The graceful L-shaped skyscraper at 561 Broadway, with its exquisite exterior ironwork and extensive terra cotta decoration, was built as a factory by the Singer Manufacturing Company for the production of sewing machines. It is often called the “Little Singer Building” because the Singer corporate headquarters were in a forty-one-story, 612-foot- high skyscraper in the financial district at the northwest corner of Broadway and Liberty Street. Both buildings were designed by Ernest Flagg. The downtown building, whose tower was completed in 1908, briefly held the distinction of being the tallest building in the world.
The Little Singer Building—like Charles Scribner’s Sons bookstore at 597 Fifth Avenue, another Flagg design—holds universal appeal because the imaginative use of iron almost gives the facades an appearance of gaiety. The beautiful wrought-iron balcony at 561 Broadway was formed by hammering and shaping each piece to create unique designs. The building is equally renowned for its early use of terra cotta. Like cast iron, terra cotta (“baked earth”) could be molded into an endless array of decorative forms.