What can we learn from the history of an address? Fresh off Postlight’s recent move to offices at 101 Fifth Avenue, Paul Ford and Rich Ziade use The New York Times’s archives to delve into the history of that particular parcel of land. Some of the results are dramatic (diamond thieves!), and some…well, not so much (dinner parties; book publishing). But what emerges is a narrative about a building that’s changed with the ebbs and flows of industry in New York City — and a narrative about New York City itself.
Paul Ford: Hey, welcome to Track Changes, the podcast of Postlight, a product design studio in New York City. My name is Paul Ford, I’m a co-founder.
Rich Ziade: Rich Ziade, also a co-founder.
Paul: And today we have some exciting news. Well, exciting to us.
Rich: [laughter] Probably modestly interesting to others.
Paul: Which is that we moved our office.
Rich: We did.
Paul: We were at 902 Broadway.
Rich: We were a sub-tenant.
Paul: Yeah. And that was between 20th and 21st Street. We moved about a block over to the left, and a couple blocks south, to 101 Fifth Avenue.
Paul: To be honest, we weren’t planning to move, but the leaseholder went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which is just one of those things.
Rich: I mean, it happens.
Paul: So we had to, we had to find a place for about 40 people to live happily.
Paul: And so we did. We found a nice space.
Rich: And a place to host a lot of great events.
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: That’s another part of our thinking.
Paul: It’s a big thing for us. We always need a space where you can get 60, 70 people in…
Rich: 100 people. Yeah.
Paul: Everybody can have a drink or a glass of water and just kind of chat.
Paul: So 101 Fifth Avenue sounds like something, right?
Rich: It rolls off the tongue.
Paul: You do, you’re like, where are you? Oh, 101 Fifth Avenue.
Rich: And the address is, it’s a wonderful spot. It’s just northwest of…Union Square.
Paul: So just, I went and I was like, I bet this building has a history.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: Or at least this address. It turns out it really does. And I thought that today on the podcast, we could talk about the things that have happened on 101 Fifth Avenue.
Rich: Oh boy.
Paul: Because I think they’re illustrative in interesting ways.
Rich: OK. I mean, to me, I’m gonna think about this in the context of New York history, which I love.
Paul: So right now we’re in an 11-story building.
Paul: Maybe 12 when you count the first floor. I’m not quite sure. But that is, it’s not super wide…
Paul: It’s about 30, 40 feet wide.
Paul: 100 feet deep. It’s got nice light, and it turns out that that space that it was in, it was not, of course, always this building. This building had to come from somewhere. So the first record for 101 Fifth Avenue I could find, it was a very fancy neighborhood before it became office buildings. And so the first —
Rich: Fancy residential neighborhood?
Paul: Yeah, like, the Astors, people like that were milling around.
Paul: OK, so this is big houses up until around the turn of the last century, up until 1900 or so.
Paul: You’d find mansions, essentially, floating around. So the first record I could find was from January 27, 1866. And all I did to find these was search The New York Times.
Rich: OK, do you know when the building was built.
Paul: Our building was built in 1908. I’m gonna give you a little taste of what it was before.
Rich: Oh, OK, so you’re going pre-…the spot. Literally the lot number.
Paul: Yeah. Yeah, 101 Fifth Avenue.
Rich: Go ahead.
Paul: The cross street is around…
Rich: 17th and 18th.
Paul: 17th, you’re right.
Rich: 17th and 18th.
Paul: Just north of 17th.
Paul: We’re still — we’ve been there two days. Let me read a little bit of news.
Rich: What year are we?
Paul: We’re 1866. “Mr Edward Matthews’ residence, number 101 Fifth Avenue” — spelled fifth dash avenue — ”was entered by thief through an open door during Thursday night and $7,000 worth of diamonds and $100 in cash was carried off and no arrests were made.”
Rich: That’s like a million — that’s a lot of money.
Paul: It’s —
Rich: Did you convert that? Through inflation.
Paul: I could, I could, hold on a sec and I’ll do it right here, I have the internet. [sings a jaunty ditty] Oh my God, Rich, get ready.
Rich: Oh, I thought it would be more than that.
Paul: Oh I’m really sorry —
Rich: That’s still a lot.
Paul: Sorry to disappoint you about the enormous diamond haul that was —
Paul: Hauled out of 101 Fifth Avenue. So then you get a little more of that, and what you realize as you’re looking through history is this, 1880, so 14 years later?
