The first offices of Black Enterprise magazine were housed at 295 Madison Avenue, otherwise known as the Lefcourt Colonial Building, between 1970 and 1984. The building had a storied history as part of the Lefcourt realty empire, and remains a distinctive feature on the New York landscape.
295 Madison Avenue, New York
Image courtesy of Wired New York
The Lefcourt Colonial is an attractive 45 story, 538 foot tall office building. It is located between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue and 40th and 41st Street. Blending traditional art deco and gothic elements, the buildings most distinctive feature is its tower, which is visible from most of the midtown area. The tower features obelisks and striking blue terracotta medallions which were produced by the Guastavino Company. As reported by Newyorkitecture, while much the building's street level retail and lobby space have been modernized, much of the original building's facade remains intact, replete with terracotta, false balustrades and layered brickwork. Architectural critic Christopher Gray has described the building as "wonderfully peculiar" - a relic among the increasingly corporate architectural facades of Midtown.
"So slender that it calls to mind a box of spaghetti, this 45-story tower is topped by six chunky gilded obelisks...The rest of the shaft is of tan brick, unremarkable until the fifth floor, when all neo-Baroque hell breaks loose. Framed by colossal Ionic pilasters, this lower section is treated as a group of show windows. Compared with the plain-Jane character of the upper facade, the highly figured broken pediments over the third-floor windows are as voluptuous as Lana Turner...The old low-ceilinged lobby, now closed but visible from Madison Avenue, is a rich mixture of black marble and intricate bronze metalwork."
Top of 295 Madison Avenue
Image courtesy of Newyorkitecture
The building was completed in 1930 and was jointly designed by the Charles F. Moyer Company and Bark & Djorup. It took its name from architect Abraham Lefcourt, a prominent force in 1920s New York Real Estate. Although Lefcourt is a largely forgotten figure in modern architectural circles, during the Real Estate boom of the 1920s he was one of New York's most prolific developers. Lefcourt was born Abraham Elias Lefkowitz to Russian-Jewish parents in Birmingham, England on March 27, 1876. When he was around 6 years old his family immigrated again - this time to America, where they settled on the Lower East Side of New York. Lefcourt made his fortune in garment manufacturing, and used the capital generated within this industry to move into real estate in 1910.
Abraham E. Lefcourt, circa 1927
Image courtesy of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Over the following twenty years he invested heavily in real estate, in particular through buildings stretching between the Lower East Side and Broadway. By 1930 Arthur Tarshis of the New York Times reported that since 1910 Lefcourt had overseen the construction of 31 commercial buildings all across New York. Alongside the Lefcourt Colonial building at 295 Madison Avenue, perhaps the most significant structure he commissioned was the Lefcourt-State building on 37th Street designed by Ely Jacques Kahn. With 450,000 square feet of rentable space, the Lefcourt-State was a huge building designed to house jobbers in the dress trade, and was fully leased months before its completion.
Another prominent structure developed by Lefcourt's company was the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway, formally known as the Alan Lefcourt building in memory of Lefcourt's son who died in infancy. The Brill would go on to become famous for housing the offices of many important music publishers. By the early 1960s the building contained in excess of 160 music businesses, and the phrase 'the Brill Building Sound' had been adopted as shorthand for a broad stream of popular American music which dominated the charts during the post-World War II years. Lefcourt's tendency to name his buildings after himself, and to carve his name prominently on their facades, led to claims that he was "touched by a Napoleonic complex." It did not seem to bother the real estate mogul, who assembled all of his buildings into one imposing urban skyline described as "Lefcourt City" in a 1930 promotional book.
Leftcourt City Promotional Booklet, 1930
Image courtesy of the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection.
