Lever House, the 390 Park Ave. masterpiece that first brought curtain-wall design to commercial New York in 1952, is back in business after a two-year closure and $100 million redevelopment.
The project by owners Brookfield and WatermanCLARK is no routine restoration, but a revelation to those who’ve walked by a thousand times and never knew what lay behind the light green-tinted window panes.
Our first look inside last week was a thrilling surprise. The landmarked, 260,000 square-feet tower’s diminutive office floors — each a mere 11,000 square feet on all but one of 21 floors above a three-floor podium — are windows on “Mad Men”-era Manhattan.
Its perpendicular orientation to Park Avenue and deep setbacks from East 53rd and 54th streets on the north and south sides provide a diorama of mid-20th Century, International-Style design.
Lever House was famously built much smaller than zoning allowed.
It’s a pygmy amidst Park Avenue’s million-square foot towers.
But as the Landmarks Preservation Commission put it, Lever House “signaled the transformation of the style from one associated with an idealistic European social movement into one symbolizing corporate America.”
Light flooding in on three sides brings the iconic surroundings to life for office workers who are never far from windows — including the Seagram Building, the Racquet and Tennis Club and just-opened 425 Park Avenue.
CBRE’s John Maher, the leasing agent, said he was as surprised as we were by the office floors’ light-box effect.
“I hadn’t been inside for almost 40 years,” he said, because the building was always fully or mostly leased.
For all its architectural acclaim, Lever House had a troubled history.
Former Mayor Ed Koch and preservationists narrowly saved it from demolition for a larger tower before it was designated a protected landmark in 1982.
After Lever Brothers parent Unilever moved most of its offices to Connecticut in 1997, there were frequent changes in ownership and tenants, of which Alcoa was the largest.
By then, most of the building’s exterior spandrel panels, glass and steel were badly decayed.
Aby Rosen’s RFR Realty, which bought the leasehold in 1997, restored the facade a few years later and launched a restaurant for the first time.
But comprehensive redevelopment didn’t start until Brookfield and WatermanCLARK took control in 2020 and the few remaining tenants moved out the next year.
Among changes the new owners made in collaboration with original architect SOM, they restored the outside plaza paving and lobby terrazzo floors; introduced a diffused lighting system to improve brightness and energy efficiency; and installed new mechanical systems. Stainless steel columns and plaster ceilings were restored.
An Ellsworth Kelly sculpture collection was installed as the building’s first public art presentation.
Convector units from the 1950s were replaced with a state-of-the-art dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS). Y
anking the convectors added two feet of floor space on either side of each floor and an additional foot of ceiling height.
An expansive third-floor Lever Club, designed by Marmol Radziner, includes a stylish central bar, dining rooms and 15,000 square feet of landscaped outdoor terraces that were originally used by Lever Brothers staff.
Food and beverage service is provided by Sant Ambroeus Hospitality which operates Italian restaurant Casa Lever on the ground floor.
Maher said that three leases with unidentified tenants have already been signed, including on the larger, 35,000 square-foot second floor, before official marketing begins.
He declined to discuss rents but outside brokerage sources said the “ask” starts at $200 per square foot.
Tenants will likely be financial firms such as hedge funds and private equity needing small, jewel-box facilities and perhaps consumer products companies.
Maher said, “What’s amazing is the prescient view of the original Lever company to design a building in the 1950s with the spirit of what everybody’s trying to do today — integrated amenities and air and light for everyone.”
He said that the redevelopment goal was to enhance the existing property with “fully integrated, holistic design to change from a wonderful 1950s office building to one for the modern age. We’re very proud of the history but more excited for the future.”