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Gotham Geek Guidebook: AOL's new downtown digs

A look at the historic building where the once-mighty media company is attempting to slither into the neighborhood.

A look at the entrance to 770 Broadway from the north side of East 9th Street.
Caroline McCarthy/CNET Networks

It'll be interesting to see how AOL chooses to classify its new corporate headquarters on 770 Broadway in downtown Manhattan. The historic building, formerly home to the Wanamaker's department store, spans an entire city block and now holds offices of one variety or another for companies as varied as J. Crew, Viacom and Billboard. And there's famously a K-Mart (one of Manhattan's few-and-far-between big-box discount retailers) on the ground floor. It's touted by owner Vornado Realty Trust as being "in the heart of the Village." Well, kind of.

Because so many of New York's neighborhoods have become iconic cities-within-a-city and hold rather weighty connotations about the people who live and work there, it's always interesting to see how a major company brands its office location. Google, for example, likes to talk about its Manhattan outpost as being in the design-savvy district of Chelsea. Locals, however, occasionally (OK, more than occasionally) snicker about how it's just a stone's throw away from the overpriced, Page Six-worthy Meatpacking District, which is better known for clubs with names like Cielo, PM, and Aer than for geeky Googlers with pythons on the loose.

770 Broadway is in a notably ambiguous location, to the point where AOL could really stake a claim to one of a handful of Manhattan locations depending on how it wants its new "advertising, not access" incarnation to be branded. Or it could go for the whole "at the crossroads" mystique. Five blocks north is the constantly crowded Union Square; a few blocks west is Washington Square Park; to the south is the retail-packed, not-really-a-neighborhood zone known as NoHo (North of Houston Street) East of 770 Broadway is Cooper Square, which really isn't much of a square anymore because of extensive development; it's an academic-friendly enclave due to the presence of Cooper Union and a number of New York University buildings, as well as multiple Starbucks locations.

But if you look further to the east, you can see the colorful strip that is St. Mark's Place, the western end of the East Village and home to a tome's worth of punk rock history as well as plenty of places to get an eyebrow piercing or a glass of cheap sake. It'd be a slight geographical inaccuracy for AOL to say it's found a new home in the East Village, and it'd make many of the liberal-minded residents cringe; but considering massive dot-coms' often unsuccessful affinity for branding themselves as the hip kids in town, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

A tip to AOL-ers moving to New York: If you take the 6 train to get to the office, when you leave the subway stop, look for the bright orange van that sells coffee. That's the Mud Truck. They make a tasty brew.