By the end of the 1920s Lefcourt had established himself as a major player within the New York real estate market. In 1930 the New York Times declared that "no other individual or building organization has constructed in its own behalf as many buildings as are in the Lefcourt Group", and the Jewish Forum lauded him as one of the most important "Jewish pioneers in the construction of New York City." Unfortunately, while Lefcourt's detractors had little impact, the Great Depression ravaged his holdings. Following foreclosure action by plaintiffs in 1931, the Lefcourt was sold at auction for $3,500,000, less than two years after its completion. One year later at the age of 55, Lefcourt himself died after suffering a massive heart attack at the Savoy Hotel. While media outlets had reported that Lefcourt boasted an estimated fortune of $100 million in 1928, at the time of his death the realtor was reported to have just $2500 in the bank.
It's unclear how much of this history was known to African American entrepreneur Earl Graves, Sr., as he embarked on a new magazine enterprise nearly forty years later. Born in Brooklyn in 1935 and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant during the 1940s and 1950s, Graves may well have passed the Lefcourt building on sojourns to Manhattan as a youth. He would go on to earn a bachelors degree in Economics from Morgan State University in 1958, where he began to establish a name for himself as a budding entrepreneur. Graves' big break arrived in 1968, when he secured a position on the advisory board of the Small Business Administration, where he developed an newsletter aimed at black business owners designed to promote the need for black consumer power and business development. This newsletter would be the blueprint for Black Enterprise, which launched its first full issue in August 1970.
Earl Graves, Sr.
Image courtesy of Black Enterprise
Unlike more general interest black periodicals such as Ebony magazine, Black Enterprise was a more niche publication aimed specifically at "the black man and woman who want to get ahead." Riding the wave of Richard Nixon's "Black Capitalism" initiatives, Graves was able to establish an impressive editorial team and a Board of Advisors which included Georgian Representative Julian Bond, Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, and New York Representative Shirley Chisholm. In its first issue, a statement from the magazine's advisory board situated economic development as the next step towards full equality.
"Black Enterprise will be tailored to the informational needs of the black man and woman wanting to make the best possible use of their talents and skills in the wide world of business...As a nation, as a people, we have begun in recent years to make modest beginnings toward making black people meaningful participants in our economic system. We fell that our people and our times require that we do more - much more - than settle for these modest beginnings."
First issue of Black Enterprise, August 1970
From very early on in the process, Graves had settled on New York as the home for his new publication, and set about trying to find a suitable headquarters. Madison Avenue quickly became the location of choice, due in part to its long connection with the advertising industry and its connection with major magazine companies such as Conde Nast. 295 Madison Avenue was just a few minutes walk from the opulent Conde Nast headquarters at 350 Madison Avenue. In the lead-up to the launch of its first issue, New York Times columnist Philip Dougherty reported on the buzz of activity around the Black Enterprise offices at 295 Madison Avenue. However, despite its location on Madison Avenue, the magazine initially struggled to attract substantial advertising interest from large corporations. Public support from prominent figures such as Richard Nixon helped Graves to cultivate increased corporate backing, and by the mid-1970s the magazine had established itself alongside Ebony and Essence as one of the most widely-read black magazines in the country.
Letter from Richard Nixon which was published in Black Enterprise in June 1973.
Note the Madison Avenue address listed at the bottom of the letter.
295 Madison Avenue would continue to house the Black Enterprise offices until the early 1980s. On January 2, 1981, a massive fire destroyed an entire floor the magazine's offices, claiming no victims but causing an estimated $1.5 million in damages. The severity of the damage was partially due to the company's offices being closed for the New Year, meaning that no-one was able to raise the alarm. On a positive note, this meant that there were no casualties. The fire was subsequently attributed to a 28 year old arsonist who had been working as a news messenger - a job which had provided him with access to multiple sites along Madison Avenue. Following the arson, Earl Graves decided against restoring the offices, choosing instead to temporarily rent other space at 295 Madison while searching for a more suitable permanent location to allow "greater flexibility for expansion and growth." In the winter of 1983/1984 Black Enterprise relocated one and a half miles South to 130 Fifth Avenue.
Over the previous decade 295 Madison Avenue has changed hands numerous times. In 2007 Westbrook and Monian paid $180 million for the tower, and in 2013 it changed hands again, with the Eretz Group acquiring the building for around $212 million
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