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: “Mrs. Edwin Matthews and her daughter, of No. 101 Fifth-avenue, went to the opera at the Academy of Music on the evening of Nov. 22. Col. Delancey Kane attended the same entertainment. At the close of the opera a dispute between Col. Kane, Mrs. Matthews’ coachman and two Police officers resulted in the arrest of the coachman.” So I mean, big doings.
Rich: What does that even mean?
Paul: It just means that, like, they went to the opera and their carriage driver got in a little trouble.
Rich: Like got into an argument or something?
Paul: And you know, a copper —
Rich: That gets in the newspaper?
Paul: That’s The New York Times.
Rich: That’s The New York Times?
Paul: That’s The New York Times.
Rich: That’s fascinating to me that that’s news.
Paul: That was news back then, because this was society, man.
Paul: These were celebrities.
Rich: Yeah. I guess.
Paul: This was the, this was, so, the organizing principle of New York City is that kind of wealthy, right?
Paul: And it almost feels feudal, as you’re reading this. Like, everybody else was a serf.
Paul: Kind of living down there, the Irish were like, loitering and occasionally you’d go get some of them —
Paul: And use them to clean your scullery. But like, this was the city.
Rich: Yeah like, the contrast is, you know, Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.
Paul: That’s right, that’s right.
Rich: Which is just…he drew such a filthy picture of downtown Manhattan.
Paul: Just a shantytown, I mean….
Rich: Yeah, right, right, right.
Paul: So here’s another one. This is 1884, so four years after that, “Mr. and Mrs. Matthews’s Pink Dinner.” “Mr. and Mrs. Edward Mathews, of №101 Fifth-avenue, gave a dinner party last evening in honor of Mrs. Cuthbert Slocumb and Mrs. Slocumb, of New-Orleans. It was a pink dinner and so far carried out the details of a “color dinner.” It exceeded in elaborateness anything of the kind previously attempted this season. The table was decorated with an immense basket of La France roses and maidenhair ferns, and the corsage bouquets were the same flowers tied with wide pink satin ribbon and placed at each lady’s place.” And it goes on, it’s a lot of pink, and then it lists the people who went.
Rich: Wait a sec —
Paul: Yeah —
Rich: What in the hell is happening?
Paul: I know!
Rich: This is a private dinner in someone’s house?
Paul: Uh-huh. You know, but they announce the dinner…
Rich: A New York Times reporter…
Paul: It’s no worse than the Style section. You read this paper.
Paul: OK, so it’s like —
Paul: It’s like, you know, when they go and you know, Calvin Klein’s car collection, or whatever, or Ralph Lauren’s —
Paul: You know.
Rich: OK. So the Matthews are having a dinner. The New York Times sends a reporter down.
Paul: There’s a fire. Mrs. Belmont, in 1891. And now we’re starting to get, we’re getting towards the end of that particular Gilded Age.
Paul: The fire comes. “Mrs. Belmont had to escape through a window — a servant girl gallantly rescued by firemen — heavy loss of furniture.” However, what I point out is that news about 101 Fifth Avenue was big news. Like, these are articles about the people who lived in that house.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: In 1894, we found out the the J. S. Conover Company, which sells grates and mantels, which had offices at 101 Fifth Avenue, has become insolvent. So again, we’re still a mansion, but somehow the Conover Company is there. I can’t quite figure that one out.
Paul: So look, let’s fast forward a little bit. What happens now is that 1901, 101 Fifth Avenue gets sold.
Rich: OK. Big event.
Paul: Yeah, this is actually, there’s a headline, “In the Real Estate Field” is the headline of the article, and then there’s a subhead underneath, and it’s just “101 Fifth Avenue Sold.”
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: So it was a big deal that this particular parcel —
Paul: Was going. This wasn’t just, like, some random block.
Rich: Got it.
Paul: And then there’s a lot after this, throughout, like for the next 30, 40 years, every couple years, there’s some weird real estate news about the parcel.
Paul: So by around 1907, Hell & Stern — “Heil & Stern have sold for Frederick W. Marks 101 Fifth Avenue, a four-story building.” So we’re 11 or 12 now.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: “Between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Streets. The buyer is Abraham Goldsmith, who purchased yesterday, through the same brokers, 90 Fifth Avenue, and now controls a large plot.”
Paul: So I won’t go through all of these. There are dozens of them.
Rich: Just transactions happening around the property.
Paul: It’s been a big deal…yeah.
Paul: It’s been a big deal to buy and sell 101 Fifth Avenue.
Rich: What year are we now? Early —
Paul: That’s four stories.
Rich: All right.
