NEW YORK – Welcome to New York’s latest tourist attraction: Lehman Brothers’ headquarters.
It may be ghoulish, but as Lehman edges closer to a sale or outright failure, its currency as a tourist draw is rising.
While regulators and bankers flocked to the New York Federal Reserve in lower Manhattan on Sunday to decide Lehman’s fate, shutterbugs descended on the bank’s midtown Manhattan headquarters to catch a piece of history before it disappears.
“I don’t know if it’s still going to be Lehman in a couple months,” said Dulles Wang, a fuels analyst at power company NRG Energy who lives near Madison Square Garden.
“It took a hundred years to build up a firm like this and it’s sad if it goes away.”
“I wish I’d taken a photo of Bear Stearns too,” he added.
Lehman’s headquarters on Seventh Avenue between 49th and 50th streets, just north of Times Square, may have some of the big video screens so associated with the “Crossroads of the World”, but it isn’t the kind of architectural wonder that usually attracts the T-shirt and camera crowd.
It features a recessed entrance with glass doors leading to the lobby. The company’s name is affixed in gray, metal letters to glossy black walls flanking the doors.
The nameplates, usually ignored in favor of the massive screens touting swirling, colorful videos, became an object of curiosity on a humid, sunny Sunday morning as people gawked at the home of the latest financial giant to face ruin.
Several people posed and smiled next to the nameplates before a security guard shooed them away. Nearly a dozen people took photos over the course of several hours Sunday morning.
Downtown at the Federal Reserve building, the third day of talks began with the 7:30 a.m. delivery of three bags from Dunkin’ Donuts.
Black limos delivered bank executives — first Citigroup’s Vikram Pandit, then JPMorgan’s Steven Black, followed by others — behind security guards, which at 10 a.m. were still outnumbered by reporters and cameramen outside the gray-stone building.
Security even was tighter than on Saturday, and included the use of nine dark-blue Federal Law Enforcement vans, which squeezed media away from the building.
COFFEE, COFFEE AND MORE COFFEE
At one point, a pedestrian approached the media gaggle, who had cameras fixed on a few police officers across the street, and asked if they were filming a movie.
Others posed for photographs in front of the throng, while some chauffeurs who had driven the architects of Lehman’s fate to the fortress-like Fed building napped in their limos.
The executives coming and going were tightlipped, but support staff tended to be more talkative.
A caterer smoking outside the Fed said she had worked 15 hours on Saturday and expected the same on Sunday.
Power brokers around the massive board room table dined on fish, lasagna, potatoes, broccoli and cookies on Saturday evening, she said. On Sunday, they had turkey sausage, bacon, eggs, pastries, muffins, fruit salad and Starbucks coffee.
“‘Coffee, coffee, coffee,’ they say, ‘the strong stuff.'”
Outside Lehman’s offices, employees mostly refused to talk about the negotiations or what life is like inside the building.
“For some people it’s business as usual, but other people are worried about liquidation and that they won’t have jobs,” a man who said he worked in Lehman’s investment bank unit said as he left the building.
“Some people are upstairs and working on their projects,” he said. “Others are worried that they’ll be out of work and are packing up,” said the man, who declined to be identified.
Men dressed in suits came and went, while some employees entered the building with what appeared to be empty duffel bags — some sporting the Lehman brand — then left with them full.
Others — some dressed in Lehman T-shirts, emerged with accordion files, binders stuffed with papers and full valises.
A Lehman employee who spoke from home, but declined to be identified, said: “We’ve had no communication from the top. If I’ve got to find another job, I’d like some warning.”