March 16, 2007

Berry & North 7th

Williamsburg and Greenpoint have a rich and colorful history of faux siding, which unfortunately continues to this day.

Case in point - this building at the corner of Berry & North 7th Streets. A fine Italianate flat house that had an intact pressed brick facade is now covered over in styrofoam and stucco. The detail is still there, but smudged over and barely legible.

Regrettably, this cheesy "California stucco" applique has become the faux siding of choice for the 21st century. Like its predecessors - asphalt, aluminum and vinyl - this system is a band aid when it comes to "weatherproofing". But unlike those other systems, "California stucco" is very difficult to undo. In this case, for instance, the styrofoam is glued directly to 130-year-old brick.

Yet another reason why North Brooklyn needs the Landmarks Preservation Commission to take some action.






PS - If anyone has a picture of this building before the owner began work, please email it to us.

March 28, 2008

152 Broadway

152 Broadway

We noticed this particularly insensitive rehabilitation on Broadway a few weeks ago. Even went so far as to take pix with the camera phone. We meant to go back and get real pictures to post here, but beat us to it.

What initially caught our eye was the demolition of the front facade in order to install "Juliette" balconies. From the looks of it, these balconies aren't even large enough to stow a bicycle, rendering them completely useless. What we hadn't noticed (again, thanks newyorkshitty), was the DOB permit and the rooftop addition. It seems that (in yet another Fekete special) they are turning this four story building into a six story building. And if the balconies are any indication of the sensitivity to design and historic fabric, this is not going to be a little Hearst Tower on Broadway.

152 Broadway

This is a shame because this building, which probably dates to the 1870s or so, has a twin next door that was just rehabbed. That rehab won't win any preservation awards, but the developer at 154 did a nice job and didn't destroy any historic fabric in the process. In fact, 154 Broadway was the latest of such rehabs up and down the strip of lower Broadway. We would add to that the conversion of the "new" Smith-Gray Building at the corner of Bedford (the "old" Smith-Gray, a landmark, is down the street), the rehab of the former Bedford Avenue Theatre on South 6th Street, and a number of small storefront and building rehabs west of Wythe. Even the Gretsch conversion managed to retain some of the historic character of its industrial past.

Much of Broadway, from Kent Avenue to almost Roebling Street, has the potential to be part of a local historic district. There are already three individual landmarks in that stretch, and at least as many more buildings that could be individual landmarks. Unfortunately, for every Bedford Theatre there is a 152 Broadway - a rehab that not only diminishes the character of the street, but one which diminishes the historic character of the street. Hopefully, the Landmarks Commission will pay attention before its too late.

July 3, 2008

66 North 1st Street

66 North 1st Street, the finished product.

We've been watching the rehabilitation of 66 North 1st Street for a couple years now, with a mix of hope and trepidation. The building (between Kent and Wythe) started life as a three-story industrial building (most recently occupied by Newco Ironworks). The three-story addition clearly has its tumorous qualities, but its also not just a box plopped on top of an old building. Yes, it overwhelms the base (hence the trepidation), but the setback and skewing of the footprint lessens the impact (hence the hope). The restoration of the base building was done very well, so if the rest of the project proceeded with something approaching sensitivity, there was cause for hope. Its not going to be "Landmarks" quality, but it might be something.

66 North 1st Street, April 2005.

But God is in the details, and either the architect (Bob Scarano's workshop) or the developer was clearly not paying attention to the details. The first signs of true ham-fistedness were noted by Gowanus Lounge last November. As Guskind noted then, the side wall detail completely obliterates the distinction between new and old. Instead of a dialog between the two, as at the front of the building, the addition just swallows up the base. Not a promising development.

Attention to detail matters.

Now that the building is more or less complete, we thinks its time to declare the whole thing a failure. To be generous, maybe whoever designed the addition had nothing to do with the ground floor. But whoever designed the ground floor deserves to lose their license to design. The old base was nothing special, just a couple of drive in entries with roll down gates. The new base, though is a poorly executed applique of cheap aluminum panels, that completely ruins any chance this project had of coming off well design-wise. On top of that, the workmanship is completely atrocious, with misaligned panels and fat caulk joints. If this is any indication of the quality of workmanship on the project, it doesn't bode well for anyone buying one of the 21 units in the building.

An interesting idea, killed by lack of design follow through and pathetic workmanship. Sometimes its better just to demolish a building.

