Thursday, May 19, 2011
Electronics, Not Acid
If you would like to see hard evidence of the decline/death of print media, take a walk to 60 Fifth Avenue and see the historic 12 story, 122,000 square foot shrine to publishing. The large limestone edifice has always intrigued me. It is so prominent on lower Fifth Avenue and its Greenwich Village location between 12th and 13th Streets always seemed such an unlikely location for corporate headquarters for Forbes, most well-known for its flagship business magazine of the same name.
The structure was built in 1924 for book publisher Macmillan & Co. It was designed by architectural firms Carrere & Hastings, responsible for so many New York City icons such as the New York Public Library and the Frick Museum. Forbes took occupancy of the building in 1962 when Macmillan moved uptown.
The American Institute of Architects is not, however, so enamored with the structure:
For four decades, Macmillan conducted its publishing in this pompous limestone cube whose boring surfaces are embellished here and there with echoes of Rome's glories.
In 2007, during a much headier real estate market, Forbes nearly sold the building for $120 million ($140 million listing price) to Renta, a Spanish real estate company. By 2010, the market had declined substantially and the property was sold to NYU for a reputed $55 million. NYU will not occupy the building immediately - Forbes has a five-year lease-back agreement.
The sale did meet with community opposition as does every NYU property purchase. On April 16, 2009, in Gorilla and Cookies, I wrote:
NYU is seen by many Greenwich Village residents as the neighborhood 800-pound gorilla. Every real estate move it makes is highly contentious and seen by opponents as the act of an avaricious behemoth whose appetite for properties is never sated. Perhaps a new variant of an old joke might be: "What real estate does an 800-pound gorilla buy?" "Whatever it wants."
Limestone is commonly used as a building material, including libraries as well as the Forbes building. However, it is partially soluble. We worry that the acid in rain damages limestone and that the acid in wood pulp destroys the paper in books and magazines. We never saw the future and that the real enemy of print media and the limestone structures that house them would be electronics, not acid...