Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing
By James Gardner
Back in the late 1970s, artists and like-minded bohemians who colonized the area in Brooklyn that lay in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge thought they had hit on a bright idea: Apply the somewhat unlovely name of "Dumbo" to the area, and it would stand in such a bad odor that no one, least of all developers, would ever want to go there. According to this logic, the place would thus be safe for its down-at-the-heels inhabitants to continue living in large lofts without having to pay too much.
Of course, that strategy seems laughable today, now that Dumbo has become one of the city's most vibrant areas for development, as new buildings, like the recently completed 109 Gold Street, designed by the Manhattan-based firm Kutnicki Bernstein Architects, have just gone on the market.
The supreme irony -- as is so often the case with gentrification -- is that the artists, dancers and demimondaines, who were attracted to the area precisely because it afforded them an escape from the spiritual values and the property values of the middle class, spurred the gentrification that the area needed. And now -- as has previously been seen in the West Village, Soho, Chelsea and, more recently, the Meatpacking District -- those artists can no longer afford the high rents that they, by their very presence, brought into being.
Today, Dumbo (which, of course, stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) comprises two sections: the areas between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges and the swath between the Manhattan Bridge and Vinegar Hill. It is in the latter area that 109 Gold Street can be found.
Formerly known as Fulton Landing, the neighborhood was once devoted to the manufacturing of heavy machinery and (most famously) Brillo Pads. When the factory workers moved away in the 1970s, it became an artists' enclave and, in 1977, even became home to a top-tier restaurant: The River Café. But a sense of edginess and danger continued to haunt the area even into the early years of this past decade.
Now, however, most of that mystique has evaporated. In its place is yet another family-friendly part of the city.
Perhaps the high point of this transformation (or the kiss of death, depending on your perspective) was the decision of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, in 2007, to designate Dumbo a historic district.
The new development at 109 Gold Street is a case study because of what it reveals about development in the neighborhood, even more than because of any inherent charm or beauty in its design.
Though the initial rendering promised a crisply rationalist gray building with an original green accent along the façade, the finished result is a tried and tested example of professional product, with accents in something like mocha and passages of stainless steel. All of this recalls such Modernist pioneers as Swiss architect Le Corbusier -- with his pure white façades and modules formed from straight, clean, unadorned lines -- in a way that certainly is a far cry from the early-20th-century, brick-and-mortar aesthetic of most of the neighborhood's other buildings.
That geometric and rationalistic aesthetic seems to be the overriding sensibility that defines the 25-year-old practice of Kutnicki Bernstein Architects, to judge from other recent projects that have come out of their studio, such as the residential buildings at 201 West 17th Street and 517 West 46th Street, as well as NYU's Goldman Student Lounge, not to mention sundry additional projects in Brooklyn.
Seven stories tall and glazed at street level, 109 Gold's most conspicuous amenities are the balconies that line the façade from the second to the sixth floors, which have been ingeniously angled into the conceptual box of the building. Perhaps nothing about it recalls Le Corbusier more emphatically than that it is conceived almost like a horizontal slab, whereas many, if not most, Neomodernist projects in recent years have tended more to the aesthetic of towers.
As The Real Deal has reported, this 33-unit condominium, developed by Gold & York LLC and marketed by Halstead Property Development Marketing (hired after Prudential Douglas Elliman struggled to sell the apartments), contains studios along with one- and two-bedroom units, ranging in price from $325,000 to $1.075 million.
The interiors aspire to the same austere purity as that of the building's exterior. Photographs of the interiors show kitchens and living areas that are conceived in a pristinely rectilinear style, their component parts minimalist and unobtrusive. According to the listings website StreetEasy, finishes include Nordic white ash flooring and white lacquer cabinetry with CaesarStone countertops.
The development at 109 Gold Street, however, is only one of a slew of new buildings that have gone up or been converted in the area in the last few years. Others will be found at 100 Gold Street, at 133, 192 and 205 Water Street, as well as at 84 Front Street.
Of course, Dumbo is not unique in New York City as an example of an industrial zone that's been redeemed in the name of residential development.
The improbable aesthetic of industrial-age ruins seems irresistible in our post-industrial age. It has been witnessed, after all, nearly everywhere over the past generation, from France and Germany to Australia and Argentina. For instance, the Domino Sugar Factory, which once seemed a brutish eyesore, has now, through this change of taste, come to be seen as an imposing monument whose august massing charms us as much as any cathedral or fortified castle of Medieval Europe.
The much-hyped High Line (and the Meatpacking District through which it cuts) are only the most famous recent examples of this transformation. But in Dumbo, as opposed to the generally low-lying Meatpacking District, there are far taller, even hulking buildings. And yet, as big as they are, they seem small in their effect when set against the Manhattan Bridge.
That this area would have been redeemed, as it has been, for well-to-do families underscores not only the vagaries of taste, but also the desperate demand for real estate in the five boroughs.
And it points up one other thing that's not often appreciated: Even with landmarking of buildings, even with the designating of whole neighborhoods as historical districts, there still remains a large and well-nigh inexhaustible percentage of Manhattan (starting with the area north of about 125th Street all the way to the northern tip of the island), not to mention even more of the outer boroughs, that will one day become ripe for development, if it's not already there.
As for some of the longer-term residents of Dumbo, they've expressed regrets, it seems, about all the efforts they've put into improving their neighborhood.
As one of them, a carpenter, told the New York Times a few years ago, "If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have worked so hard to get rid of the crackheads and the crack whores."
Tuesday, November 01, 2011