The House That Goldman Built

cover3 The House That Goldman Built“It’s just a building when it comes right down to it,” 91-year-old George Doty, the former Goldman Sachs managing partner, said last month. His firm had just started moving out of 85 Broad Street, its headquarters for the past three decades, and into a shiny new West Street tower. “Buildings, to me, don’t have a particular feeling. They’re just there. Like a car.”

More like the Metropolitan Opera House of modern-day moneymaking, cloaked in humdrum shabbiness. The New Yorker once called 85 Broad “one of those bland, squint-windowed, stone-fronted thirty-story monstrosities,” which is almost exactly right, except for the monstrosity part. The brownish tower isn’t interesting enough to be ugly: You have to know what’s inside before anything gets interesting.

Goldman Sachs became the world’s most important firm in a spectacularly dull, purposefully frumpy, desperately anonymous tower. Inside, it smelled like cigarettes in the 1980s and homemade chocolate chip cookies on the 30th floor. Babies cried in the first-floor day-care center; Jon Corzine worked outside in a Town Car parked on the curb after his ousting; and Hank Paulson felt sad when birds flew into the windows

But in a few months, Goldman, the historic Financial District’s last remaining great American investment bank, will be out. Wall Street will have finally left Wall Street. “It’s all Times Square when you think about it,” Tom Wolfe complained recently. “It’s Morgan Stanley across from the Pink Pussy strip club, or whatever it’s called.”

>>READ ELIOT BROWN ON HOW GOLDMAN’S NEW BUILDING IS AS DULL AS THE LAST

 

IN THE LATE ’70s, Goldman Sachs almost ended up near the Museum of Modern Art. “I’d walk around there at noontime,” said Mr. Doty, the partner in charge of drawing up Goldman’s moving plans at the time. He liked the dining rooms at the Racquet and Tennis Club on Park Avenue, but worried about the rest of the neighborhood. “Downtown was a much more civilized place at noontime.”

Instead, he made a deal with an Ohio thoroughbred racer and real estate developer to build a two-block tower on the Broad Street site. “The only obstacle we ran into was the fact that the area had been important in the pre-Revolutionary times.” Indeed, the archeologist Nan Rothschild led an excavation of land that housed Stadt Huys, New York’s first city hall—and its replacement, a tavern built in 1670 by the English governor Francis Lovelace. She found four tons of coins, bones, watermelon seeds, pottery and other artifacts. It was one of the most expensive urban archeological digs ever in America, and Goldman was imposing itself right on top of it.

Nothing much has changed since. In the 1980s, Wall Street was just becoming its glorious overindulgent self, and 85 Broad was a big, brown sign of the new era. Governor Hugh Carey applauded at the ground-breaking ceremony. Mayor Ed Koch exclaimed his happiness. A year later, three more towers were announced.

Meanwhile, design advisers interviewed 250 Goldman employees about their wants and needs—then the company decided to simply reuse the furniture from its old offices at 55 Broad. Mr. Doty put a Long Island investment banker named Hyman Weinberg in charge of the interior décor. “He was someone whose judgment I respected—nice, comfortable, but not too flashy,” he said. Eighty-five Broad is a Hyman Weinberg kind of place.

 “We weren’t in the business of patting ourselves on the back because we had a new building,” H. Frederick Krimendahl II, also a former managing partner, said this month. “People would have looked at it like, ‘O.K., I have a new, modern building. It’s better. Now get to work,’” he said.

 

THE BUILDING TEEMS with inconspicuous plainness: Treasurer Elizabeth Beshel will point out to Fortune a “giant ink stain” on her old cubicle, and an interview in the Sunday Times five years later will mention an ink stain on her carpet. The shabbiness is by design.

Even the toilets were placed just so. “When we set up an enormous trading room, we deliberately built it on one floor and had only one men’s room,” Mr. Doty told the writer Charles D. Ellis. Besides the excellent egalitarianism, he explained, having just one bathroom made it easier to hear rumors, “to be persistently diligent on small troubles.”