777 Third Avenue: Mod tower's life after 'Mad Men'
Beverly Pepper's kinetic sculpture in the plaza of 777 Third will receive a new lighting treatment. Architects at one point considered extending the lobby to better showcase the beloved work. (Photos by Jefferson Siegel)
It's a snap to envision Don Draper and his skinny-tied "Mad Men" colleagues swaggering through the sleek, Italian-marbled lobby of 777 Third Ave. And that's no surprise: The Turtle Bay tower was completed in 1963.
In 2009, the Sterling Cooper advertising firm would still feel at home as 777 Third, as the 38-story building's $5-million-plus overhaul restores the tower's Kennedy-era sheen, with a nod to 21st century demands.
Ironically, real-life "Mad Men" (and women) have populated most of 777 since the early 1970s, when Grey advertising moved in. But the firm will vacate the tower by the end of the year, leaving Sage Realty, a division of the William Kaufman Organization, with a challenge and opportunity: start selling a well-preserved modernist building where most of the floors have been off the market for years.
Instead of blindly overhauling the public spaces, Sage -- under the direction of Melvyn Kaufman, one of the tower's original builders -- has decided to work with the building's existing design strengths.
"Mr. Kaufman is very much in favor of preservation, restoration as opposed to a gut. And he talked to some people ... they thought it was a wonderful idea," said architect Carolyn Iu of IU + Bibliowicz Architects.
Grey will vacate a whopping 480,000 feet by January 2010, or most of the 600,000-square-foot building. In all, 27 floors will be available. The building, refinanced in 2007, has an on-site management office and is run by a unique system of concierges, who are on-site building managers who track all issues and have a direct line to the landlords. To replace the advertising firm, Sage is focused on law firms, financial companies, media business among others.
The company is also touting its Third Avenue address in Turtle Bay, a neighborhood where the corporate and residential worlds meet, with towers on Third Avenue and townhouse blocks off the avenue that drew the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Kurt Vonnegut.
The look and feel of this part of Turtle Bay is due in part to the Kaufmans, who were pioneers in the office-tower development of Third Avenue in the years afer the El train was dismantled and the stretch began to shed its reputation for slaughterhouses and warehouses.
777 reflects the Kaufmans' design eccentricities, a signature of all their towers. At 777, the plaza is a part of the neighborhood, with its red swing sculpture, its kinetic metal hanging sculpture, its line of Ginkgo trees and benches, and quirky signs advising you that cameras are watching you. Kaufman buildings down the street feature a big chessboard, wavy sidewalks, whimsical seating shelters and a phone booth covered in soft plastic. Downtown, an office building is topped by an airplane.
"There's always some kind of niche or nuance to all their buildings to set them apart from everybody else," said Peter Lauth, executive assistant at Sage Realty.
Those eccentricities will be preserved at 777, with the improvements retaining the spirit of the 1960s vision of architect William Lescaze and plaza designer Theodore Ceraldi. Starting in the plaza, the original terrazzo was ripped out and replaced, withering Ginkgo trees were uprooted, their soil tweaked to ensure healthier successors. Granite columns are being buffed, power washed, with beyond-hope slabs sometimes replaced from a Canadian quarry. The iconic kinetic sculpture by Beverly Pepper that hangs at the entrance will be highlighted by a new lighting treatment.
Inside, the U-shaped lobby is undergoing a subtle transformation. The walls are original Italian Calacatta marble -- the veining on the slabs bookmatched, meaning veining on stones is continuous. A portion of the stone had to be replaced, and careful efforts are being made to find stone from the same quarry in Italy.
"Now what we're trying to do 46 years later, we're trying to match the original stone quarried in Italy in 1963," said Kim Dumais, director of sales for Miller Druck, which is handling the stonework.
The bookmatched Calacatta marble in the lobby is one of the tower's design strengths.
The lobby's core is covered in East Indian Laurel wood, and the original was polished back to life, decades of wax, sun and tobacco damage stripped away. A new lighting treatment will also highlight the lobby's signature marble in a novel way.
The elevators are the next big project, which Iu sees as a "moving piece of furniture from the lobby." Now, they are covered in plastic laminate and carpet. But once Iu is done with them, they will be a spiritual continuation of the lobby. Terrazzo flooring would extend into the cab, East Indian Laurel would cover two walls, and the back wall will be of frosted backpainted white glass, reflecting the Calacatta stone in the lobby walls. It will be very much in the spirit of the original design, which Iu considers a gem.
"There are a lot of things that are priceless, that you cannot do now. It isn't even about a period, it's about craftmanship, it's about materials, and the scale and proportion of the space. Those things don't change," Iu said.
William Lescaze, architect
* The architect of 777 Third Avenue was Swedish-born architect, William Lescaze.
*Lescaze was also a Turtle Bay resident; he converted his townhouse at
211 East 48th St. into an International-style home and office, which is right next door to 777 Third.
* It is now a New York City landmark and is registered on the National Register of
* The home is owned by Robert and Melvyn Kaufman.