Even before the Big One - that is, the 21 July scaffolding accident which killed an 85-year-old woman in a nearby hostel, left 600 people temporarily homeless and closed parts of 43rd Street for almost a month - the Curse of Conde Nast was wreaking havoc on the site. There had been three other major accidents, including the death of a carpenter, crushed by an elevator in June. After that first fatal accident, a spokesman for the builder was quoted in the New York Times as saying the accident "is very unfortunate because the safety record on the project is excellent". Little did he know.
When the 48-storey tower finally opens in the the middle of next year, it will house the 16 magazines that Conde Nast publishes in the US, as well as a law firm, and, possibly, the National Basketball Association. Surprisingly, Conde Nast will occupy the far less fabulous floors, four to 22. But within its section of the tower there will be a strict storey hierarchy: the New Yorker gets floors 21 and 22, much to the chagrin of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Nestling beneath Conde Nast, on floors one (in America there is no such thing as ground) to three will be super/mega stores and theme restaurants. On the outside, a massive "ticker" will show Nasdaq share prices, within, by the way, shouting distance of the dizzying Dow Jones ticker at 1 Times Square.
As for the building itself, it's snazzy, but nothing to die for. From what you can make of it down below, it's soft, curvy, and looks as if will be clean and well-lit. Supposedly, it will be "environmentally progressive"; supposedly, it will run partially on solar power. One of its theme restaurants will be the Rainforest Cafe. Environmental it must be, then. However, it will still be in Times Square, legendary for all that is sleazy (like an American Piccadilly Circus or Soho, but with more sex and junkies). Conde Nast apparently received an $11m "sweetener" in the form of tax relief from the city to move there, as part of a "clean-up the area" offensive. But, in a city of bigger-better-more stylish, 4 Times Square isn't any of the above. Probably the trendiest part of the building will be the Titanium Cafe, designed by Frank Gehry, the architect who created the Guggenheim in Bilbao. On the fourth floor, this will be the Conde Nast canteen - and it's rumoured to be so smart that there will be a dress code.
The 21 July accident was horrific. Seven hundred feet of elevator track and scaffolding fell 23 stories onto the street and neighbouring buildings ("like a spear through a piece of cheese", as it was poetically described). Sure, it was sad that the musical Cabaret had to close and it was sad that restaurants had to shut down, and that their meat turned rancid and smelled like death. But it was saddest for those locked out of their homes, especially the elderly at the Woodstock Hotel, a charitable hostel for the elderly and disabled, where the woman was killed. Theirs are the kind of existences that people are uncomfortable reading about, the kind of existence you don't want to be your own. All we really saw of the victim, Thereza Feliconio, was a forlorn portrait - taken, curiously enough, by Vanity Fair's favourite photographer, Annie Leibovitz (for a newspaper series last year on life in Times Square). Meanwhile, receiving much more press than the humans involved in the accident, were stranded cats and dogs - animals-rights activists even held a vigil for them.
Some people thought the accident might be a case of bad feng shui. Could the Curse of Conde Nast be the result of mysterious forces at 4 Times Square? The Chinese would never, for instance, trust a building with the number four. Then there's the fact that so many other buildings have sharp corners pointing at Conde Nast. At the nearby Times Square Brewery, a model Concorde on the roof points its nose at the building site. Ouch. "It's like being in the middle, attacked by all these cutting energies," says Eliza Arakelian, a New York feng shui expert.
Some people wonder if the Curse was responsible for the departure of Tina Brown, the British-born editor of Conde Nast's New Yorker - she resigned shortly before the accident. It had long been reported that Brown dreaded leaving the magazine's hallowed digs on 43rd Street, for the happy, new Times Square. And who could blame her. Old Times Square, new Times Square, each is vulgar in one way or another. Who, after all, wants to look out of their window, and see a Nike Swoosh advertisement, blown up to the umpteenth power? Or the Warner Brothers Store. Or Ralph and Uma?
And was the cover and fashion feature in the August issue of American Vogue tempting fate? It was shot atop the building-in-progress, the models looking apprehensive if not out-and-out terrified, and hit the news-stands about a week before the 21 July fiasco. The headline read "Corporate Chic"; the Donna Karan and Dolce & Gabbana-clad models mingled not entirely comfortably with workmen in jeans and hard hats. All in the best possible taste, of course.
But some people saw the bright side. "In the long run, the building is going to be good for us," said a fairly cheerful Ken Kessler, manager of the Manhattan Chili Company, which operated a take-out only service for the month that the streets were closed off and scaffolding loomed over his premises. His biggest account, he says, is the New Yorker (no, he can't recall Tina ordering any of his chili). Perhaps the only real winner was Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was taking over from Natasha Richardson in Cabaret. She told the New York Times, "I felt, like, this is grace for me. This is a luxury because I'm going to have more time to rehearse and to get it inside my body."
When the debris was eventually cleared from West 43rd Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, and the street did finally re-open, it turned into something of an event. Cabaret was set to open once again a couple of days later, as was the Manhattan Chili Company and the other businesses. The Woodstock Hotel will remain closed indefinitely, but no one seemed to care about that. Local television crews, student camera crews, Japanese tourists, everyone had a camera, not knowing exactly what was going on, waiting to see a star, probably. "Americans make a big deal about everything. I don't understand it," said a woman tourist from County Mayo. "You'd think Jesus Christ were comin'." Finally, people applauded. Then they looked upReuse content