March 3, 2021

Square Feet: J.P. Morgan’s Fortress, Long Vacant, Looks For Upscale Tenants

From the inside, the immense paneled windows at 23 Wall reveal views of the New York Stock Exchange, and the building’s facade still bears blast marks from where a bomb was detonated in 1920, possibly by an Italian anarchist protesting the rapid rise of American capitalism.

But for all its symbolism, the fortress that J. Pierpont Morgan built in 1914 to house his growing financial firm has languished without a tenant for nearly five years.

That void at the heart of the financial district may be closer to being filled now that brokers have been enlisted to aggressively market approximately 150,000 square feet of retail space at the building, known as the Corner.

“We really believe this space could be transformative for Lower Manhattan,” said Matthew Seigel, a senior retail director with Cushman Wakefield who, with an executive vice president, Joanne Podell, was tapped last month to market and lease the landmark four-story asset for its owner, China Sonangol.

“Ten years ago we couldn’t have even had this conversation,” Mr. Seigel said. “With the area’s growing residential community, we believe it’s poised for a real change.”

Most recently used to house offices and a training center for JPMorgan Chase, the property will be offered to large, upscale department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.

But the brokers say that the space would also work well for, say, Apple, which, despite branching out in SoHo and on the Upper West Side, has yet to open a retail outlet in Lower Manhattan.

The available retail space, which includes three sublevels, is made up of 23 Wall Street, 35 Wall Street and 15 Broad Street — a 42-story condominium with interiors designed by Philippe Starck.

“Everybody’s excited and curious,” Ms. Podell said of the space, which, because of its hexagonal shape, has yet to be calibrated with an asking rental price. “And a couple of the department stores have already called about it,” she said.

Any of those tenants would fit nicely in an area, where, since 2005, luxury retailers like Hermès, Tiffany, Canali, BMW and True Religion jeans have opened their doors not only to the crowds of tourists and stockbrokers who cross Wall Street daily, but also to a growing residential population.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in fact, the number of residents living in Lower Manhattan has more than doubled, to 28,198 this year from 13,046, according to data provided by the Downtown Alliance, a civic and business advocacy group. And with the number of residents still growing, Lower Manhattan — once a relative no man’s land for retailers — is being recast as a new commercial hub.

“Retail is an important component of the new algorithm of Wall Street,” said Elizabeth H. Berger, the president of the Downtown Alliance.

“Retail continues to diversify on Wall Street and reflect the new Lower Manhattan, which is a globally competitive and well-known business address that’s supported by a fast-growing, sophisticated, affluent, residential community and among the city’s largest tourism populations,” Ms. Berger said.

Completed one year after the death of J. Pierpont Morgan, the building was designed by the architectural firm of Trowbridge Livingstone to support as many as 30 floors. For aesthetic reasons, however, expansion plans never went forward and, as such, it stands out on a street where 40-story properties are typical.

Inside the building, a three-story bank vault, built with nickel steel, armor, concrete and cast steel, remains intact. Weighing a hefty 52 tons, the vault’s door, the brokers said, will not be detached for the new retailers. For one prospective tenant, whom Ms. Podell described as a metal manufacturer, the vault was the building’s main selling point. “He wanted to know if he could actually use the vault to store his metals,” she said.

According to a 1915 article from The Architectural Record, the bank baron spared no expense on the vault or the building itself, importing large blocks of pink Knoxville marble, with the heaviest weighing about 35 tons. He also incorporated many design flourishes of the era.

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