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The View From There: Beautiful and Doomed

By JOSEPH BERGER
The New York Times
 March 20, 2006

Day by dispiriting day, senior writers and editors at The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and other Condé Nast magazines and top lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom are watching one of the perks of their Manhattan careers getting slowly gobbled up — the view.

Workers in the offices of The New Yorker in the Condé Nast Building have enjoyed their view east, but won't for much longer; a 54-story tower is rising next door.

Like most New Yorkers, they live with the knowledge that a view in Manhattan is a perishable commodity, but for them the time left is achingly short.

A 54-story tower for the Bank of America is rising floor by inexorable floor next to their daytime home — the 48-story Condé Nast Building, at 42nd Street and Broadway. Right now the bank structure is just a monkey-bars of steel beams,a half-dozen floors at best. But over the next year or two, employees on the eastern side of Condé Nast will find themselves staring right into the face of a glass and aluminum office building and its honeycomb of worker bees.

"I'm on the 21st floor, and I have a beautiful view of Bryant Park and the library and a little corner of the Chrysler Building and the Pan Am Building, now the MetLife, and I get tons of sun," said Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer for The New Yorker. "Soon it's going to be a view of some law firm associate doing his work. My view will be entirely swallowed."

Bruce Handy, a senior articles editor at Vanity Fair, who grew up among the sweeping vistas of California, had been delighted with the cinemascopic views out of his 22nd-floor office. "There'll be a little less uplift for the soul," he lamented.

The loss of views is an archetypal New York story. Except for residents lucky enough to be on Central Park or the Hudson or East Rivers, every Manhattanite understands that sunlight and views are fleeting on a restless island whose anatomy is forever shifting.

As it was going up in the late 1990's, the Condé Nast building also broke its share of hearts. With a real estate market that barely seems to pause for breath, a taller building — usually residential these days — is always threatening to rise somewhere and eclipse someone's views.

But the fact that it is an old story is no consolation to those who suffer another narrowing in an already constricted island. Mark Singer, a colleague of Mr. Toobin's at The New Yorker, knows this in spades. New construction is rising not only at his workplace, but also near his home on the Upper East Side.

"We all live in various states of denials, so until the view is gone, you don't quite appreciate what's going to be missing," he said.

That perspective was echoed by David Friend, the editor of creative development at Vanity Fair, whose office is on the 22nd floor. "We're so busy that we take the view for granted sometimes, and it's like the old Joni Mitchell song, 'You don't know what you've got till it's gone,' " he said.

The developer Douglas Durst, who completed Condé Nast seven years ago and expects to complete the Bank of America building in 2008, told the tenants that above the seventh floor the bank tower would be set back 200 feet, greater than the distance across Avenue of the Americas or 42nd Street. Moreover, he said, the tower curves as it rises, allowing more sunlight to penetrate.

"We angled the building so that light will get through," he said. "And they're not going to have views directly east, but they'll still have views from the building."

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, pointed out that Manhattan is an island of skyscrapers partly because people want phenomenal views. But he said the loss of views caused by a single building was balanced by the thousands of jobs created for office occupants and by the taxes those employees would pay.

"Someone will have lost something, but on the other hand the city has gained," he said.

Right now, top lawyers at Skadden, Arps on the upper floors have views that embrace everything from the Triborough Bridge to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and that bespeak the power of a firm with 1,750 lawyers. While the views of Condé Nast employees may not be as breathtaking, they have the urban charm of elegant buildings framing a small park mixed in with a touch of street razzle-dazzle, charm any writer can appreciate.