Lever House, an icon of mid-century architecture, is getting $100 million in renovations, courtesy of owners Brookfield Properties and WatermanClark.
Built in 1952, the historic 21-story office building at 390 Park Avenue was built for the Lever Brothers soap company, which was moving its headquarters from Boston. Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill were the original designers, and Brookfield is bringing back SOM to renovate the 307-foot-tall property. It was the second building with glass curtain walls developed in New York, after the United Nations headquarters building.
The 260,000 square foot structure has a unique footprint, with a three-story podium topped by a large outdoor terrace, and the portion of the tower set back from the street and positioned at right angles to Park Avenue.
“It was such a sweeping intervention on Park Avenue – the massing, the floating of the building perpendicular to Park Avenue, the glass facade next to all the masonry facades,” said Chris Cooper, managing partner of SOM’s office at New York. “Even today, it is still radical. Especially right now, where there’s a renaissance on Park Avenue with rezoning and people building bigger. So that makes this building all the more unique and such a gem on the avenue.
He characterized the renovation as a continuation of the restoration that SOM began 20 years ago, when it replaced the translucent green glass facade. The redesign involves new mechanical systems, including destination dispatch elevators and a dedicated outdoor air system, a redesign of the iconic outdoor plaza, an updated lobby and new higher ceilings on the floors tenants.
Work on the square – which required approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission – involves replacing cracked cobblestones with new terrazzo flooring, restoring existing steel column covers, planting a new white birch grove and the installation of new exterior lighting.
“Each surface has been evaluated to see if it can be restored or replaced,” Cooper explained. “And so the ceiling is replaced by a new, more modern system, and the paving is replaced, but for the columns and all the details of the storefront, we keep the original stainless steel and restore it.”
A new service door is even drilled through an existing black marble wall in the courtyard to allow waiters from the building’s restaurant, Casa Lever, to enter directly into the square to serve dinners alfresco, rather than around of the building and through the hall.
“There are tables for the restaurant in the plaza, but it’s not that easy to bring in food,” Cooper said. “They had built a contraption in the lobby to hide the passage of servers, and we are able to clean all that.”
The original terrazzo floor in the lobby is also being restored, along with a wall of yellow Murano glass that has been altered over the years. Architectural firm Marmol Radziner, which also worked on Brookfield’s One Manhattan West, is handling the interior design of the lobby and a new tenants’ club on the third floor. The interior designers decided to bring more seating and furniture into the lobby, aiming to give it a more residential feel.
On the third floor, the new amenity space will include conference rooms, a lounge area and a cafe that serves food, drinks and coffee with a take-out option. It will connect to the 15,000 square foot outdoor terrace, which is getting new landscaping — managed by Reed Hilderbrand — with chairs, couches, and tables.
In the basement, Brookfield and WatermanClark are adding exercise rooms and bicycle storage facilities with showers.
On tenant floors, the old drop ceilings are raised as the building’s aging heating and cooling system is replaced with the dedicated outdoor air system, which brings 100% fresh air to each floor.
“We’re removing those huge convectors so you can walk to the window,” explained Ric Clark, director of WatermanClark and former property manager of Brookfield. He boasted that the DOAS system provided “50% more fresh air than most modern buildings in New York today”.
As part of the lobby renovation, Clark said he wanted to install technology that would automatically identify if a person was working in the building, and that system would call the elevator and take that person to their specific floor.
“We intend to introduce technology so that as soon as you walk through the door, the building will know whether you are a tenant or not,” Clark said. “And if you’re not, the building will be able to identify you and a receptionist will approach you and check you in so you can go upstairs.”
Construction began late last year and is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2023.
And for the first time in decades, Lever House is vacant, which means a tenant could take over the whole thing. Clark, however, expects its 11,000 square foot floor plates to appeal to smaller private equity firms and family offices.
He did not disclose asking rents, but said: ‘Given the investment we are making in this building, we expect above-market rents.’
Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at [email protected].