Paul: And then around the next, here’s where it gets real. “The purchasers are going to erect a twelve-story loft and office building on the site, with the entire operation involving over $700,000.”
Rich: And this is where? What year are we?
Paul: That is 190…8.
Paul: And so the building goes up around then. By 1910, you’ve got this building.
Rich: So this is, I mean, context here is worthwhile, right? This is…pretty much, enormous wealth is pouring into the city, right? It’s the Industrial Revolution and all the wealth that amassed.
Paul: Well we’re on the long end, so the Industrial Revolution, and like, things like the fur trade, and import-export, those big families are, they’re not fading, they’re still around, but the point where New York City was controlled by a certain number of, like, good Protestant fortunes is over.
Paul: Look, the name Abraham Goldsmith is a good giveaway there. There’s a lot of Jewish money. Different cultures —
Rich: Starting to change it up.
Paul: Are starting to come in, and you’ve seen this in Bay Ridge, like, there’s just waves of different immigrants becoming economically empowered and buying into New York City.
Paul: So $700,000. You know what that translates to?
Rich: That’s a lot of money.
Paul: That’s actually quite a bit of money. They were putting something —
Rich: Still not what it would be today, but it’s still a lot of money.
Paul: No, it would cost $4 billion to buy that building. First of all, you can’t buy a building. People may not understand that. Unless you have, basically, an infinite amount of money, there’s only dozens of families and family businesses that control most of the commercial real estate in New York City.
Rich: I think that’s true.
Paul: Yeah, you can’t —
Rich: I actually met our owner. Our existing landlord. Wonderful human being, by the way.
Paul: Oh good. I’m glad you guys had a nice —
Rich: Just hedging there. Just in case.
Paul: Good give-and-take. [laughter] So there you go. They build this thing up. Actually what happens then is that the store on the bottom floor and the basement and the ninth floor at 101 Fifth Avenue gets leased to Cohen Brothers & Companies, importers of lace curtains, for a term of years at an aggregate rental of about $80,000.
Paul: That’s in 1908. So here what you’re seeing, right, it’s where the wealthy live. They put up this building. Garments. This is the Ladies’ Mile, is actually what we’re known as, where the building is, traditionally. Women’s clothing was the big business in our four decades.
Paul: So Ladies’ Mile is Fifth and Sixth Avenue between 14th and 23rd. So there we are, things are going good, everything’s nice in our building, and it’s a good year, but suddenly, in 1910, Rich.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: Tragedy strikes. And a man named Edward Kapp on the 10th floor, which happens to be our floor, who is a skirt manufacturer…
Paul: “Without known troubles,” went into the bathroom and shot himself and died.
Paul: That is what happened…
Rich: Our floor!?
Paul: On our floor.
Paul: I know. Which is a good reminder that, I mean, c’mon. Don’t kill yourself over your skirt manufacturing.
Rich: Well you don’t know —
Paul: Or your product studio.
Rich: Fair. We don’t know what else — what’s his name again?
Paul: Edward Kapp.
Rich: We don’t know what else Ed had — I don’t know if they called him Ed.
Paul: You know, honestly, we do. When you look at the story, he has a 15-year-old son.
Paul: Nobody, nobody —
Rich: I mean, who knows what else was going on in the guy’s life.
Paul: We don’t.
Rich: Well that’s tragic.
Paul: It is tragic.
Rich: And a little haunting.
Paul: It is, especially because, I mean, you look at our industry today. This is still a problem. You and I were talking about teenagers in, around Palo Alto, who are killing themselves because they don’t feel that they’re hitting the mark, and there’s all stories, there’s tons of stories —
Rich: Tons of pressure.
Paul: About depression.
Rich: Succeeding and depression and…yeah. It’s complicated.
Paul: It is very complicated. It is very ongoing. And I think it’s very interesting to read about someone who committed suicide in the very space where we’re now working, and realize that…it sounds ridiculous, but that the problems and stresses of life, because when you look, it’s like, what was he doing, he was a skirt manufacturer, what’s, we’re saying, like, “What’s the big deal?”
Rich: Yeah, yeah.
Paul: Maybe he had stuff, but like, with the perspective, you’re like, why would you do that, buddy? You could have lived through the Great Depression, maybe. I mean, you know.
Paul: There’s this weird ability to look back and be like, what was he worried about?
Paul: And he was obviously about very, very real stuff, right? You don’t go kill yourself from the bathroom of 101 Fifth Avenue…
Rich: Well, first off, New York comes to mind, and the competitiveness and just the crushing gears of New York City.
