New York City is known for its skyscrapers, but one of its most iconic buildings really isn’t that tall. Standing in at a relatively modest 34 floors is Manhattan’s 53rd at Third Building, known more informally as the Lipstick Building. Located at 885 3rd Avenue, the building is a steel, granite and glass structure that was completed in 1986.
Designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the building earned its nickname based on its stacked, rounded shape and red color, which are reminiscent of a tube of lipstick. The building’s unusual rounded shape takes up less space than a traditional square footprint. Additionally, the rounded base, along with support columns, provide additional pedestrian space in a tightly packed urban landscape.
The building is “stacked” in four sections to allow sunlight to penetrate to the lower floors. Unlike contemporary buildings, that are made predominantly from steel and glass, the building features ribbon windows and bright red, enamelized steel that coils around the building.
One of the building’s most famous tenants was none other than Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, which occupied floors 17, 18 and 19. Although the firm leased three floors, Madoff’s $65 million fraudulent Ponzi scheme was run exclusively from the 17th floor – a space that was occupied by about two dozen of Madoff’s closest employees.
The building’s designers, John Burgee and Philip Johnson occupied the building for about five years, beginning in 1986. Their partnership split apart in 1991, and Johnson elected to occupy a different space in the building. The building has changed ownership a number of times since it opened. In 2010, the building was foreclosed on by the Royal Bank of Canada after the owner at the time – Metropolitan 885 LLC – defaulted on a $210 million loan.
Earlier this year, the ground underneath the building was sold for nearly a half-billion dollars. While this arrangement sounds like a little bit of real estate intrigue, the building’s operator had an option to buy the land under the building at certain prescribed points in the lease. The building operator still maintains the option to buy the land and can exercise it once every 10 years, beginning in 2020, the owner of the land has changed. If the operator does not elect to buy the land, the land owner can renegotiate the lease rates for the building.
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Photo Credit: Demitri Parides, via Flickr.com