The year legendary attorney Peter James Johnson first opened his law office at 120 Wall Street, Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy, with Marilyn Monroe in the centerfold; the government executed Ethel and Julius Rosenberg for espionage; and Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was released.
It was 1953.
This July 2009, litigation firm Leahy & Johnson P.C. renewed its 9,520-square-foot lease at the 40-story tower, owned by Silverstein Properties, for another 10 years. Which means that, come the lease’s expiration in 2019, the firm will have been at the same location for 66 years.
“That is really rare,” said Newmark Knight Frank’s executive vice president, Mark Weiss, who was not involved in the deal. “With the changes to office space, it’s just really rare for people to stay in the space that long. Invariably the space needs to be re-engineered and rebuilt. And it’s hard to live through that over and over again.”
So how hard was it for the firm to adjust to all those changes in technology?
“Like what, the horse and buggy? The carrier pigeon?” said Peter James Johnson Jr., now a managing member of the firm, who has been coming to the office with his father since he was 8 years old. “No, Jesus, no, no. The truth is, we’ve always had an excellent relationship with the Silversteins. First Larry, now Roger. They’re very responsive to tenants. We like them personally. We think they were desirous of continuing the relationship. And I think they realized we were a signature tenant for them in the building.”
Fair enough, but still, from a purely practical perspective, just imagine having to re-engineer one’s office space for the arrival of the Xerox machine, which didn’t became commercially available until the 1950s. And then the fax machine, which didn’t become popular until the 1980s, around the same time as the personal computer. And then the Internet, first dial-up, and later high-speed!
Anyway, it was clearly worth the effort, from the Johnson family’s perspective. And it is an effort. Right now, Silverstein is renovating the firm’s longtime home on the 22nd floor, in Mr. Johnson’s words, “to restore it to the traditional look that we’ve had for a long, long time. A lot of wood, a lot of deep wine carpeting.”
There’s also an oil painting that depicts the headquarters of Peter James Johnson Sr. when he ran against Carmine De Sapio, the last boss of Tammany Hall, for district leadership of Greenwich Village.
During the renovation, the firm’s approximately 55 workers have decamped to the 15th floor. Studley’s Marc R. Shapses and Jason Schwartzenberg represented the law firm in the negotiations with Silverstein’s Roger Silverstein.
So why the profound attachment to 120 Wall?
“I think it’s a matter of tradition, a matter of success, a matter of luck and a matter of convenience,” Mr. Johnson said.