Paul: This is the thing, like, the guy —
Rich: Comes to mind.
Paul: The guy’s got to manufacture his skirts, right?
Rich: Yeah. And there’s a guy across the street who’s gunning for him, right?
Paul: He’s just decided — probably a bad choice of words there, Rich.
Rich: Yeah. Not the right word. Yes.
Paul: He’s in a very competitive industry at a competitive time.
Rich: Yeah. Well there’s that, but also we don’t know all the facts. And it’s worth noting that this guy may have been incredibly successful, and everything maybe had been…you know, the facts, the surrounding facts maybe piece together a very beautiful life, but he could have been mentally ill. We don’t know anything. We don’t have any background.
Paul: So his city distributor, who had an office on the same floor, said that he was out at 1:15. “Mr. Kapp called and requested the office boy to give him the key to the lavatory, and it was handed to him and two minutes later, the report of a revolver shot was heard.” So…happy home with his wife and 15-year-old son, and he had the sum of $64 in his pocket. So that is 1910.
Rich: Very sad.
Paul: It is very sad. So we have that. We have a reminder in our, in our world that mental health matters. That’s sort of how I saw it —
Rich: You gotta, you have to imagine also the profile of mental health today is very different than 1910. It was probably, for men, especially, probably pretty taboo, to bring up a lot…I don’t know what the state of things were, but I gotta imagine —
Paul: I mean who would you even go talk to?
Rich: Who would you even go talk to?
Paul: Yeah. Your rabbi, I guess. Your minister. Your priest.
Rich: Minister, rabbi…maybe you had a, you know, a very close friend, many just, even that, was considered, you know, unmanly to bring up, or who knows, right? I mean, probably was a tougher environment to have that kind of struggle.
Paul: So I’m just mindful of that. There’s a story there in our space that I see as both cautionary tale and something to be aware of. Like, just, to me, I just see that as, like, all right, this matters. Like, you have to think about people’s basic mental state, and how they’re seeing success.
Paul: You have, I don’t, I think you see it differently than I do. I get very, like, oh my God this isn’t working everything’s going bad. And I think you have more of a, we’re gonna do the best we can and get through and go home.
Rich: Yeah, I find comfort in plan.
Rich: That’s kind of just me, and I just, rather than sort of…stare at my shoes, and wonder what’s gonna happen.
Paul: You just go make a plan.
Rich: It might not work, but at least my brain is preoccupied with the plan. That’s sort of how I deal. But this isn’t about me, this is about 101 Fifth.
Paul: It is about 101 Fifth Avenue. So…
Paul: We’re kind of back to basics here.
Rich: All right.
Paul: And it’s…suddenly it’s May 12, 1926. You ready?
Rich: Uh-oh. This is moments before the Great Depression, before the stock market crash.
Paul: “Break 18-Inch Wall and Get $40,000 Silks.” “Thieves First Force Door of Fifth Av. Building — Armed Men Loot Theatre Safe of $1,000.” “A band of robbers forced the street door of the building at 101 Fifth Avenue early Sunday morning, made their way to the ninth floor, where they broke through an eighteen-inch wall and looted the Eigenfeld Neckware Company of silks valued at more than $40,000.”
Rich: So wait, they took the silks?
Paul: They took the silks.
Rich: That’s amazing.
Paul: $40,000 in silks, man.
Paul: So that is, that is basically…
Rich: You have to, I just imagine New York having this sort of refined part of town and then there’s this really rugged part of town…
Paul: Well this is like —
Rich: And then they cross over every so often and commit crime.
Paul: The thing that’s going on at Fifth Avenue, too, is these floors are distribution, but they’re not manufacturing.
Paul: I don’t think —
Paul: I don’t see anything as I’ve looked through all these articles, I don’t see anything that, yeah, indicates that this was a, that these were sweatshops.
Rich: Got it.
Paul: Like a lot of spaces in New York City, like if you have offices downtown, or also lots of Brooklyn, lots of those spaces were sweatshops. Garment District, too.
Paul: This was much more, you came and you met with the neckware distributor, and he might have a couple thousand —
Paul: Pieces of neckware.
Rich: Got it.
Paul: But you weren’t, they weren’t being made there. So this is definitely, you know, this is a targeted crime.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: High-value items.
Paul: High-value items, not just scattered everywhere. Probably in boxes, ready to be taken down the elevator and walked out the door. So that’s 1926. So we’re very, we’re very garment-focused. Then, Rich, what happens is you start to see, the building shows up every couple of years. It shows up a couple different ways. First of all, it shows up in real estate transactions. Because someone’s always moving in, moving out, getting a couple floors. The building gets bought and sold. And there’s just a —
Rich: And those get announced, I guess.
