The Liberty Tower, formerly the Sinclair Oil Building, 55 Liberty Street at the corner of Nassau Street in the Financial District of Manhattan, New York City was built in 1909–10 and designed by Henry Ives Cobb in a Gothic Revival style. The limestone building is covered in white architectural terracotta ornamented with birds and alligators and other fanciful subjects.
In the building before Liberty Tower was the New York Evening Post under editor William Cullen Bryant, and the first headquarters of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, established by Henry Bergh in 1867.
President Theodore Roosevelt’s law office was one of Sinclair Oil building’s first commercial tenants. In 1917, an office was leased as cover for German spies seeking to prevent America’s intervention in World War I (“The Great War”). The plot involved an attempt to draw the United States into a diversionary war with Mexico and Japan. The plot was exposed on March 1, 1917, with news reports of an intercepted telegram (“Zimmermann Telegram”), decoded by British cryptographers, prompted President Woodrow Wilson to declare war against Germany a month later. Shortly afterward, the entire building was leased by the Sinclair Oil Company, responsible for the Teapot Dome scandal of 1922.
In 1979, the structure, renamed Liberty Tower, was converted from commercial use into a residential building by architect Joseph Pell Lombardi. It was designated a New York City landmark in 1982, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 15, 1983. Because the then new principles of “skyscraper” design were not yet fully understood, the building was overbuilt, with its steel foundation anchored into bedrock five stories below street level. This overly sturdy construction helped this tall, slender building withstand the collapse of two World Trade Towers only 220 yards to the west on September 11, 2001, with only minimal damage despite the impact which was measured at the time as a 3.3 magnitude seismic event.
View showing the ornate top. Image source: Manhattan Scout