. (“DMLA”) was created, with David Rockefeller as its chairman, together with prominent members of the business community, to address the one square mile south of Canal Street, bordered to the west by the Hudson River, to the east by the East River and to the south by the Battery and New York Harbor. DMLA’s objectives included maintaining and expanding Lower Manhattan’s position as the world’s preeminent leader of finance, commerce and shipping, and to transform the area into a total community by expanding residential capacity and introducing all of the amenities of urban community life, including facilities and programs in education, recreation and the arts.
The DMLA endorsed eleven major improvements in its November 1963 report, aimed to bring added vitality to Lower Manhattan: from large-scale projects such as the creation of the World Trade Center, and work on the New York Stock Exchange and at the Civic Center to the Hudson River Landfill (Battery Park City) to the “Brooklyn Bridge Southwest” and “Southeast” which included plans for Pace University, and residential expansion in Chatham Green, Chatham Towers and Southbridge Towers.
Community services expanded with improvements to Beekman-Downtown Hospital and a new branch of the New York Public Library. The area was already home to myriad transportation facilities. With the additional social, cultural and recreational services, there was indeed a resurgence of community feeling in Lower Manhattan, initially likened to a re-colonization for early residents who felt akin to pioneers. As the population grew, amenities increased such as dry cleaners, grocers, parks, playgrounds, health clubs, and houses of worship. Southbridge Towers was constructed in modernism architectural style with its own indoor parking garages, onsite supermarket, laundries, storage rooms, plaza, community room, retail shops, recreational areas and gardens. “Statistically insignificant” on the City’s crime charts, Southbridge is a stone’s throw from Police Plaza and receives excellent coverage from the First Precinct, if needed.
Lower Manhattan’s facilities have continued to expand, with a new Staten Island Ferry terminal, improved access to Governor’s and Ellis Islands, as well as to the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Lower Manhattan’s visitors tour the Federal Reserve Bank and stock exchanges, the Irish Hunger Memorial, the American Indian Museum, African Burial Ground, Brooklyn Bridge, “Canyon of Heroes” parades, Trinity Church, Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Plaza, World Financial Center and numerous other attractions. As the Fulton Street corridor receives a “facelift” (now that it’s fish market has relocated out of the neighborhood), the historical South Street Seaport District remains a source of prime shopping and tourism with its summer green markets and winter holiday celebrations, and as new construction progresses on the streets of Lower Manhattan, Southbridge Towers remains at the hub of all aspects of promise for the neighborhood’s future development. A Lower Manhattan community has indeed truly developed with creative vitality unlike that of any other sector of the City.