Paul: Those get announced. That’s news. And actually what’s important to remember is at that point The New York Times is canonical for that business.
Paul: Right? Like —
Rich: New York Times real estate, yeah.
Paul: Real estate, and it’s this very, like, functional real estate section.
Paul: Today you pick up The New York Times real estate and it’s, like, a 23-year-old woman just bought a $12-million apartment.
Paul: With her — she likes to, she does things with shoes and weaving, and you’re like, how did that happen?
Paul: And her brother lives with her, and you’re just like, I don’t, I don’t…what?
Rich: They’re more profiles.
Paul: Yeah. This is like, you know, the United Consolidated Seamen’s Insurance Company just moved into a building and you know, the previous tenant was the ASPCA and they’re moving, you know, north.
Paul: So a lot of business records. A lot of leases. And then, as time goes on, you also see the building show up quite a bit in obituaries, because the guy who, as time goes on, as we get into the thirties and forties, the garment distributors who worked there start dying.
Paul: So this guy from the Taiyo Japanese import company dies in the twenties.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: It’s now a little world unto itself.
Paul: It’s just one of these tiny nodes of millions and millions of similar nodes in New York City.
Paul: Where people are setting up businesses where they think they can make a profit, they’re coming and going from their houses, and they’re living their lives. Sometimes they’re ending them, literally. Sometimes they’re working there for 20, 30 years, and going away. And so that to me is always the interesting moment, and one of the things I love about New York City, is that you start to see those patterns emerge over time.
Paul: 101 Fifth is almost definitely going to be a microcosm of a swath of American culture just by being in that parcel of land.
Rich: Well it speaks, to me it speaks to the fluidity of New York City, right? If you did this against a building in a small town in Pennsylvania, it’s just, you know, two partners owned a diner, 73 years, there’s just not a lot of change.
Paul: No, you don’t have the turnover.
Rich: You don’t have the turnover, and that is New York City, right? New York City, that is, that treadmill’s on 12, and it’s just gonna stay on that, and we’re no different, right? We’re brand-new…
Paul: I think that’s the thing, like, we’re gonna get to us.
Paul: Right? Like, as we’re going through here, you start to see, in the forties, the National Cancer Foundation moves in.
Paul: So now we’re getting away from garments.
Paul: And also college textbook publishers start showing up.
Paul: And then what you also see is the obituaries start changing. Like, an editor dies.
Paul: And it’s like, oh he was at Henry Holt or at Janies T. White & Co.
Rich: Differently industries are passing through the property.
Paul: Yeah, like the people who published The National Cyclopedia of American Biography were in the building. One of the originating companies that later became Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which is one of the big literary publishers still around today. So the paths, these companies actually still exist in various forms. They’ve been merged and consolidated, but they pass through.
Paul: So it was garments and then it became kind of information age. Suddenly, books. World University Press was in there, and they would publish books like Ownership and Control in Modern Industrial Society. That’s in 1950.
Paul: So suddenly the information age is landing. It gets, the building gets sold again, in 1949.
Paul: So for one thing, one thing I realized since living here is the one true industry of New York City is real estate. Like.
Paul: The building and the parcel changing hands is the actual true, like, native expression of New York City.
Paul: Everything else, we’re kind of leasing.
Paul: Literally leasing.
Paul: They’ve made this space for us, and if you can afford to pay the tax, you can participate in the culture of the city.
Paul: And it really is an empire, like, I mean.
Paul: It’s like sort of eye-rolly word, but there are empires of real estate here that are always, like, trying to get a little bit of edge.
Rich: Oh yeah. One of the things we heard, you know, we are a young company, right? And when we were negotiating with the landlord, they were pretty anxious about us, but really wanted us. And the reason they were anxious about us is because we’re so young, so we don’t have a long credit history, right? Obviously.
Rich: We’re only less than a year old. But they really wanted us because they wanted to be perceived as a building that had, you know, sort of, forward-looking tech, internet shops inside of it.
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: And because he knew that that would, that would be a selling point for other, other floors in the building, when they were leasing some other floor, they say, oh, these guys are here, there are a few other internet companies that are in the building.
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: And so, even the landlord is actually quite sensitive to the perception that he wants to create as he continues to market the building. He doesn’t really care. He’s not a fan of us, or the internet, probably. I met the guy. My guess is, you know…
Paul: Well no, we represent, he’s thinking about his business, right?
