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Mad Men's Time-Life Building Will Get a $40 Million Makeover

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A half-century-old interior landmark (warning! PDF) on Sixth Avenue is getting a major overhaul, thanks to Tuesday's vote by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Time-Life Building, made famous in part because the fictional offices of Mad Men's Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are set there, marked the first westward expansion of Rockefeller Center when it was completed in 1960. At that time, the 48-story building was intended for a single tenant—just a little world-renowned publishing company. But that single tenant has undergone many changes over the years (for one, Life is no longer a regular publication) and its staff no longer takes up an entire building. In fact, they're moving out by the end of 2017. That means Rockefeller Group has to ready the building for multiple-tenant use, which will mean a $40 million makeover that includes extensive restoration and reconfiguration of the lobby.

The plan was presented by architect Jay Berman of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Cas Stachelberg of the preservation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners. Their design includes removal of railings, turnstiles, planters, and x-ray equipment. The terrazzo floor will be replaced in-kind. The reflected ceiling will also be replaced, but a sprinkler system will be installed as well as new LED lighting.

The south section of the lobby will also be opened up and made both symmetrical and ADA-accessible. Of the two canopied entrances along 50th Street, the western one will see the greatest modification. Additionally, the breezeway connecting the lobby to Sixth Avenue will be re-opened.

For once, the proposed changes were received warmly across the board, and the LPC commissioners approved the plan. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the changes are "very welcome" and will reinforce what a nice lobby it is. Commissioner Frederick Bland said the "lobby is a finer piece of art than the building itself." This restoration and renovation proposal also brought together support from groups that don't always agree with each other, Srinivasan observed.

"HDC applauds this sensitive restoration project, which includes the replacement in-kind of terrazzo floors and glass ceiling panels," the Historic Districts Council's Barbara Zay said. "We thank the applicant for their thoughtful approach to this very distinguished—and deserving—Modern interior." The New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the Municipal Art Society (MAS), Community Board 5, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, and City Councilman Daniel Garodnick also backed the project.

That's about as close as you can get to an uncontroversial renovation in New York City. Let construction commence.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]