The Midtown Book logo

One Beacon Court

731 Lexington Avenue/151 East 58th Street

Block bounded by Lexington and Third Avenues and 58th and 59th Streets

By Carter B. Horsley

This huge mixed-use project became a significant new landmark for east midtown when it was completed in 2005.

Designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates, the architect of the World Financial Center at Battery Park City and the Museum Tower on West 54th Street, it is a gleaming, full-block redevelopment of the former site of the Alexander's store, a five-story, marble-clad structure designed by Emery Roth & Sons in 1965.

Its white facades, modulated by thin horizontal bands, nicely compliment the slightly larger Citicorp Center tower four blocks to the south.

The 870-foot-high tower also nicely compliments the twin towers of the Time Warner Center across town at Columbus Circle, which was completed a few months earlier, both buildings giving the northern boundaries of midtown important visual anchors.

The base of this project contains office space for Bloomberg L.P., the financial news concern, and the upper floors of the tower, which is set back from Lexington Avenue on the western half of the site, are occupied by 105 luxury condominium apartments on the 30th to 55th floors.

In the center of the block on 58th Street is an elliptical court that opens almost fully on 58th Street but has a smaller, punched opening on 59th Street. The entrance to the apartment portion of the complex is on the west side of the court. The office entrance is at 731 Lexington Avenue between 58th and 59th Street.

The building has about 900,000 square feet of office space, of which Bloomberg L.P., has taken about 700,000. It also has about 160,000 square feet of retail space.

The project was many years in the planning as the developer, Steven Roth, chairman of Vornado Realty Trust, studied many schemes and waited for a major tenant long after Alexander's had closed its low-rise, marble-clad building, which was demolished in 1998. It was directly south of the full-block occupied by Bloomingdale's and some observers wondered why Mr. Roth did not pursue an even larger project that might have bridged 59th Street and provided a new "home" for Bloomingdale's that could have utilized its considerable unused "air rights." At one point, a hotel was considered as a component of the mixed-use plans and major auction houses also considered the site.

The project was a long time in the making. In an article November 25, 2003 in The New York Post, Steve Cuozzo wrote that "It took Vornado CEO and Chairman Steve Roth a decade to develop the old Alexander's site - a decade in which he put up with sniping from all sides over his seeming indecisiveness." In an interview, Mr. Cuozzo asked Mr. Roth if he felt "vindicated": "As head of a huge, publicly traded REIT with shareholders to think of, Roth said: 'We're business people. We do things methodically and by the numbers. We knew we had a great asset at a unique spot, and we weren't going to do transactions prematurely that wouldn't get us the values we eventually expected to get.'" Mr. Cuozzo wrote that Mr. Roth was once dubbed the "Hamlet of Lexington Avenue," after Vornado "bought control of Alexander's Inc. in 1991," adding that "He demolished the shuttered store in 1998, and then pondered what to do with the full-block crater until he signed up then-private citizen Michael Bloomberg's media company as anchor tenant in spring 2001....Roth said it was 'obvious' that the deals for the site available to Vornado in the 1990s 'were not going to ring the bell. Remember the auction houses?' he added - a reference to flirtations with Sotheby's and Christie's. 'Notwithstanding pressures to do things prematurely, I have pretty strong convictions about what's right arithmetically.'

The arithmetic of 731 Lexington includes its $630 million development cost and a $490 million construction loan from Hypo Vereinsbank. According to Vornado's SEC filing, Bloomberg, under a 25-year lease, is paying a base annual rent of $34.53 million for each of the first four years - about $49.68 a foot. It rises to $38.53 million in the fifth year, with a "similar percentage increase" every fourth year after that. Bloomberg's decision to take nearly 700,000 feet - not 400,000 it had earlier sought - got the project off the ground after false starts that included schemes for department stores and a hotel.