Rich: He’s thinking about the profile of the property.
Paul: What story can he tell to someone else who wants to come in…
Rich: Correct. And frankly as we shopped, it was a meaningful consideration for us. We actually turned down addresses that we thought were gonna…were gonna be less impressive representations of us.
Paul: This brings out…
Rich: Perfectly good places, by the way.
Paul: Very nice spaces…
Rich: Blocks away, not…
Paul: Good work could be done.
Paul: But the signifier of a place with an address like 101 Fifth Avenue, and a certain look and feel to the office, it’s a very modern, neutral space, lots of exposed brick, should be a nice place to work, there’s certain things that you get with that kind of space.
Rich: And that —
Paul: You grew up here, I’ve been here over 20 years, and it really, you become sensitive to things like that in a way that you never thought was possible, or that you’d want to be sensitive.
Rich: Yeah. That’s right.
Paul: But the reality is that a lot of the conversation that I need to have to tell people about what we do, the building can start that conversation for me.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: And when people come in and they see where we are and what we’re doing —
Rich: It’s an impression.
Paul: It indicates that we’re…in a way that like, I can still wear, you know, old sneakers, and they can come and see that building and they can go, like, OK.
Rich: Yeah. That’s right. And also it’s worth noting what business we’re in. We are not a head-down product shop that needs to hide for two years as we build something. We host and greet a lot of people. We are a services business, so it’s meaningful for us to have an impressive place to host you.
Paul: Speaking of that, what happens through the fifties and sixties is there’s a recurring feature, and we show up in it almost every week, called “Reports of Arrival of Buyers.”
Paul: And what would happen is people would come in to buy…
Rich: The building.
Paul: No. The stuff. Like, the garment stuff was still there.
Paul: So let me pop one up. So…
Rich: I don’t know what this means.
Paul: So there’s this recurring feature called “Reports of Arrival of Buyers,” and it tells you that classified by office, so like, Shirley’s from Bladensburg, Maryland, would be at the Ace Buying Corps, 505 8th Avenue. Alice K. Shop from Bethlehem, PA, would show up at Hertenstein & Cohen, 225 W. 34th, and M. Baum would be there buying dresses. So I think you’d come to the city, you’d come to 101 Fifth Avenue, and you’d have a little office inside of maybe another garment-related things.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: Or maybe there were a bunch of offices where you could go in there and you could probably rent the office and people could come and bring you the dresses.
Paul: That you were gonna buy and take back to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania —
Rich: Oh. Sure, sure. That’s not that unusual, actually. Yeah.
Paul: No, but we were definitely — like, we were a showroom.
Paul: We were a showroom. You would come and you would…
Rich: And you’d say, I need 500 of these, or, I mean, you could be, you know, the representative of, you know, a department store in Cincinnati. You’re still coming to New York, because a lot of goods emanate out of New York, right? Especially in the world of fashion.
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: Right? It was, I mean, it was defining, right?
Paul: So there’s a few things going on. You’d get on the train, and you’d, like, go to New York City, and you’d go to an office, and the New York, you’d let The New York Times know —
Rich: Uh huh.
Paul: That you were gonna be around, and that they should, somebody should come by and show you some dresses.
Paul: The reality is that the internet has just completely absorbed that role in society.
Rich: I don’t know if entirely, I mean, I think…
Paul: There’s —
Rich: If you’re a buyer, you know the term buyer.
Rich: Like I’m a buyer for Macy’s…I don’t know what that world looks like for that person today, versus how it used to look.
Paul: I guess you still have to go, it feels like everything’s gotten bigger and weirder, like you might be going to Shenzhen, to the factories, where they’re sourcing it, and…
Rich: Probably not Macy’s, but Macy’s is definitely sitting down somewhere where, you know, Nautica and Ralph Lauren, or whoever, especially the upstart brands that are trying to get some space inside of a Macy’s, there’s probably a dynamic at play where that buyer lets it be known that they’re gonna give an opportunity — you know, large conventions do this, right? They have, like, they all gather, that’s like, you know, any industry, whether it be food or fashion or whatever, a convention is a great place for all the different sides of the businesses to sort of converge and show off, you know, the sellers will show off this new product, and the buyers will walk around and get to know each other.
Paul: Look, here’s what we know.
Rich: I like being an outsider, by the way, not knowing a damn thing about the fashion world.
Paul: But here’s what I know, here’s what I know. First of all, a friendly helpful voice has just told us that there are thousands of showrooms still operating in the fashion district, so this could be happening now, OK.
