The Empire State Building. The White House. Grand Central Station. The Space Needle. These are just a few of the famed structures that have come to define the American cityscape. But there is another building that was poised to be among their ranks, one that was once considered the most famous structure in the United States, and that, today, you’ve probably never heard of: New York’s Crystal Palace.
In 1853, on what was then a worthless field on the outskirts of Manhattan (it would become Bryant Park), there rose a large structure made of the most cutting-edge materials to be found at the time—glass and cast-iron. Residents reported that the crystal dome that topped the building glittered in the sun with such splendor that it could be seen by residents at a far distance down the avenue.
Sure, the idea of a Crystal Palace wasn’t wholly original—the New York building constructed for the second-ever world exhibition was loosely based on a similar structure built for the first-ever world exhibition in London two years earlier—but for the short five years it twinkled in the sun, it became the most famous building in the U.S.