September 30, 2008


92 North 4th Street, before.
Photo: Gregg Snodgrass, PropertyShark.

Steelworks, after (via Curbed).
Architect: Gene Kaufman.

Granted, the loft building on North 4th between Berry and Wythe (now branded Steelworks Lofts) isn't going to win any beauty pageants. But we're a little unclear as to how recladding the top floor helps things in any way.

Of course architect Gene Kaufman's current design is a far sight better than his original proposal.

January 21, 2009

Brooklyn Buildings That No Longer Exist

Justin Farrow has a slide show of lost buildings, most of which will be familiar to WPA readers. Many nice shots of Greenpoint Terminal Market (American Manufacturing) and of Hope Street.

February 9, 2009

Building Brooklyn

Every year, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce sponsors a Building Brooklyn Award for the best architecture of the borough. And every year, Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsnburg come up short. Since the nominations are due on Thursday, we'd thought we'd throw out a few of the projects that we think are award worthy (and a few that are clearly not worthy).

First, their rules. To be eligible, a project must be completed and have received a CO or TCO in calendar 2008. Now our rules. We're looking at projects in North Brooklyn only. The BB categories are a little bit wacky (do we really need two categories for residential buildings under 5 families - that's so 20th-century Brooklyn?). So we've added a few of our own.

1. Adaptive Use and Historic Preservation

Photo: Brownstoner

The Mill Building (85 - 101 North 3rd Street)
Fifield Piaker Elman Architects

A luxury loft in Williamsburg that is actually a loft. Not everything here is to the highest preservation standards, but the conversion of this former factory at North 3rd and Wythe has celebrated the historic architecture and the history of the neighborhood. And it looks great.

The building itself was constructed for the Hinds & Ketcham lithography company in two parts. The mid-block portion was completed before 1898, the corner piece (directly across from Relish) after 1898.

Photo: Brownstoner

Not nominated:
118 Greenpoint Avenue
Scarano Architect

This one was designed to the highest preservation standards - those of the NYC Landmarks Commission - but the results are underwhelming to say the least. None of it rises to the level of the unregulated Mill Building. This project would have passed unnoticed, though, were it not for the cornice, which looks like someone installed a crown molding on the face of a factory.


Special liars award:
Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Plant
500 Kent Avenue
Con Edison, owner

The building is pretty much gone by now, but less than a year ago it was an intact structure. At that time, local blogger INSIJS did an in-depth article on the fate of the building. Everyone, including workers on site, said the building was coming down. When asked it that was true, a Con Ed spokesperson said that they were only doing some "spring cleaning". Spring cleaning that clearly required removing every brick and sending it very far away to be cleaned.

Landmarks looked at this property in 2007, but refused to hold a hearing to designate. This despite the fact that that the community had identified the building as a significant resource over a decade ago. The State Historic Preservation Office did determine that the building is (or was) eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

As for the future, Con Ed has no plans for the site. Or at least that's what they say.

Have buildings that you think should be included (or excluded) in the BB awards? Email us at wpa [at]

April 21, 2009

Queens Crap on South 4th

99 South 4th Street
Lee Engineering, architects

This eyesore comes to the Southside courtesy of Lee Engineering of Corona, Queens. We would say that it is easily the ugliest, most out of place new building in Williamsburg, but truth be told, its hard to be that absolute around here. Perhaps we need a Warren Commission to get to the bottom of that issue.

107 South 4th Street
Standard Architects, architect

What makes 99 South 4th Street all the more awful is the comparison to another new building (actually an Alt-1) three doors away. This one (107 South 4th Street) was designed by John Conaty of Standard Architects, a local (Northside) firm that understands that in the right hands, contextualism can mean contrasting forms and non-traditional materials. It is not matching materials and cornice heights (and before anyone asks, the Lee atrocity would not look better with a cornice). Even the garage on the Standard building manages to become a part of the streetscape.

Like much of the Southside, this block contains a number of nice buildings that date back to the Williamsburg's (and Williamsburgh's) early days. Shown below, the four buildings to the left of 99 South 4th and the buildings to either side of 107 South 4th were all constructed prior to the Civil War. At one point in time, this block was home to some of Williamsburg's more prosperous businessmen and middle-class professionals. The buildings are generally simple in decoration and detailing, typical of the period - another concept that the folks at Standard seem to grasp. And one that is lost on engineers from Queens.

