The Jewel of Putnam Avenue

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Whenever I cross the town line from Stamford on US Route 1 (East Putnam Avenue), I'm always drawn by the two large monuments (columns) that mark the entrance to Greenwich.  Although worn by the weather, you can still see such names as Vogue, Town and Country and House and Garden carved into the pillars.  These are what remains of the once magnificent Conde Nast Publishing Company complex.  The company moved to Greenwich in 1911, and operated here until the 1960s.

Conde Montrose Nast was born on March 26, 1873 in New York City.  His father was absentee, and he moved to St. Louis with his mother, where he grew up.  A wealthy aunt helped pay to put him through Georgetown University.  Here he met Robert J. Collier, who's father ran Collier's magazine.  Collier and Nast edited the school newspaper.  When Nast finished a law degree at Washington University, he went to work for Collier's.  He managed to expand the magazin'es readership from 19,000 to over 568,000 in 10 years!  He also managed to increase advertising revenue from $5,600 per year to over $1 million.  Nast did this through innovation.  His strategy included using color pages, a 2-page spread and special issues. 

Nast was successful, and managed to increase his salary dramatically.  In 1909, he was able to buy Vogue.  Once again, his innovation brought him great success.  The publication was changed from a weekly to a bi-weekly magazine.  Nast added color covers, more advertising space, more artricles on clothing and news bits on society.  It became a high-end publication.  In 1911 he was able to buy House and Garden, Travel and Merchandising magazines.  He purchased and renovated an old printing facility, and introduced several more innovations in print technology.

Nast moved his operation from New York to Greenwich in 1921.  He bought the former Arbor Press building at 1800 East Putnam Avenue.  The operation was expanded systematically with the addition of a press and administration building in 1923, a pattern building in 1927, an electrotype building in 1931 and a web press room in 1937.  Nast hired well-known landscape architects Lowell and Ferruccio to unify the 33-acre plot, which straddled East Putnam Avenue.  It was necessary to blast bedrock to create a park-like environment.  A mile of underground pipes supplied water to a sprinkler system, and a magnificent fountain was placed in the middle of a circular drive. (This fountain can still be seen there today.)  Hardwood trees were placed strategically, including more than 60 mature Elms.  There were a pair of semi-circular driveways, and the moon-shaped lawn was divided down the middle by East Putnam Avenue.  The six-year project cost $350,000 - a considerable amount in those days.

The interior provided a pleasant working environment for the 1,000 people who worked there. The workspace was kept very clean. Large windows stretched from the floor to the ceiling and provided ample light.   Amenities included an in-house cafeteria and library.  Nast loved the complex and showed it off with public tours. He had phoptographs of the modern bindery and production rooms placed on brochure copies. Frequently, he would conduct tours for local celebrities.   The people were impressed with the statues and fountains.  Some Vogue magazine models even filmed on the property.  

Unfortunately, on October 29, 1929, his stock plummeted from $93 to $4.50 per share.  Nast owed the banks $2-million at this point in time, so the crash really hurt him. He tried to expand in the 1930s to salvage what he could, but technology was changing, and it became too expensive to maintain such high standards of printing.   Ironically, at one time he could have bought Life magazine, but passed it up.  As you probably know, this periodical became one of the world's most successful magazines! 

In 1941, Nast developed health problems - probably due to all the stress that had built up over the years.  After several heart problems, he died on September 19, 1942, in New York City.

The printing operations ceased for good in the 1960s. Computer technology changed publishing drastically.  All that remains of his publishing empire are the two columns, ghosts of the circular driveways and the tower which is now part of the Hyatt Regency complex.  It was the end of an era.

 

SOURCES

Carley, R.: Building Greenwich, HSTG, 2005.

"Conde Montrose Nast." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 19 Oct. 2012.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on October 18, 2012 10:19 AM.

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