Paul: But here’s what’s actually interesting to me, is that you don’t really open up The New York Times and read the “Reports of Arrival of Buyers” anymore.
Paul: So the information’s getting out somewhere —
Rich: Yeah. The channels to communicate that is just, you don’t need the newspaper to do that.
Paul: The paper no longer has that role.
Paul: And actually this role seems to have gone away almost before — I don’t remember this in The Times…
Rich: No. Yeah.
Paul: It wasn’t, it might have been part of the classified or something.
Paul: So what you see is that kind of going on, suddenly we appear, our office appears, and that goes up until, up until the sixties. And then it changes its name. “Arrival of Buyers in New York Area.” “Arrival of Out of Town Buyers.” Another book publisher dies in the sixties and gets an obituary. He was at Frederick Warne Co. on 101 Fifth Avenue. That is what this building starts to mean.
Paul: To the world. It means, I can go there and sell my dresses.
Paul: That I make still in New York City, still. Still a garment capital of the world.
Paul: In the sixties.
Rich: I’ll share, actually, a connected fact, here, I’m not gonna reveal who our landlord is, but before he was a landlord, or his group was a landlord, he was responsible, and I guess owned, a particular high-end, like, couture line of clothing.
Rich: And then he stepped out of that business and got into real estate. So it’s probably because he knew where he was at and exactly how the real estate played in that world really well. He actually doesn’t come from real estate, which is interesting.
Rich: Our current owner.
Paul: So all these worlds are colliding and then around the seventies, it all trails off.
Paul: There’s no more news about us, and what I was able to find, a little mention of an advertising agency, things are coming in and out of the building, and slowly the world of, the world of book publishing, there’s still quite a bit around the neighborhood, but a lot of it migrated uptown.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: Fashion’s still around there, but it’s sort of wedged in. We have a dermatologist on the top floor, who is apparently very popular right before Fashion Week. Everybody goes —
Rich: We have a dermatologist in the building?
Paul: Yeah, so there’s still a strong —
Rich: Oh, this is like a high-end, like, I think the Kardashians go to this guy.
Paul: Yeah, celebrities go up the freight elevator.
Rich: Or woman, or whoever it is.
Paul: To see this woman, yes.
Rich: Really? I might go do this, you know?
Paul: Yeah, me too.
Rich: I’ve got, like, a chin thing.
Paul: I have a lot of…just…things.
Rich: OK. See if we can get a discount.
Paul: I mean, we’re in the building. And so what you see is that then it just kind of, like, the little signals I was able to get, seems like it just starts to grab the wave of whatever, whatever’s happening in New York City at that moment.
Paul: But there’s ultimately a big gap in my understanding of our building between the seventies and now.
Paul: So ad agencies, publishing, media, fashion. Those are the things that are coming in and out. But now if you look at it, there’s about four internet companies in the building.
Rich: Including us, that’s right.
Paul: Including us. There’s Luma Partners, who do those charts with all the different, like, the Luma advertising landscape?
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: It’s worth looking at if you’ve never seen it, it’ll just show you how crazy the world of advertising is. There’s, I think Soundcloud is in there.
Rich: Soundcloud is in the building, that’s correct. AdRoll.
Paul: AdRoll’s in there as well. And an esthetician/dermatologist on the top floor, so…
Rich: Which is not, no coincidence. There’s no doubt that the landlord sort of sought out this profile that he wants to have for that building.
Paul: There’s a story.
Paul: There’s a story he’s telling, we’re part of that. And so you know what it made me think, is, like, Postlight probably won’t be there 20 years from now.
Rich: Well we’ll be selling silk.
Paul: We’ll be selling silk.
Rich: It’s gonna come full circle.
Paul: It made me think, right, because everything when it’s in there, when you’re in that building now, and you look up and down the roster of companies, you’re like, oh OK. But any one of them could go at any day, and either get bigger.
Paul: Or get smaller, right?
Paul: And culture’s gonna change, like, the publishing companies get bought, the fashion comes and goes, the buyers no longer need to physically come to Fifth Avenue, to that building, they go somewhere else, or they make, I don’t know, I don’t know what they do. So it made me wonder, like, right now that landlord wants to get cool internet businesses.
Paul: In there, that people go, oh, this is an up-and-coming neighborhood, I will pay a premium, because this, when somebody walks in, they’re gonna see people who are, you know, like, engaged in the modern economy.
Paul: And you know, right —
Rich: [laughter] Right.
Paul: OK, good. I’m glad to be part of that. It’s good for our business. What’s that look like 20 years from now? Because they’re gonna want the same thing.
