When Edward Knox, the son of a New York hatter, enlisted to fight for the Union Army in the Civil War, he was only seventeen and had no idea how whose decision would change his life for the worse, then for the better. He joined a volunteer regiment made up almost entirely of New York firefighters. Knox once explained that âCaptains were selected by their comrades, who seemed to consider the only qualifications needed for the office to be the ability to do a lot of ‘big oaths’ and put out fires. ”
These heavy-handed firefighters proved essential during the Battle of Gettysberg, where the unit resisted what is seen as the start of the end of the Confederate advance, Pinkett’s Charge. The Knox battalion suffered heavy casualties and in the closing moments of the battle were shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist up. He was taken by a fellow soldier to a nearby church where he was found by his father in what I can only imagine to be a dramatic, even cinematic scene.
That bit of bad luck didn’t last, however. Two years later, Knox traveled to Switzerland where he underwent surgery that would restore the sensation to his legs. His exploits were rewarded as well, he went on to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor and was a famous war hero for the rest of his life. Upon returning to his hometown with a new ability to walk, Knox was faced with another problem. His father’s business was in trouble. The company, famous for its beaver hats which were popular at the time, was in the midst of a costly trademark lawsuit. Adding to the difficulties, the company’s storefront burned down in the fire of 1865. Knox took charge of the business and helped it uphold the brand’s motto: Moveo and Proficio, Advance and Advance.
Advancing was something Edward was good at doing, whether it was rushing into a burning building, advancing against enemy fire, or recovering from a debilitating wound. And go ahead, he did. Knox hats have become known around the world as one of the best hat suppliers, even presidents can be seen with a Knox hat that fits snugly on top of their head. Edward Knox didn’t just sit back on the wealth he amassed from selling hats, he decided he wanted an office and showroom that looked as good as the hats they did. were producing. He bought land on Broadway in what is now Midtown Manhattan and hired famous architect and Civil War hero John H. Duncan. Duncan was known for designing the Memorial Arch for Soldiers and Sailors in Brooklyn, modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and General Grant’s neo-classical mausoleum, now known as Grant’s Tomb.
Edward Knox liked Duncan’s style, taken from his studies at the School of Fine Arts in France. He wanted his office building to be decorated the same way, which was only reserved for residential buildings at the time. The Knox building created a trend that spanned the following decades, making offices magnificent. Many of the office buildings that followed are considered the culmination of the artistic decoration of commercial office buildings. It was not until after World War II that offices took a more pragmatic approach, swapping cornices and ironwork for smooth glass exteriors.
Technology certainly played a role in this change, new glass was more energy efficient, and more advanced support structures allowed buildings to offer floor-to-ceiling views. But there was also a cultural element. The offices were for the people. The cost of the ornaments did not change the way people worked inside. So, office developers have taken the cost-effective approach of stripping office buildings of all but the simplest decorations.
But now that culture could change. As people need to be enticed to come to the office, there is still a case for beautiful buildings, the kind people want to look at, the kind people want to be, the kind people want to show off. After all, Knox justified its investment as a way to show the world its brand’s prestige. The maligned tech companies could follow the same strategy. Another reason the Knox building was meant for beauty was because it was in a growing shopping district in New York City. Edward knew that thousands of people would reap the benefits of his aesthetic investments every day. Again, this thought plays into the new reality of work. Many companies that choose to keep their offices want them to be located in central business districts, places that employees want to frequent, and quirky crucibles that can be the planters of future innovation.
In 1964, the Republic National Bank purchased the building at 452 Fifth Avenue and converted it for their use. After purchasing the adjacent lots, they created a 29-story office tower next to it. Rather than eclipse the historic Knox Building, the architect, an Israeli named Eli Attia, designed the tower to âdrapeâ around it. â’If you take out the cue, the design won’t make sense,â he said. âThe landmark is the focal point of this design. The entire property was just sold for $ 855 million, becoming the trophy for Innovo Property Groups’ growing portfolio in New York City.
HSBC, the current tenant, is said to have its lease expired next year. For many offices, upcoming lease negotiations are to be feared in a world where companies are considering reducing their office footprint. But the high price that was paid for the Knox Building and the HSBC Tower shows that there is little fear that the market downturn will affect its ability to attract tenants. It turns out that art and an ornamental location have enduring value when it comes to business offices. All it took was a war hero to prove it.