South 4th, looking east from Berry Street

May 3, 2009

Stucco Horror on North 9th

110 - 114 North 9th Street
ca. 1860s

On the north side of North 9th Street between Wythe and Berry there is a lovely row of tiny houses, about 9 in all (originally there were 10). Raised on low basements, the two-story buildings are simple and small. They are constructed of brick with brick or stone segmental-arch lintels and brick cornices.

By Northside standards, the buildings are quite old - they appear on land maps as early as 1869 and probably date to before the Civil War. They've survived for at least 140 years pretty much intact. Some have been painted, some have been made fancier through the addition of porticos and porches. But for the most part, they have remained as simple brick buildings.

96 North 9th Street (during)

Until now. The westernmost building in the row (96 North 9th Street) is in the process of being "upgraded" with a new stucco finish. This is a treatment that has become ubiquitous in Greenpoint and Williamsburg in the past few years. It involves gluing styrofoam to the face of a building and then applying a very thin coat of cement stucco. By sculpting the styrofoam, wonderful (as in wonderfully tasteless) shapes can be achieved. The stucco can be tinted any color of the rainbow, and it usually is. In a neighborhood that has embraced every form of artificial siding ever invented, maybe its appropriate. But from the building's point of view, there is absolutely no reason for it. The stucco will not make the building last longer - certainly no longer than a decent pointing job would. It certainly doesn't make the building look better. It just makes the building look like something it shouldn't be.

July 3, 2009

City Council Approves Demolition of PS 133

Elsewhere in Brooklyn, the City Council approved the demolition of PS 133, a CBJ Snyder-designed school in Park Slope. The School Construction Authority plans a new shinier and larger school for the site. HDC is not happy with David Yassky on this one:

To say that we are disappointed in the leadership of CM David Yassky, who represents this school would be both an understatement and untrue. While Mr. Yassky represents the largest number of designated landmark properties in Brooklyn, over the years he has proven to be tone-deaf to preservation issues. Although he has supported commuity-driven preservation efforts in Dumbo (both the designation of the historic district and opposing the Dock Street proposal), he has been absent from many preservation conversations in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope and other parts of his district and either unhelpful or hostile to efforts in Williamsburg (such as 184 Kent Avenue, the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning & the Hecla Iron Works). He has been of no help on the Admiral’s Row Houses (which he represents, not CM Letitia James) and as memory serves, he was absent on the debate about the Purchase Building.

July 27, 2009

Demolition Permit Issued for Last Revere Building

The Revere Sugar factory, including its iconic dome, was mostly demolished in 2007.
Photo: lifeadored on flickr

Down in Red Hook, the last relic of the Revere Sugar factory appears to have a death sentence hovering over it. It's not clear why the building - which dates to the early 1880s - was left standing when the rest of the site was demolished, but there it is. For now.

The 1880s warehouse, today.
Photo: Amy Langfield

August 24, 2009

Dreamland Closes

Thor Equities, the outfit responsible for the demolition of the Revere Sugar factory in Red Hook (and the ongoing demolition of a Civil War-era warehouse on the same site) has padlocked the Dreamland Amusement Park in Coney Island. (Dreamland only exists because Thor shut down Astroland last year.)

The Wonder Wheel and Cyclone are still running (Thor doesn't control that land). But with two weeks of (official) Summer left, Coney Island is "closed now".

Thor Equities, blighting Brooklyn's waterfront.

August 25, 2009

118 Greenpoint Avenue - Cornice Do Over

118 Greenpoint Avenue, April 2008
Photo: Brownstoner

A while ago, we unnominated 118 Greenpoint Avenue for an Building Brooklyn Award on the basis of its horrific - and horrifically out of place - cornice. Turns out, the Landmarks Commission felt the same way. We have it on good authority that the cornice that was installed bore no resemblance to the cornice that was approved. Violations were issued, and a year or two down the line, the owner was forced to fix the problem. As seen in the photo below, the work has been ongoing for a while.

A good lesson for would be developers - it's cheaper to do it once.

118 Greenpoint Avenue, June 2009
Photo: WPA

May 16, 2010

The Struggle to Preserve the Brooklyn Navy Yard

In the Times today, a look at Admirals Row and the sorry state of the buildings there. Having found a developer and negotiated a compromise to save two buildings, the latest wrinkle is that one of those two buildings, the Timber Shed, is so far gone that it "might be beyond repair". Demolition by neglect, National Guard style?

Eberhard Faber