When it was opened to the public in 1908, the Singer Building at 149 Broadway held the record, however briefly, as the tallest skyscraper in the world. Sixty years later, it had the honor of setting a more enduring record – as the world's largest skyscraper ever to be peacefully demolished.
The 612-foot-tall, 47-story headquarters of the Singer Sewing Machine Company had been a landmark of downtown Manhattan for decades, thanks in part to its unique shape. The building's architect, Ernest Flagg, deplored the way the sides of modern skyscrapers grew upward from the very edge of their plots, making narrow ravines of the city streets below. Mr. Flagg believed buildings more than 10 or 15 stories high should be set back from the street. It was a belief literally set in stone in the Singer Building's most unique feature -- a narrow 35-story tower that protruded from the structure's lower floors.
But this unconventional architecture was also its downfall in the face of more modern buildings to come.
In 1961, the Singer Company announced plans to move its headquarters north to Midtown. William Zeckendorf, the chairman of the real estate development firm Webb & Knapp, bought the Singer tower and the rest of the block, hoping to get the New York Stock Exchange to relocate there. But Mr. Zeckendorf was unable to generate corporate interest in the space because the small square footage of the building's narrow tower was antithetical to the booming growth of modern business, which demanded more, not less, office space.
By 1964, the property had been sold to United States Steel to be demolished, and it soon became the site of the 54-story, 743-foot-high structure known today as One Liberty Plaza.
The Singer Building's demolition is considered by some to be one of the greatest failures of the early preservation movement. In 2005, Christopher Gray, who writes about the city's architectural history for The New York Times, described at least one effort to save the structure. Alan Burnham, the executive director of the city's nascent Landmark Preservation Commission at the time, filed a "meek request" asking United States Steel to consider preserving the lobby of the building, which Mr. Gray described as "a forest of marble columns" that were "alternately rendered in the monogram of the Singer Company and, quite inventively, as a huge needle, thread and bobbin."
The request had no effect, and demolition of the entire building began in August 1967.
One year later, the sight of the Singer Building's iconic domed tower among the structures of Lower Manhattan was but a memory. But just a few short blocks away, construction progressed on the city's new financial center, the World Trade Center, which would have its own history as part of the world's most famous skyline.
Correction: June 18, 2013, Tuesday
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of a picture caption with this article described the skyline of Lower Manhattan incorrectly. The tallest building in the photo is the Woolworth Building -- not the Singer Building, whose spire can be seen to the left of the Woolworth Building.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.