36 Cooper Square has earned a sort of cult-level status within the history of Silicon Alley, thanks to the success of its tech-savvy tenants Curbed and Hard Candy Shell and especially Silcon Alley darling Foursquare, but tenant turnover may mean the end of the address's cachet. Early next year, the Foursquare folks are moving out of their loftspace above The Village Voice to SoHo, and their pals at Curbed and Hard Candy Shell are following, though to their own separate offices. There's never been much special about the physical space of the rickety Greenwich Village building, we're told. But that's all part of its charm. "It's a lot less mysterious and exciting than people think," Kevin Kearney, CEO of Hard Candy Shell, told The Atlantic Wire. "It's an elevator that breaks a lot and a bunch of companies sharing a space." He added, "It's pretty bootlegged."
It all started in 2008 when a couple of friends with startups -- Kearney and Curbed founder Lockhart Steele -- took over the fifth floor. Foursquare founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai moved in a few months later. Since then, all three companies have exploded, sometimes overlapping on specific projects but largely building different products. After Foursquare took over the sixth floor, all three companies decided they had finally outgrown the space at the end of this year. After The New York Observer suggested last year that "the tech impresarios of 36 Cooper Square are harbingers of things to come," we're told that the building is one of the most sought after addresses amongst Silicon Alley companies. "There's not like any real lore here," Kearney explained, maintaining that 36 Cooper Square was just another office building. "I think it just became sort of emblematic of how some companies weren't just friends with each other but also helping each other out."
It's a lot more than that to the New York City tech scene, however. Last year, when Foursquare, Curbed and Hard Candy Shell threw a joint holiday party, it seemed like someone from every well-known Silicon Alley startup made an appearance. Guest of a Guest swooned, "The holiday party hosted by the new media companies in an old media building (the Village Voice), secured their standing as the hottest workplace in Manhattan." More smugly, New York magazine dubbed the party "one big, boozy pat on the back." The buzz about the party had less to do with the underground venue or the nerd-star guest-list than it did with the message it sent to the rest of the blossoming New York City tech community. Dennis Crowley in a suit and tie running around to make sure the guests were having a good time is remembered as a metaphor for the everybody's-in-this-together mentality that binds Silicon Alley together. It's a message that resonated with the companies that moved to the city since then, who view 36 Cooper Square as a sort of landmark.
Nick Baily is one of them, and he insists that there is something special in the building's rafters. Baily, founder of the social enterprise firm Belgrave Trust who moved to 36 Cooper Square earlier this year, says he was drawn by the proximity to The Village Voice as well as the burgeoning number of like-minded startups that had filled out the floors above the newspaper office, when he was looking for a new space in the city earlier this year. "I think the voice being here really is one of the reasons I wanted to be here," Baily told us. "It's impossible not to see its name on the front and to know what the name means, to feel like that's not what the legacy is." However, it's the friendly office culture, spearheaded by the ever-gregarious Dennis Crowley and the trio of companies on the fifth and sixth floors that's really impressed Baily since he moved in. "People wander around and they kind of come in and say hi -- It's kind of like Seinfeld," he said, adding that some celebrities like Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Bloomberg have stopped by to visit the Foursquare offices. Ashton Kutcher is apparently a regular up there. "There are places in SoHo that have a lot of dot coms, but it's a different kind of vibe."
Historically, too, 36 Cooper Square has been more exciting than your average New York City tenement. In the late 1920s, Max and Gustav Stern emigrated from Germany to New York, where they started selling some of the 5,000 canaries they'd brought with them to the John Wanamaker Department Store in Astor Place and moved into the nearby 36 Cooper Square. (Coincidentally, the former Wanamaker's building, a few blocks away from 36 Cooper, is now home to AOL and The Huffington Post.) Over the next several decades, their business blossomed into the Hartz Mountain pet supplies empire, and after the Stern family bought Village Voice Media, the iconic newspaper moved from the Sheridan Square townhouse where it was founded into the Hartz's original Cooper Square space in 1991.
SoHo is the next stop for Foursquare and Hard Candy Shell. Adrianne Jeffers reported this week that Foursquare signed a lease at 568 Broadway. (Coincidentally again, The Huffington Post's original New York City offices were located next door at 560 Broadway until the AOL acquisition when they moved up their new parent company's headquarters in the old Wanamaker building.) Kearney tells us that Hard Candy Shell is moving into a new office with some room to grow a few blocks away, and Curbed is looking for a new space below Houston. Depending on a variety of factors, all three companies are set to vacate the 36 Cooper Square space in early 2012.
Some things they won't miss: The building is always under construction. The DJ academy on the second floor throws too many parties. The elevator never works. Still, Kearney struck a somber tone about the impending departure. "I think that now the people are leaving there's not gonna be anything left," he said. "I think we all would've stayed if we could've figured out how it worked. If The Village Voice had finally gone under, we could've taken over."