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ViacomCBS sells CBS’ iconic New York skyscraper, Black Rock

CBS' Black Rock skyscraper in New York.
ViacomCBS has sold Black Rock, the famous headquarters of CBS since 1965, for $760 million.
(James Leynse / Corbis via Getty Images)

ViacomCBS has reached a deal to sell CBS’ iconic New York skyscraper, known as Black Rock, for $760 million.

Designed by Eero Saarinen, the striking black-windowed tower at West 52nd Street and Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan is one of the best-known examples of urban mid-20th century architecture. The granite structure, commissioned by CBS’ then President Frank Stanton, has served as CBS’ corporate headquarters since 1965. CBS’ founder, Bill Paley, once occupied an office on the top floor.

Harbor Group International, a privately owned real estate investment and management firm, agreed to purchase the building at 51 West 52nd St., ViacomCBS said Monday afternoon in a regulatory filing.

The media company expects the deal will close by year’s end.

ViacomCBS said it would lease back the floors that it occupies on a short-term basis.

The Shari Redstone-controlled media giant announced in late 2019 that it would part with the historic CBS office building, but the COVID-19 pandemic complicated its sales process, according to knowledgeable people who were not authorized to comment.

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The decision came almost immediately after Viacom merged with CBS. The company’s brass expressed a preference for Viacom’s leased Times Square headquarters, which boasts sweeping views of the Hudson River.

ViacomCBS initially hoped the sale of Black Rock would fetch about $1 billion.

The company said Monday that it would use the proceeds to allow “further financial flexibility to invest in its strategic growth priorities, including its streaming initiatives.”

The move comes three years after CBS sold its longtime 25-acre Los Angeles studio complex known as Television City to real estate developer Hackman Capital Partners for $750 million. Proceeds from that sale went toward content creation as CBS sought to segue into the streaming space and compete with Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu.

ViacomCBS also is looking to generate revenue by selling another trophy — book publishing house Simon & Schuster. Late last year, ViacomCBS announced an agreement with Bertelsmann, the parent company of Penguin Random House (PRH), the largest book publisher in the U.S., to buy Simon & Schuster, the nation’s third-largest book publisher, for $2.18 billion.

The 38-story Black Rock was the only skyscraper designed by Saarinen, who died in 1961, the year construction commenced. Colleagues finished the work. Saarinen’s friend, Florence Knoll, designed the interior elements.

ViacomCBS isn’t the only traditional media company cutting its real estate ties. Two years ago, AT&T sold newly built space in New York’s Hudson Yards, generating $2.2 billion. The Dallas telecommunications giant has been under severe pressure to pay down debt it incurred from its 2018 acquisition of HBO, CNN, Turner channels and the Warner Bros. film and TV studio. This spring, AT&T announced plans to unload all of WarnerMedia to Discovery.

Times staff writer Stephen Battaglio contributed to this report.


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