Roth, with some amusement, said, "We still have 100 models of different buildings as the ideas changed - the tower on Third Avenue vs. the tower on Lexington; multiple towers and much lower buildings with no towers at all." So why was the tall tower ultimately built on the Lexington side? "Two reasons," Roth said. "It's a better office address. And it's 400 feet closer to Central Park" - no small issue for buyers of the apartments on floors 30 to 54, atop the offices.'"

View from north on Third Avenue

View of project from north on Third Avenue

Some reactions to the final renderings for the project were a little disappointing as it initially appeared to be just another boxy tall tower. As it began to grow out of the ground and take on its facades, however, the project was greeted with widespread enthusiasm as its sleekness and impressive scale became undeniable entities on the skyline. Perhaps the best view of the tower is from high up on the tram to Roosevelt Island.

The top of the tower is a rectilinear illuminated crown that is about 6 stories high.

The façade of the building has floor-to-ceiling windows and each floor is separated by a protruding string-course that during construction was covered with blue paper that gave the tower very handsome accents. The paper peeled off revealing a steel element that was almost as handsome.

The building's façade is very slick but the protruding stringcourses make it not too glossy and more high-tech.

The "court" is located slightly east of the block's center and the eastern wing has an angled roofline along the side-streets.

Because 59th Street is one of the main approach streets to the Queensborough Bridge to the east there is a lot of traffic at this location and Bloomingdale's, of course, attracts a lot of shoppers.

There is a subway stop at Lexington Avenue and 59th Streets. There are numerous restaurants nearby, especially on 58th Street between Third and Second Avenues.

Although the building technically only has 55 floors, the apartments have stupendous views.

It is diagonally across Lexington Avenue from International Plaza at 750 Lexington Avenue, a blue-glass office tower with a Sumerian-like crown designed by Helmut Jahn.

The developer used the city's "inclusionary zoning" provisions to create almost 260,000 square feet of added residential space by developing one building and purchasing the "bonus" square footage from two other projects in the same community board district. The program permits developers to get four square feet of bonus space for luxury housing for each square foot of lower-income housing they produce. Vornado Realty Trust used 97,372 square feet from the 53-unit senior project at 351 East 61st Street developed by RFT and Davis & Partners and another 42,507 square feet were purchased from BFC Partners that developed 346-8 East 21st Street. The remaining 118,900 square feet was obtained from a 41-unit project for the Metropolitan Council on Housing that Vornado developed at 171 Lexington Avenue with Jeff Levine.

View from north on Lexington

In a June 12, 2003 article in The New York Times, David W. Dunlap wrote that the architects of this project said that its courtyard "received the blessing of Michael R. Bloomberg before he became mayor." Mr. Bloomberg visited the Pelli office in New Haven to see the project's renderings and models.

"'Bloomberg himself was quite captivated by the idea of the space,' said Rafael Pelli, a principal in the firm that bears his father's name. 'No one knew how he'd react, because it came at the cost of larger floors. But he loved it. He saw how it could bring personality to the project,'" Mr. Dunlap wrote.

The courtyard has 110-foot-high walls that are canted inward 7 degrees, creating the effect of what Mr. Dunlap called an "upside-down bowl."

The building has a fitness center on he 29th floor and Richard Johnson of Page Six of The New York Post reported November 30, 2003 that "Future residents of One Beacon Court, the luxury condo apartments rising on top of the Bloomberg offices at 731 Lexington Ave., get the use of the building's concierge as soon as they sign their contract, even though they might not be able to move in for a year or more," adding that the developer had hired Quintessentially, the London-based upper-crust firm run by Camilla Parker Bowles nephew, Ben Elliot, to handle the residents of One Beacon, its first U.S. client."

View from 59th Street

Two-to-four bedroom apartments range from 1,364 to 4,485 square feet and were priced initially at $2,275,000 to $12,000,000. Large penthouses on the top five floors were more expensive.

The building's retail tenants include Home Depot, The Container Store and Le Cirque, the restaurant that relocated from the Villard Houses on Madison Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets.

For more information about Beacon Court check its entry at

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects


Home Page of The City Review