The Roaring Twenties in New York was a time of exuberant ambition, free-flowing optimism, an explosion of artistic expression in the age of Prohibition. New York was the city that embodied the spirit and strength of a newly powerful America.In 1924, in the vibrant heart of Manhattan, a fierce rivalry was born. Two architects, William Van Alen and Craig Severance (former friends and successful partners, but now bitter adversaries), set out to imprint their individual marks on the greatest canvas in the world--the rapidly evolving skyline of New York City. Each man desired to build the city's tallest building, or ‘skyscraper.' Each would stop at nothing to outdo his rival.
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December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Higher by Neal Bascomb
A Hunch, Then a Demand
The heart of all the world am I!
A city, great, and grim and grand!
Man's monument to mighty man!
Superb! Incomparable! Alone!
Greater than ancient Babylon,
The giant walled! Greater than Tyre,
Sea-Queen! Greater than Nineveh,
Pearl of the East! Greater than Rome,
Stupendous reared, Magnificent!
Greater than Paris, city fey!
Greater than London, fog-enmeshed!
Greater than Venice! Vienna!
Or Petrograd! Greater than these!
That I am! Mark my high towers!
--Arthur Crew Inman
The lobster shift returned home from a long night of pouring drinks, driving taxis, scrubbing floors, or walking the beat on the mad city streets. A few bands still shouted and hollered in Harlem speakeasies, their lawbreaking patrons eased back in their chairs, glad not to have gone to bed on the same day they got up--the Mayor Jimmy Walker way of living high in the era of Prohibition. Liner ships cut through the fog toward the island of Manhattan, arriving from Liverpool, Rotterdam, Genoa, and a dozen other cities. On the waterfront, dockworkers threw back their coffees and stamped out their Lucky Strikes, ready for the cargo hauls from North Africa, Sumatra, Capri, and Costa Rica.
Downtown, milkmen left crates of bottles for the army of office clerks to drink that day. In the gray of dawn, the clanking of ash cans echoed through the streets. A horse-drawn cart turned the corner. At the fish market, mongers spun and heaved three-hundred-pound barrels of flounder onto handtrucks and took them away. The morning chill bit their wet hands. Ferries and tugs shuttled across the harbor. Valets and maids prepared for their blueblood bosses to awake. The newsboys wiped the sleep from their eyes and shouted their first headlines: "Rothstein Shot . . . Hoover in a Landslide . . . Get your paper . . . Two cents . . . Just two cents." It was November 5, the day before the 1928 presidential election between Al Smith and Herbert Hoover, for most New Yorkers simply another day in a decade gone mad.
In Fifth Avenue suites and tenement apartments across the city, alarm clocks rang a thousand rings. Time to chase another buck. Trains, buses, and cars approached the city; their passengers--perhaps today an actor from Poughkeepsie, a playwright from Chicago, a bank teller looking to hit it rich on Wall Street--bounced up and down on their seats as the sun struck gold on the Metropolitan Life Tower. A second later they shot underneath the Hudson River, the towers of New York lost to the darkness. As the sun lifted into the sky, a crowd, one thick swell of dissonant voices, headed for work. They slipped nickels into turnstile slots and waited for the IRT or BMT to come down the elevated rails or screech through the tunnel. Some rushed from ferries once they docked and the gates were pulled aside. One man passed an old friend, tipped his hat, and said "Good Morning" before hurrying on his way. No time to stop for a chat and catch up. Got to move. Got to go. Hawkers hawked their wares. Dynamite blasted. The ground shook. The first rivet thundered. Reporter and raconteur Damon Runyon knew what he was talking about when he said, "The bravest thing in New York is a blade of grass. This is not prize grass, but it has moxie. You need plenty of moxie in this man's town, or you'll soon find yourself dispersed hither and yon."