by Don Swaim

CBS Building, 51 W. 52nd St.

Architect Eero Saarinen didn't live to see the completion of the building he designed, the great CBS headquarters building in Manhattan, which opened in 1966. Saarinen, who designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, died of a brain tumor at the age of fifty-one in 1961. The thirty-eight story building, known as Black Rock because of its dark granite exterior (as well as a play on the well-known 1955 film Bad Day at Black Rock), was completed by Saarinen's colleagues, who worked closely with CBS President Frank Stanton.


Newsradio88 occupied the sixteenth floor of Black Rock until its operations were moved to the CBS Broadcast Center in 2000. CBS-founder William Paley's offices were one floor below the top floor, where the corporate lawyers were installed. Paley was afraid the roof might leak and damage the expensive modern art gracing his office. Better the lawyers wet than his art.

Black Rock before it became Black Rock. The photo, which shows the excavation site, was taken by the late Jay Chichton, a technical director at CBS-TV who was an audio operator for the daytime soap The Guiding Light. CBS gave Jay a $100 prize for the photo. Courtesy of Ray Sills.

But behind that beautiful building is concrete and steel! And the building's guts were the work of CECO (Concrete Engineering Company), founded in Omaha in 1912. Its founder, C. Louis Meyer, discovered a newly-efficient concrete construction system using steel forms that could be applied over again instead of the wood and tile traditionally left abandoned within the structure. CECO's work can be found in the Lincoln Tunnel and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. In the 1960s, as work on the CBS Building progressed, CECO boasted that it poured one floor every four days.

CECO's magazine ad [below], circa 1965, depicts a photo [middle] showing an aerial view of work in progress on the CBS Building.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

CECO is no longer the same company. It divested itself of its steelmaking division in the 1970s, is now privately owned, and bills itself as the nation's largest concrete subcontractor. But the CBS Building remains!

Front doors / photo by Don Swaim

Thanks to John Landers and Ray Sills for helping with this article.

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