Condé Past?

Today on Alphabet City: With the end of the Condé Nast Times Square era, Jon Paul wonders if Anna Wintour is up to a Freedom Tower makeover.

An announcement by glam magazine publisher Condé Nast—my former employer and a current client—made me painfully aware of my age this week.  At long last, I am witness to, and chronicler of, the dawn and now end of an era.  No, it’s nothing as historic as the fall of the Roman Empire, mind you.  But in the media-centric world of New York City, it’s momentous nonetheless.  That’s right, I’m referring to the company’s reluctantly released announcement that they are planning a move from their purpose-built headquarters at 4 Times Square to the new Freedom Tower rising on the site of the fallen World Trade Center.

About half of my memoir Alphabet City takes place in the gossipy halls of the publishing empire, where even the elevators intimidated me.  On the ride up to the 14th floor of Condé Nast Traveler, I passed a floor by floor display of some of the most important arbiters of pop-culture: The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue and GQ.  (In the book, I included Gourmet, RIP).

More times than I care to remember, I was forced into sharing the small space with Anna Wintour, who gave my Pret-a-Porter ensemble a disapproving once over.  I’m happy to report that this little tradition continues when I was in the building a few weeks ago—wet as a dog from an early morning thunderstorm, I found myself grinning sheepishly at the dry-as-a-bone fashion guru.

The thing that has me most concerned about the impending move—the question that no journalist seems to be asking—what will happen to the famous lunchroom?  An excerpt from Alphabet City‘s Episode 11 Bold Faced Name:

One of the most buzzed about features of the Condé Nast building was the “employee cafeteria.”  It was like nothing I had ever experienced.  The space’s gleaming blue titanium walls with handcrafted cantilever glass panels and beech white floors would have made Superman feel right at home.  But this Frank Gehry-designed architectural masterpiece—rumored to cost nearly $35 million to erect—was built not for the man of steel but for the super hero editors of Condé Nast.  They needed somewhere special to dine in the still seedy area surrounding the new headquarters shorthanded in the press as 4X2.  So the unassuming and media shy owner Mr. Newhouse built a design Mecca cum luxury food hall.

Lunchroom aside, most insiders are guessing that move has to do with money saved from rent breaks and tax incentives.  No doubt, that’s partly true for a company that has implemented painful cost cutting moves over the past couple of years.  But I think there’s more to it than that.

Just over ten years ago, the world was buzzing with the dot-com boom and heralding the “death of print media.”  About that time, Mr. Newhouse announced the company’s move to a gleaming skyscraper in seedy Times Square, the media world gasped.  More from Alphabet City’s Episode 11 Bold Faced Name:

If you believed the sensational New York media, the world held its collective breath during the entire building process.  It seemed like gossip columns and architecture critics covered the installation of each windowpane and the tightening of every bolt.  During construction a crane fell into a nearby SRO hotel fatally injuring an elderly lady inside, and from the front-page tabloid coverage you would have thought that billionaire owner Mr. Newhouse himself had ordered an execution-style killing.

Masterfully, just over ten years after the move to Times Square, when print media is again struggling for relevance and I’ve begun hearing some refer to the company as Condé Past, Mr. Newhouse thrusts the company—and its headquarters—right back into the spotlight.  Who cares about the protest over the building of a mosque down the street from the new Freedom Tower when we can Twitter about Anna and Graydon sightings downtown?

Today, Mr. Newhouse’s choice of Times Square is widely credited with having rehabilitated a once seedy area.  Perhaps this new decision to move way downtown is also part of his civic commitment to the Big Apple.  The former World Trade Center site is desperately in need of love, attention and an image makeover.

Sounds like just the assignment for Anna and her fellow editor-in-chief superhero colleagues.


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4 responses to “Condé Past?

  1. Between the Conde Nast building and the Hearst Towers, I always take a slight breath before entering as if I’m breaking a secret code! Moving downtown is definitely interesting!

  2. Rebecca

    Oh no!!! And I always thought there was going to be time to beg you to take me to the Cafeteria… Just goes to show — one needs to seize the day…

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