Friday, January 12, 1996
About NYLife, Guardian Life and Met Life
Well, Pliny (rhymes with piney, a dry goods merchant who studied to be an actuary in his spare time) and 56 local businessmen founded Nautilus Insurance Co in 1841, the 3rd mutual (or policyholder-owned) insurer in the US. In 1845 it became New York Life, proprietor and inhabitant of the gold-domed xx story building at 51 Madison Avenue. Simeon Draper put together National Union Life and Limb Insurance Company, to protect Union soldiers against the risk of loss of livelihood during the Civil War. There were not enough brave investors, and he had to reorganize, and in 1868 came up with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, then a stock company, now at One Madison Avenue. Hugo Wesendonck, a former liberal deputy in the German xx parliament and a refugee from 1848 Revolution, in 1860 founded the Germania Life, rechristened Guardian Life Insurance Company in 1918, now at 201 Park Avenue South (cor. 17th Street).
The NYL site between 26th and 27th Streets, Madison to Park, is famous as the New York and Harlem RR terminal (the railroad ran up Park Avenue); in 1871 it became P.T.Barnum's Hippodrome, eventually converted into the original Madison Square Garden, in whose roof restaurant Harry Thaw murdered the building's architect, Stanford White. Thaw's wife, Evelyn Nesbitt, had been, before her marriage, White's mistress. The limestone Renaissance style building with a pyramidal top, designed by Cass Gilbert (also the architect of the 1913 Woolworth Building and the 1936 U.S. Court House) was opened in 1928.
The company, among whose clients were General Custer and Presidents Harding, Coolidge and T. Roosevelt, was a pioneer in data processing and variable life product development. It has acquired Sanus Corp Health Systems, a national HMO company, and owns utilization review and physician practice management companies, mutual funds and insurers abroad (England and the Pacific Rim).
NYL576-7000 Jim Tolve
The Met Life building on 23 Street, designed by Napoleon LeBrun (author of the French Renaissance chateau he built for Engine Co. 31 at 87 Lafayette Street) was constructed in stages, from 1893 to 1961, with the 45-story Tower dating back to 1909. The long lobby is decorated with murals by N.C. Wyatt, father of Andrew Wyatt. The board room is reputed to have a gold-painted ceiling. The North building (24th to 25th Streets), designed by Harvey Wiley Corbett and D. Everett Waid and built in 1932, has a huge, overwhelming lobby, and has been rented to First boston xxx. The Met also has a huge presence the Grand Central area -it owns the former PanAm building.
Met started in life by selling small policies in working class neighborhoods, with agents collecting the premiums weekly. It grew into a giant, became a mutual company (i.e. bought out the stockholders) in 1915, and started selling group insurance in 1917, automobile and homeowners' coverages in 1974. It now includes mutual funds, Century 21 real estate business (sold in 1995), group life and health business purchased from Allstate, casualty business purchased from J.C.Penney, and has bailed out the failing United Baldwin annuity and United Mutual life portfolios. It has companies in England, Canada, Spain and Mexico, and its joint venture MentraHealth (with The Travelers) has been sold in 1995 for $2.4 billion to United HealthCare of Minnetonka, MN, the same year that Met announced its merger with the Boston-based New England Mutual. Met Life is the largest life insurer in the Americas, with $1.2 trillion in force.
Both NYLIC and Met Life have had to contend with fines, court verdicts and restitution payments due to improper sales practices of some agents, and both companies have instituted stringent corrective measures.
The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America building , on the NE corner of 17th Street and Park Avenue South, was designed byand erected. It has the xx copper mansard roof, four stories high, currently being replaced with historically correct parts, as required by Landmarks rules. The original roof lasted 80-plus years, and the new one follows the same specifications.
Guardian became a mutual insurance company in 19xx, and added health and disability insurance to its portfolio in 1952, group health and life in 1956, mutual funds and variable annuity products in 197x. Smallest of the three neighbors, it follows conservative sales and investment practices and has been assigned the top ratings by all of the credit and claims rating agencies, a status that it shares with only one other insurer in the U.S., Northwestern Mutual, according to Money Magazine. Once upon a time a presence in Mexico City and Berlin (before 1914 its income from Germany exceeded that from the US), it is now a domestic player, except for a partnership with an equally tight-fisted Scottish international mutual funds company.
In 1960 it expanded, adding a block-wide annex building between 17th and 18th streets, designed by Skidmore ,Owings and Merrill of the Lever Building fame, designed by Gordon Bunshaft. It has been rumored that this building too may become protected, by inclusion in a proposed Historic District.
Much of the above information about NYLIC and MetLife comes from Hoover's Handbook of American Companies 1996, edited by Patrick J.Spain and James R.Talbott and published by the Reference Press (Austin, TX, $29.95), which also gives us the American Almanac 1995-1996 ($17.95), a paperback reprint of the much more expensive Statistical Abstract of the United States 1995. Hoover's has 900 pages of profiles of 450 major companies, a page of popularly yet not sensationally written narrative plus a page of financials and names/addresses. It is an excellent tool for the reader of the financial pages and even for the stock-picker who wants to supplement his charts with history. There are over 10 pages of rating tables - largest, most profitable, etc, and over 100 pages of indexes.