Since the American dollar is so devalued the world over, there’s a United States fire sale going on, and the world at large is buying up our most cherished American icons.   Belgium’s InBev — bottlers of Beck’s, Bass and Stella Artois — offered $46 billion to purchase major United States bottler Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser, Michelob, Rolling Rock, Busch, Bacardi) and its American eagle branded business


The most perilous threat to the facade of our natural, American, landscape isn’t just in the loss of local ownership of successful business brands, but also in the purchasing of our national monuments — in the guise of our iconic office buildings — by vested foreign interests. 

Who can forget William F. Buckley Jr.’s 1989 article with the xenophobic headline — “The Japs Capture Rockefeller Center” — detailing the purchase of the famous New York City series of landmark buildings for $846 million. 

Would the French sell the Eiffel Tower for any amount of money?  What’s the going rate for the Taj Mahal?  Does invasive, Americanized, Capitalism overrule any sense of community values and localized morality?

Five days ago, New York’s General Motors building — erected in 1968 — was sold for a record $2.8 billion to an investment company backed by money from Dubai, Kuwait and Qatar.

New York City’s Chrysler building — built in 1930 — is now 75% owned by an Arab investment conglomerate.  The price for that slice of our American pie was $800 million on June 11, 2008. 

New York City’s infamous Flatiron building — built in 1902 — fell into Italian hands a week ago when the Euro was valued at 1.56 dollars.  A year ago the Euro had a 1.33 exchange rate.  

Should we be taking an active, national, interest in keeping our American brands and landmark icons under local control and governance?  Or is foreign investment in — and ownership of — our national architecture and branding to be expected and accepted in a world economy?

11 Comments

  1. I imagine that the Eiffel Tower wouldn’t sell even if a trillion dollars were offered – that’s just how much they love it. I guess in America, it really is about “the bottom line.” How sad.

  2. It is sad, Gordon. These buildings really are our national Capitalist Monuments — and to sell them off to the highest bidder for foreign profit is just disgusting and I don’t care about private ownership of land values and sky rights. These buildings are part of our international identity. These landmarks are our icons — and they should remain in the full control of American interests even if the federal government needs to step in and buy them from the profiteers.

  3. I remember the sale of Rockefeller Center. Everybody was so shocked. It was like we couldn’t believe something that belong to us was sold out from under us like that.

  4. Anne —
    We already have national parks and monuments — why not extend that protection to commercial buildings instead of just landmark houses? Our best architecture is used every day for business. That doesn’t mean we want the nation to lose ownership, though.

  5. Hi David,
    even if the ownership of these buildings have shifted to businesses from all over the world, their cost includes the markup that their iconic status confers on them! so it’s not likely that any of the new owners are likely to be unaware of their cultural significance. now if any of them fail to maintain the building properly, or worse decide to demolish one of these and replace it with a cookie-cutter high-rise, that would be cause for concern!

  6. Excellent point, Dananjay —
    I understand the buildings won’t move — so the icon remains the same and unchanged — but the money going to the owners isn’t being directly reinvested and taxed down the line in the same community in which the icon resides. I realize that is the “on purpose” of it all — especially when foreign conglomerates place their money into American-based companies to give the illusion of local ownership when the real calls are being made in the Middle East.
    Dreamworks reported a separating from their current studio and they’re going independent again in their movie making with the help of a $1.2 billion investment from the richest man in India — so I suppose there’s now a ripe, international, market for American icons of flesh and in-the-blood instead of just limestone and steel.

  7. Those are excellent links, Katha.
    My feeling is foreign investment is the way of the world — but that it should in some way to be limited architecturally to creating your own vision. You should not be allowed to purchase established architectural icons — and if there’s a dispute as to what building is iconic or not, let the courts settle it. Somehow the entire Rockefeller Center experience — its meaning and its roots — were forever decayed by the Japanese purchase and never regained its former American iconization or luster.