Rich: Um…that’s a great question.
Paul: I have no idea. Like, I’m not, I’m not putting you on the spot. I truly have no idea. Like, would it be, like, apps? It won’t be, right?
Rich: It won’t be apps.
Paul: It won’t. 20 years from now, you’re not looking at mobile phones being what they are.
Paul: And this is in 30, 40, 50, this building is still gonna be there.
Paul: Right. 50 years from now, you and I could end up being one of those obituaries, where it’s just like, “Paul Ford, who has an office at 101 Fifth — ”
Rich: Well that’s depressing. Just take good care of yourself and we won’t have to read that.
Paul: Eventually we’re gonna die. Unless the singularity gets here sooner than we thought.
Rich: I think that might be…the tenants in the building will just be dealing with the singularity.
Paul: That’s —
Rich: That might be the new…
Paul: The building itself?
Rich: The new genre of tenant at 101.
Paul: Just be like hyper-intelligent —
Rich: Well, it’ll be like singularity subscriptions, and singularity documents.
Paul: So the entire building will just become a hyper-intelligent consciousness, intertwined —
Rich: Servicing different parts of the consciousness.
Rich: Is my thinking.
Paul: So they’ll be, like, a cyber fashion buyer will come by.
Paul: Will be like, I need to buy five or six trillion abstract shapes per second.
Rich: Like addressing your sort of, your taste.
Paul: Yeah, that’s right.
Rich: As part of the singularity. Or your mood.
Paul: Arbitrary abstractions, colors and lights, that please the global throbbing uber brain that controls our world.
Rich: Exactly. Exactly.
Paul: That’s a good —
Rich: Something like that.
Paul: I mean, that is, the singularity is gonna be hell on real estate.
Rich: It’s gonna be rough on real estate.
Paul: When all consciousness merges into one giant computational substrate?
Rich: How do you price that per square foot?
Paul: You really, it’s a brute of a problem!
Paul: And it’s not gonna be like, oh hey, we’ll build you an app. It’ll be something very, very different.
Paul: Also I don’t think the singularity as a single conscious entity is gonna be really concerned about location, location, location.
Paul: Really, what’s gonna be, what is real estate…?
Rich: I think you still have to service the singularity.
Paul: Mmmm, yeah, but it doesn’t need a building like that, what it needs is to be close to the internet. Like it needs to be — like, Google headquarters will be a great place.
Paul: Because you want that sub-lightspeed connection to all the other entities that are out there probing.
Paul: So I think that that’s pretty much the endgame on this building.
Rich: It could become, like, a Dave & Buster’s, or it maybe go towards, like…
Paul: Jekyll & Hyde.
Rich: Jekyll & Hyde, or what’s the shrimp one? Bubba Shrimp?
Paul: Bubba Gump Shrimp.
Rich: I mean, Times Square could just keep going, so there’s that.
Paul: That would make sense. Actually, Times Square, I don’t know why it stops where it stops.
Rich: Thank God it stops where it stops.
Paul: No, I think it should just take over. [laughter]
Rich: Just keep going.
Paul: One day, the virus, whatever barrier is stopping the Times Square virus…so Rich, that is the story of our building.
Rich: We welcome your predictions as to what our building becomes at [email protected].
Paul: Yeah, I mean, we were just, we are literally just tenants there.
Rich: We’re a moment in time.
Paul: We are a moment in time, but we’re gonna make the most of the moment in time.
Rich: Yeah. Paul this was fascinating. Really interesting.
Paul: I enjoyed —
Rich: Sort of put things in perspective.
Paul: I mean, we’re gonna do the best we can with the space we have.
Rich: Yeah, exactly.
Paul: So this has been Track Changes, the podcast of Postlight, a product design studio in New York City at 101 Fifth Avenue, 10th Floor. [laughter] My name is Paul Ford, I’m a co-founder.
Rich: Rich Ziade.
Paul: Rich is also a co-founder in case you couldn’t tell, and I am, all of us are available at [email protected]. We are glad to hear any of your questions, your feedback, your concern, your criticisms, and we look forward to it. Also go ahead on iTunes, give us a good rating if you’re in the mood, but if you’re not in the mood, just live your life, we’re happy —
Rich: Well close the phone. Go out. Take a walk.
Paul: Live your life.
Rich: If you’re not living —
Paul: Live a good life. We’re, whatever it takes for you to be happy is what we want you to do.
Paul: All right, Rich, let’s get back to work.
Rich: OK. Bye, Paul!