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  #1  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 12:05 AM
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Pre-war skyscrapers: who's got the best collection?

a detroit thread in the city photos forum got me to thinking about pre-war skyscrapers. in looking through the thread it struck me that detroit really does have a fantastic collection of them, one of the best collections in the world by most accounts, but what other cities would be up there at the top of that list in terms of BOTH QUANTITY & QUALITY of pre-war towers?

obviously NYC and chicago would be considered #1 & #2 respectively by just about all architectural historians out there, but after that it's a little less clear. detroit is up there, but strong cases for pittsburgh, toronto, philly, cincinnati, cleveland, montreal, and other older cities can be made too. internationally there's just not much competition because the skyscraper really didn't go global on a massive scale until after the war.

so, who is your #3?

and it's not really meant to be a serious competition, so there's no need to fight over opinions, just post your case, pics too if you got 'em, on why you think a particular city deserves nomination for the 3 spot of the best collection of pre-war skyscrapers.

Last edited by Steely Dan; Jan 4, 2011 at 12:32 AM.
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  #2  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 12:24 AM
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Detroit would definitely be my third.

Not the best (and I hate to sound like I keep shilling the place) but Kansas City's another one with a good collection of pre-war scrapers. I love the Power & Light, Fidelity and City Hall.
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  #3  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 12:36 AM
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KC used to be known for it's nice pre war skyline, the built environment of KC is remarkably similar to - if you could imagine - a Detroit that never took the steroids. KC having uncommon vantage points for a midwestern city to view its downtown, from both a high angle and from a deep valley, has historically made it "pop," if it were.
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  #4  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 12:52 AM
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How I see it:

1. New York (by 10 miles)
2. Detroit
3. Chicago
4. Kansas City
5. Pittsburgh

I could switch Detroit and Chicago at 2/3, but the height, beauty and prominence of Detroit's pre-war 'scrapers is hard for me to ignore. Kansas City seriously brings it for a city it's size in this department. Honorable mention to Tulsa. My winner at the "mites" level is Jackson, MI.

Just personal preference, in the spirit of the thread, not an actual quantification.
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  #5  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 1:09 AM
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certainly not montreal. we have the sun life, the aldred, the bell and the architect's building (that was knocked down). we have never been a city that was enamored of height.

though montreal was canada's richest and most powerful city in the pre-war era, we generally felt like 16 stories or so was "enough." there were laws and limits. a major architectural firm said to "let toronto and buffalo ape new york." we've always been grumpy on the subject.
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  #6  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 1:09 AM
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I do think Detroit is probably third. I'll also throw out Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore simply because they haven't been mentioned yet.
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  #7  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 1:23 AM
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Buffalo should be really high on the list. The Guaranty Building is without a doubt one of Louis Sullivan's finest buildings.
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  #8  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 1:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thundertubs View Post

I could switch Detroit and Chicago at 2/3, but the height, beauty and prominence of Detroit's pre-war 'scrapers is hard for me to ignore.
I totally respect your preference, but there simply isn't an architectural historian of merit out there who would agree with you. Chicago is one of the birthplaces of the skyscraper (along with new York), and it's collection of prewar towers simply overwhelms Detroit in the numbers game, along with the historical importance arena. This thread isn't about who currently has the best looking prewar skyline (ie. which city skyline has stood still in time the most), it's about the total collection of prewar towers. Think of it this way, if a young architect in Asia wanted to travel to the US to learn about prewar skyscrapers, would you honestly advise him to visit Detroit over Chicago?

Last edited by Steely Dan; Jan 4, 2011 at 6:16 PM.
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  #9  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 1:52 AM
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I agree Chicago has to be #2 and Detroit #3. But Thundertubs has a good point, Detroit's old skyscrapers totally dominate views in and around the city. Buffalo has some great ones too: http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=158116
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  #10  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 1:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steely Dan View Post
I totally respect your preference, but there simply isn't an architectural historian of merit out there who would agree with you. Chicago is one of the birthplaces of the skyscraper (along with new York), and it's collection of prewar towers simply overwhelms Detroit in the numbers game, along with the historical importance arena. This thread isn't about who currently has the best looking prewar skyline, it's about the total collection of prewar towers. Think of it this way, if a young architect in Asia wanted to travel to the US to learn about prewar skyscrapers, would you honestly advise him to visit Detroit over Chicago?
Nope, my ranking isn't about advising young students or having historians agree with me, just my personal preference -- what I like, aesthetically speaking. I stated that at the end of my last post. I certainly recognize that Chicago wins on most criteria, but in terms of large skyscrapers the top-5 from Detroit simply capture my imagination more than the top-5 from Chicago. We having nothing quite like the Penobscot, Guardian, Book, Cadillac, Broderick, or Stott towers. Chicago has a vastly greater bench, but Detroit has a superior starting lineup.

