“We’ll always have Paris”, Humphrey Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman in a classic scene from Casablanca that illustrates how a place can be instilled with such a very powerful emotional connection. I’ve been thinking about that now that Firstborn will be moving on September 19th from the only location we’ve ever known to our awesome brand new digs in Tribeca where our new parent company Dentsu is headquartered.
And so, we’ll be saying goodbye to the neighborhood that some people call Clinton, others Midtown West, but mostly it’s known by its dangerously evocative moniker - Hell’s Kitchen. Looking back at the past eleven years that I’ve been with the agency, it’s pretty clear that both Firstborn and Hell’s Kitchen have come a long way over the past decade.
In particular, we’ll bid farewell to our home in the Film Center Building on 9th Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, a very interesting art deco building designed by Ely Jacques Khan and constructed in 1929. You can see why the place was recognized by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission every time you walk through the lobby where you’re surrounded by gold-painted highlights on the entrance way, ceilings and elevator doors as well as the mosaics that adorn the walls. Even the mailbox is a work of art.
If you time travelled back to the Film Center in the year 2000 and took the elevator to the 6th floor, you’d see a small digital design firm of 10 people huddled around a small office space. There wasn’t much room to move around and some areas served dual purpose – the kitchen table which could seat about 5 people at a time also served as our conference room. Regardless of the cramped quarters, it was exciting for everyone to be in on the start of the digital era.
Not so exciting back then was the fact that Hell’s Kitchen was still somewhat of a sketchy part of town and hadn’t yet shaken off its rough and tumble heritage. You didn’t want to walk alone after hours and you got a lot of practice looking over your shoulder. This was well before the eventual big cleanup of the Times Square Area.
What a difference 11 years makes! Firstborn has grown into a 65 person agency that will now be housed in a luxurious custom-built 25,000 square foot complex. As far as our soon to be former neighborhood goes, let’s just say that they’ve finally taken the Hell out of Hell’s Kitchen. Today you can’t walk ten steps without facing another restaurant, eateries of all stripes and they’re everywhere and full of people. (Of course for those who still prefer the original Hell’s Kitchen experience there’s still Rudy’s Bar & Grill where a sampling of their hot dogs has been a Firstborn rite of passage/feat of bravery). Who would have thought at the beginning of the millennium that in 2011 there would even be retail stores on 9th Avenue?
There’s a lot I’ll miss about the old neighborhood. Nick the barber gives the best $10 haircuts in the city. Terrell, the Film Center’s security guard always wishes you happy Friday even when it’s only Monday. And of course all the restaurants and the fact that we’ve been a stone’s throw away from the theater district. Mind you Tribeca is no slouch; we’ll make it our own and are excited about all it has to offer. And we’ll always have Hell’s Kitchen.