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52 Years of the MetLife Building

    52 Years of the MetLife Building

    With news that the building's majority owner had been kept a secret, and a 10-figure refi deal announced last month, the MetLife Building is on our minds. Let's take a little trip through the history of one of Manhattan's most iconic office towers.

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    1. 1960s-'70s

    1. 1960s-'70s

    Name: Built between 1960 and 1963 the sign that adorned the top bore its original title in 15-foot tall letters: Pan Am.

    Developer: Erwin Wolfson

    Architect: Walter Gropius

    Notable tenants: Pan American World Airways was the anchor tenant when it opened, with about 600k SF.

    Fun fact: Helicopter service made regular trips between Pan Am’s terminal at JFK and a helipad on the roof until 1968.

    Much less fun fact: Three months after helicopter service was briefly reinstated in 1977, a chopper threw a blade and four people at the heliport plus one pedestrian on the ground were killed.

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    2. 1980s

    2. 1980s

    Name: Still Pan Am…but not for long.

    Owner: Pan Am owned the building until 1981, when amid a worsening financial situation, the airline sold it to—you guessed it—the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. for $400M.

    Renovations: In 1987 an Egyptian-themed lobby redesign by Warner Platner met with widespread criticism as out of place in the Brutalist building. It was removed in 2002.

    Fun fact: In 1987 New York Magazine put the building at the top of its list of “Buildings New Yorkers Love to Hate,” citing 100 celebs, government officials and power brokers. The mag’s cover even ran a photo of a wrecking ball hitting it.


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    3. 1990s

    3. 1990s

    Name: Nine months after Pan Am went belly-up in late 1991, MetLife announced it would take down the Pan Am logo near the roof and put up its own logo.

    Owner: MetLife

    In pop culture: What is it with the fantasies of destroying this building? In the 1998 remake of Godzilla, the building is shown partially in ruins.

    Fun fact: The letters on the MetLife sign weigh about two tons each, according to Tishman Speyer’s website. A pair of Peregrine falcons nest in them.

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    4. 2000s

    4. 2000s

    Owner: MetLife sold the building to Tishman Speyer in 2005 for $1.7B. It was the most ever paid at the time for a NYC office building. The MetLife sign on the roof remains (T-i-s-h-m-a-n S-p-e-y-e-r would have been a tad too many letters).

    Notable tenants: CBRE and Lend Lease both have their NY HQs in the building.

    Huge lease: Barlcays signed a 260k SF lease in 2000 to house its North American HQ.

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    5. 2010s

    Owner: It came out yesterday that Tishman’s ownership share is actually just 2.7%. West Coast real estate tycoon Donald Bren’s Irvine Co. is the true owner of the lion’s share of the building.

    Name: MetLife Building (although “Bren” has fewer letters than “MetLife,” and the sign hasn’t been changed in a couple of decades…)

    Fun fact: In 2010, a case of bedbugs reportedly hit the building. There haven’t been any reports of similar problems since.

    Big loan: Bank of America and Wells Fargo jointly signed off on a $1.4B refi of the building last month. The banks plan to chop the 10-year loan into bonds and sell them to investors. The new debt pegs the building’s value at about $3B, putting it in the discussion for the most expensive office tower in U.S. history.

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