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Electronics, Not Acid - New York City

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 ...
Source: newyorkdailyphoto

Old New York

Old new yorkThe good news is that Greenwich Village is extraordinarily unique. The bad news is, if you want a piece of its history, good luck. The housing stock is very limited. And if you are like I am and attracted to row houses, the selection of available units is even more limited. Over the decades, I have from time to time looked at apartments to buy but rarely found anything I really liked and if I did, the cost was extremely high.

I am forever asked why I am a renter and have not purchased a home after living in New York for over 40 years. The market in New York City is very different from anywhere else. There are over 2 million apartments for rent in the city with 65% rent regulated in some way. These regulations provide for below market rents and are a strong disincentive to move. The longer you remain in a regulated apartment, the greater the spread between your rent and the open market non-regulated places becomes - it is not uncommon for the difference to be 100% or more.

This anomaly in pricing just exacerbates the problem - tenants never move with a resultant lesser supply and higher prices for the free market apartments, whether rentals or purchases. If you are fortunate enough to rent an apartment in an historic building, it is unlikely you will ever find a place like it at any price, for rent or sale. In my own building, 3 out of four residents have lived in their apartments for over 30 years. Often, rentals in regulated apartments are no more than the cost of maintenance fees on a similar unit for sale. So why buy? Many analyses have been done demonstrating that in New York City, it can be more prudent to rent than to buy.

The 1830 Greek Revival townhouse at 23 Washington Square North has not been available for sale for half a century. It can be yours, however, the asking price is $25 million dollars. The size is 8,528 square feet or a cost of $2,931 per square foot. There are only 7 apartments on 5 floors. Do the math and you will see the problem - if this building were converted to units for sale, the cost per apartment including carrying charges would be stratospheric. Many buildings like this will often sell to one individual who will convert it to a single family home.

The rentals in this property illustrate what happens in this marketplace. A one bedroom was asking $4,775/month with the penthouse for $8,900 in 2010 and $12,500 per month in 2011. If you would like to get the flavor of what a parlor floor can look like in this type of historic building, see my photos here on the interior of number 24 next door, which one reader described as "real estate porn."

By day or night, looking out or peering in, the extraordinary historic charm is available in this rare window of opportunity to own a piece of old New York's Washington Square. Spare $25 million anyone?

Source: newyorkdailyphoto

Crooks and Perverts

On November 17, 1973, during a televised question and answer session with the press, President Richard Nixon said:

People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got.

Crook is a bit outdated, the kind of word you may have heard around my home during my childhood, along with other words like floozy, gallivanting, tramp and shindig. Today, a crook seems rather benign, perhaps someone prone to petty crimes like swindling a customer or shoplifting.

In a world of alternative lifestyles and extreme behaviors, pervert is also much less meaningful than it once was, bordering on the quaint.

Coming up with a good name for a music group is difficult - akin to finding a catchy dotcom not yet registered. There are inanimate objects - The Doors, The Cars and Rolling Stones; insects - The Beatles, The Crickets, The Hornets, Iron Butterfly, Adam Ant, Hungry Locust, Spiders from Mars; automobiles - R.E.O.Speedwagon, The Cadillacs, The BelAirs, Fleetwood Mac; animals - The Monkees, The Animals, The Byrds, The Eagles, The Turtles, Stone Ponies, The Black Crowes. The categories, single word names and simple phrases are endless, including the vulgar, irreverent, angry, defiant, lovely, ironic and nonsensical - The Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin, Leftöver Crack, Pavement, Mötley Crüe, et. al.

When I first heard Crooks and Perverts play, they immediately exuded a feeling of authenticity. When I spoke to them, I learned that their members are from Georgia. They have a unique blend of authentic southern roots, rough country boys with an urban sensibility and musical sophistication - I recently saw them in Matt Umanov Guitars sampling the wares.

However, regardless of changing times and mores, I would still be wary of anyone who calls themselves a crook or pervert :)

Note: Crooks and Perverts are now based in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and can be seen playing the streets of New York City. You can find their website here with music samples, videos, etc.

Source: newyorkdailyphoto