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New York's Scribner Building Finds Life After Publishing

Nearly a century after the Scribner Building opened in the heart of the country's fanciest shopping district, the Beaux-Arts beauty on Fifth Avenue in New York has proven it can stand the test of time.

The Scribner Building, which originally opened in 1913 to house both the offices and the flagship store for Charles Scribner's Sons — the publishers of literary giants such as Hemingway, James, Stevenson and Scott Fitzgerald — recently sold to Middle Eastern investment group A&A Investment Company Inc. for the hefty price of more than $1,000 per sq. ft.

Plenty has changed about the building since it first opened in the block between 48th and 49th streets. Home to bookshelves for more than 70 years, the retail space now is inhabited by Sephora, a cosmetics store that is part of a Paris-based chain. Office tenants now include law firm Baratta & Goldstein on the 9th floor and Burma Bibas, a manufacturing company on the 10th floor, according to CoStar Group.

In spite of its age, the building has been well preserved. The building's intricate ironwork and ornate interior made the building stand out in 1913 — and still do. The Scribner building is also taller than its neighbor to the south, and the word “Scribner” is carved in the side of the building, creating a sort of architectural advertisement for shoppers walking up Fifth Avenue. While the namesake publisher may no longer be a tenant, the advertisement still reminds pedestrians of the building's history.

A&A bought the building this summer, along with a smaller building on 48th Street, for a total price of $79 million or $1,026 per sq. ft. The Scribner Building is 65,572 sq. ft., while the building at 3 E. 48th Street is 12,335 sq. ft.

The Scribner Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the entire district, the Ladies Mile Historic District. The 28-block area south of Madison Square is noted as the place where the affluent came to shop in internationally known department stores and specialty shops during the Gilded Age (1878 to 1889).

Andrew Dolkart, a professor of historical preservation at Columbia University's School of Architecture, says the Scribner Building's architect, Ernest Flagg, studied in Paris and had “a sophisticated understanding of contemporary French architecture. [Flagg was] one of the most talented architects in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Both the exterior and interior of the Scribner Buildings have been well preserved, adds Dolkart. The vaulted ceilings, balcony and ironwork inside Sephora are all original. “It is a landmark,” he says. “It also is an interior landmark, which is somewhat rare in New York.”

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