During a recent trip to New York to document Lance Weiler‘s Head Trauma movie and interactive “alternate reality game” at the Museum of the Moving Image, I strolled around midtown Manhattan and stumbled across the new New York Times building at 620 8th Avenue between 41st and 42nd streets, across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It’s an impressive, sleek, modern, 52-story skyscraper.
In a pique of nostalgia I went over to the Times’ previous location at 229 West 43rd Street, home to the New York Times from 1913 until June 2007. Although I’m sure the new building will eventually work its way into our cultural heritage, there’s something iconic about the 43rd Street building.
My one previous visit to 229 West 43rd occurred years earlier when my then boss and I were on a one-day junket to meet with the editors of various publications. Most of these were educational or technology trade publications but, in the early afternoon, we had a meeting with Steve Lohr, technology journalist at the Times.
The full impact of the visit didn’t hit me until we approached 229 West 43rd. This is the New York Times. The paper of record. The journalistic titan that published the Pentagon Papers. Even though I had never been there before, the building was familiar. This is where Al Pacino’s Frank Serpico turns when he has no other defense against a corrupt New York City police department. It’s where Robert Redford’s Joe Turner goes to expose a government conspiracy in Three Days of the Condor.
The famously slow elevator led us up to the editorial offices — a warren of desks in low cubicles, most stacked high with phone books, old newspapers, and other reference materials. We met with Lohr in small conference room in the rear. In the idle chit-chat before moving on to the subject of the meeting — the Wharton School’s recent IT initiatives — we talked about how old and crowded the building seemed, how slow and cramped was the elevator.
This was obviously before the Times’ plans for the new building on 8th had been announced. Lohr commented, “They keep threatening to move us somewhere else. But I don’t think they’ll really do it. I mean, they named the Square for us, after all.”
And, indeed, they did. Although the Times moved from One Times Square in 1913, it was the publisher’s presence there that gave the famous crossroads its name. At only a block and half away, the location at West 43rd that was home to the Times for the next 94 years carried on the tradition. Although it may take a while for the new building the gain the mythic status of the previous location, I’m pleased that it, too, is only one and half blocks from the intersection that bears its name.