June 13, 2012

In Focus: The Metropolitan Life Tower

(updated 2016 - The hotel in the tower, named The New York EDITION, opened in 2015. See hotel website for more information. )

In October of 2011, Marriott Hotels announced a deal to buy New York's landmark Metropolitan Life Tower building at Madison Square and convert the famous tower, built in 1909, into a hotel. In partnership with hotelier Ian Schrager, the lofty lodging would be branded as part of the company's boutique Edition line. The renovations are scheduled to start this year.*

The Metropolitan Life Tower as seen at dusk from Union Square.

With its large bell tower, gold cupola, tall arcade, scalloped arched windows, sloping roof, and a clock with faces on each side, the 52-story Metropolitan Life Tower or simply, Met Life Tower, located at Madison and East 23rd Street, is an easily recognizable feature of the New York skyline. The architecture firm of Napoleon LeBrun & Sons modeled the building on the Campanile of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, though they made the New York tower twice as tall as its Venetian counterpart. After its construction in 1909, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company proudly advertised its new building as its main corporate symbol.


The tower of the Metropolitan Life Building is easily recognizable in the skyline.


The building was extensively renovated from 1999 to 2002, and a computerized lighting system was installed for nighttime illuminations. The insurance company remained in the building until 2005. Credit Suisse is the now the major corporate occupant of both the Metropolitan Life Tower and its companion, the Metropolitan Life North Building, the latter designed by Harvey Wiley Corbett and built in 1928.

The Metropolitan Life Tower should not be confused with the MetLife Building, the giant 1963 modernist skyscraper that dominates Park Avenue. MetLife bought that building from Pan American World Airways in 1981. Among older New Yorkers, it's still sometimes referred to as the Pan Am Building. Nor should the 1909 Metropolitan Life Tower be mistaken for its golden-topped neighbor, the 40-story New York Life Building northeast of Madison Square Park at 51 Madison Avenue. The latter was designed in 1926 by Cass Gilbert, and its golden pyramid represents more of a Gothic-Moderne style. When the Met Life Tower was finished, it was briefly the tallest building in New York, but Gilbert's Woolworth Building downtown on Broadway overtook the distinction a couple of years later.

Madison Square East
On the far left with the golden pyramid at top - the New York Life Building.
On the far right  - the Metropolitan Life Tower.

* Read "Saving the Clock Tower - Marriott Is Latest to Own Famed New York Building" by Craig Karmin, The Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2011.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. Clicking on the images enlarges them.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Dig the Cass Gilbert. I used to work at an auction house in the City and the head of the design section had a model of the Woolworth Building above his desk.