It was to be the largest steel structure in the world. At 700 feet tall, the building would be three times larger than any structure then-existing in New York City. It was to house the world’s largest amusement park and the world’s largest ballroom. It was to host a circus and a rollerskating rink, a bowling alley and a theater and the world’s largest rotating restaurant.
It was the Globe Tower. And it was a total scam.
In 1906, an advertisement appeared in the pages of the New York Herald. A developer named Samuel Friede was seeking investors for his ambitious Globe Tower project. He acquired some land on Coney Island, next door to the popular Steeplechase amusement park.
Friede promised his investors a 100 percent return on their money every year. In retrospect, that probably should have been the first sign of a rat. But thanks to Friede’s personal connections and some arm-twisting by Edward Langan, who was a corrupt elevator inspector in Brooklyn, more than $300,000 worth of stock was sold.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the Tower was held in May 1906. There were speeches and fireworks and a concert. Strangely enough, nearly a year passed with no progress made on the site.
Investors got anxious, so Friede organized a second ceremony in early 1907. He announced plans to install 800 concrete pilings for the tower’s base. Each slab of concrete was 30 feet tall and 5 feet around, which probably looked very impressive to the investors. Of course, nowadays, any good architect would question whether even pilings that size could hold up a building designed to hold 50,000 people. There never were 800 pilings installed, anyway… the real number was closer to 30.
Then a man named Henry R. Wade, who had been the treasurer for the project, was convicted on unrelated embezzlement charges. As part of his testimony, he confessed to a New York courtroom that the entire Globe Tower project had been a scam. He claimed that Friede and Langan, along with the project’s architect and its bookkeeper, had divided the $300,000 between themselves and disappeared.
Wade, the only involved party to serve any jail time, was only paid $4,000. And the owner of Steeplechase Park was left with the problem of how to remove 30 useless concrete pilings from the property.