In recent years, the Forbes family sold its palace in Tangiers, its island near Fiji, its copy of the Gettysburg Address and many of its Fabergé eggs. Its notable Fifth Avenue building may be next.
In June, New York Times’ media columnist David Carr lamented that “if there ever was a bad time to be named Forbes—and there probably is not—now might qualify.” The family that built its fortune on the magazine most synonymous with laissez-faire capitalism may be experiencing its failure firsthand. Not only is publishing possibly at a nadir, Forbes magazine’s lifestyles-of-the-utterly-rich editorial angle no longer has much mass appeal. The family yacht, The Highlander, in honor of the Forbeses’ Scottish roots, has been docked in Miami indefinitely.
After first hitting the market in 2007, the Forbes building, at 60 Fifth Avenue, is rumored to be on the block again, this time at a fraction of the price. The original listing was at $140 million; then there was a deal that went sour rumored to be for $120 million. The New York Post now projects a sale for $55 million, which Forbes’ spokeswoman Monie Begley adamantly denies.
MARK EDMISTON OF AdMedia Partners, quoted in The Times article, says that Forbes, deductively valued at $750 million, is “not worth half of that now.” In 2007, the Forbes family sold 40 percent of the company to private-equity firm Elevation Partners (in which Bono is an investor), forming Forbes Media.
B.C. Forbes, the magazine’s founder, started out as a financial columnist for a Hearst paper. He started the magazine, Forbes: Devoted to Doers and Doings, in 1917. The company managed to scrape through the Great Depression, with Forbes paying all employees on his columnist’s salary; and, in 1962, the company bought 60 Fifth Avenue from Macmillan Publishers. The neighborhood was a gamble at the time, as it was still largely residential and publishing companies were increasingly moving to midtown.
Forbes had earned his wealth the American way, so his magazine promoted his lifestyle, both editorially and financially (the Forbes fortune comes from publishing). The building was just a minor jewel in a fantastic portfolio of investments that came to include art, planes, boats, rarities and, of course, the island, where Malcolm Forbes’ ashes were buried. The magazine and the family’s Boeing 727 were both known as “The Capitalist Tool.”
Forbes made the building its headquarters in 1965, when Macmillan moved to its new spot on 54th and Third Avenue. Fully completed by 1926, the site had been a private residence before Macmillan bought it in 1915. The book publisher moved into 60 Fifth from the building next door, which now houses the New School, and leased that address, according to a Times article from that time.
The building, which has been called “squat,” is a sturdy eight floors of granite whose identity is now inextricable from that of the magazine, and of the Forbes family. All floors are occupied by Forbes Media. Malcolm Forbes, who pushed the company to the height of its success, used to hold forth in the building’s subterranean wine cellar, appraising the business pitches of various chief executives.