Again, just my opinion.
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  #11  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 2:04 AM
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Duluth would make the list in the under 100,000 group. As would that handful of small cities in southern Michigan.
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  #12  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 2:13 AM
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Detroit is up there, going exclusively by skyscrapers because we don't have nearly as many midrises as other cities do.

San Fransisco has a good group of skyscrapers.

Philadelphia is up there too, but it depends on how you define skyscrapers. Philadelphia has a lot of big buildings which by floor count or height might count them as skyscrapers, but by form they're not really towers or really attempting to scrape the sky, they're just really big.


Toronto doesn't have many but I think what it does have is good. I thought I'd mention them since they're buried among newer skyscrapers and people might not know about them.
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  #13  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 2:30 AM
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thundertubs, I'll give you Penobscot and Stott towers, but I personally don't think the others you mentioned can seriously contend with the tribune tower...
Detroit has my vote for #3...
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  #14  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 2:44 AM
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Detroit also has the awesome 400+ft art deco Fisher Building, which is not downtown (and therefore wasn't in my photo tour except as a hazy apparition in the background of the Midtown photo)
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Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 3:20 AM
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Seattle might make the top 8 or 9. In the 10s and 20s, our skyline was way out of proportion with our population, most notably due to Smith Tower, which was the tallest in the Western US from 1914 to the mid 50s.

That said, I'm jealous of many of the buildings in Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinatti, etc.
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  #16  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 3:54 AM
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To me, Detroit is clearly #3. Then you can toss around Philadelphia, Kansas City, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Buffalo. Los Angeles has some fantastic low-rise buildings as do Tulsa, Dallas, St. Louis, Seattle, and yes, Houston. Per capita, Buffalo has a very strong showing as do Kansas City and Youngstown.

And though my other city may only have one prewar skyscraper (talking over 300 feet), I think she's a beaut:


http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/


http://www.loopnet.com/
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  #17  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 4:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mhays View Post
Seattle might make the top 8 or 9. In the 10s and 20s, our skyline was way out of proportion with our population, most notably due to Smith Tower, which was the tallest in the Western US from 1914 to the mid 50s.

That said, I'm jealous of many of the buildings in Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinatti, etc.
If you ever get the chance watch the film "The slender thread" w/Ann Bancroft and Sidney Poitier on TCM or elsewhere. It opens with amazing shots over Seattle cira 1965 from the air and the downtown is completely flat except for the space needle and the Smith tower. It's also a great film with a beautiful score.
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  #18  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 4:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Jasoncw View Post
Detroit is up there, going exclusively by skyscrapers because we don't have nearly as many midrises as other cities do.

San Fransisco has a good group of skyscrapers.

Philadelphia is up there too, but it depends on how you define skyscrapers. Philadelphia has a lot of big buildings which by floor count or height might count them as skyscrapers, but by form they're not really towers or really attempting to scrape the sky, they're just really big.
.
Philly's prewar "skyscrapers" top out at around 20 to 25 floors and most are even shorter, unlike Chicago, NY and Detroit. That may be why so many survived and found new uses, mostly residential.
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  #19  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 5:25 AM
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^ Philly should get bonus points for the PSFS Tower from 1932 - 36 stories of International Style glam.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loews_Philadelphia_Hotel
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  #20  
Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 5:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bryson662001 View Post
If you ever get the chance watch the film "The slender thread" w/Ann Bancroft and Sidney Poitier on TCM or elsewhere. It opens with amazing shots over Seattle cira 1965 from the air and the downtown is completely flat except for the space needle and the Smith tower. It's also a great film with a beautiful score.
I haven't seen it.

The "flat" point isn't true. Here's a 1945 photo from a newspaper archive: 1945: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/galle...om%20the%20air

We have had a "cueball" neighborhood near Downtown where a hill was removed a century ago (Denny Hill became the Denny Regrade), then development was slow and generally lowrise until the 80s, and even now part of it has never developed much.
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