Monday, September 17, 2018

St. Denis Coming Down

Earlier this year I wrote in detail about the death of the great St. Denis building on 11th and Broadway, a building that should have been landmarked but wasn't, a building full of vital history -- from Alexander Graham Bell to Ulysses S. Grant, Susan B. Anthony, and a whole lot of Socialists, radicals, artists, and psychotherapists.

The building was bought by Normandy Partners in 2016 and all of the tenants were removed--hundreds of small businesspeople, myself included, put out. Today, the empty building is being prepped for demolition.

Crain's reported last week that Columbia Property Trust is "paying more than $70 purchase a roughly 50% stake" in the property with co-owner Normandy Real Estate Partners.

The plan is to tear down the St. Denis and replace it with a glass box, "182,000 square feet of boutique office space for New York’s most progressive and creative companies," according to the press release -- which calls this neighborhood below Union Square: "Midtown South."

Of course, the St. Denis was already filled with hundreds of truly progressive and creative businesses, but we weren't the right sort of commodities.

Last week, the awning over the entrance was stripped away, along with a pair of antique lamps.

The asbestos abatement notices have been posted and the asbestos dumpster has arrived, a typical precursor to the wrecking machines.

Back to that press release:

"The new 12-story, loft-style building will comprise 182,000 square feet of boutique office space and will provide a dramatic complement to this quintessential New York neighborhood. With floor plates ranging from 3,600 to 22,000 square feet, 799 Broadway will feature floor-to-ceiling glass, private terraces, and 15 foot high ceilings. This combination of highly desirable location and state-of-the-art design will appeal to New York’s most progressive and creative companies.

'We are seeking selective development opportunities in our target markets to provide value and growth to our high-quality, well-leased portfolio,' said Nelson Mills, chief executive officer of Columbia."

architect's rendering

When the St. Denis is felled, 165 years of real and rebellious history will be destroyed for this cold and soulless sarcophagus.

The Village will be much poorer for it.

architect's rendering

Post Script:

The above rendering shows the dead lobby to come. Here's what one frequent visitor to the St. Denis had to say about its lobby, which was often full of antiques from the first-floor business:

“I loved that every time I visited there were new objects in the lobby. They often seemed to reflect whatever mood I was in. Or they’d reflect the weather. I’d come in on a stormy day and the lobby would be full of dark paintings or bleak statues. On sunny days, there would be golden chaise lounges and chandeliers. There was this one chandelier, massive and dripping in crystals. It was there on a day when I felt really good and it was like the sun was on the inside of the building. This dazzling object.”

Read more about the St. Denis here.


RMAN said...

"...will provide a dramatic complement to this quintessential New York neighborhood."

I would describe this new design as a "dramatic and brisk slap on the face of this quintessential New York neighborhood."

Kyle Campion said...


mmuller1 said...

Doesn't anybody in NYC GET the power of preservation in urban areas?
NYC needs to take a lesson from Charleston, SC when it comes to "historic beauty". Its one thing to have the Empire, The Freedom Tower, the Chrystler, etc.. when NYC built UP. But it also had its brownstones and other buildings that brought about charm to neighborhoods that didn't have the skyscraper office buildings. Its become so stale.

Unknown said...

It feels like an amputation. I was a lease holder for 18 years at the St. Denis....the city was ( and still is -sort of) made up of people who valued heritage and neighbors and neighborhoods vs people who are just interested in commoditizing their own personal stake- both landlords and every time someone sign on to to a monthly agreement at We Work gets this city more tilted to the 1%. I was able to land in a new space- but trust me- i am good and worried about my lack of permanence. I am aware that my business is potentially nomadic. It eats up a big portion of my psychological energy on a weekly basis.

Jean Standish said...

This building is a dramatic piece of dreck. Not only is it ugly and totally out of context, it fractures the essence of the community.

Timothy said...

'We are seeking selective development opportunities in our target markets to provide value and growth to our high-quality, well-leased portfolio,' said Nelson Mills, chief executive officer of Columbia."

What the devil does that mean?


Donnie Moder said...

The St. Denis is another lynch pin of the community that 's now gone. Where will these solo practitioners go? New office share space is so expensive. So many people who seek alternative medicine, psych help, chiro, all types of therapy, will have to pay through the nose or travel out of the city. I recently went to a back doctor in one of these type of buildings, her rate was low because her rent was low. Also, this new building is an affront to the low rise loft buildings and Grace Church in its immediate vicinity. Terrible urban planning.

grumpy_otter said...

I have only been to New York three times in my life. The first, in 1977, I was 12 and went with my Mom and we stayed in what I considered a fancy hotel that was taller than the mountains to me. The staff wore little red jackets and I thought it was like something out of a movie. I climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty and was disappointed at the view available from the tiny windows in her crown.

The second time I was a senior in high school and my entire class of 27 students was taken on a trip there. We stayed at the Y and were pretty much given free rein by our chaperones to do whatever we wished. I should mention that was the LAST time my school ever sent a class to New York for their senior trip, lol

What sticks out to me from that trip was going to Bloomingdales with a friend. She was dying to check out all their fancy clothes, a task that didn't interest me. But I went along for the company. After we left we wandered about for a bit and suddenly found ourselves in something like a grotto between or under buildings. It was like walking into a different world--almost like what I imagine a Middle-Eastern street market would be like. Vendors selling everything you could imagine--I bought a flowy hippie skirt and just lost myself in the atmosphere. It was amazing--like walking into a different world.

The third time I went after high school to visit a friend attending Barnard and we went to Washington Square Park and watched all the amazing performers, then rode the Staten Island Ferry for the cheap skyline views, then went to visit the towers at the World Trade Center. I got some awesome pictures that I am so happy to have since of course we lost those towers some years later. I ate the most amazing hot dog I have ever had from a guy selling them on the street and was overwhelmed with the amazing flavors at a Jewish Deli. I also went to a strip bar and the women performing there seemed so alien to me. But they still were part of that amazing experience that was New York. We wanted to but couldn't make it to CBGBs that time. I regret I never got to see it.

I have always wanted to return someday--seeing in the new year at Times Square has long been on my bucket list. But from watching the actions of such as Giuliani from afar, I don't think the New York I remember is there at all. CBGBs is gone and Target has arrived, and I'm sure I'd never be able to afford a hotel room there anymore. I suppose the developers don't want tourists like me anyway--I wouldn't be able to afford a $10 latte.

Thank you for writing this blog; it is such a marvelous resource for memories of what New York could have been and I have enjoyed reading through your perspective on what is happening. I found it linked in a Current Affairs magazine article called "Everything You Love Will be Eaten Alive." Wonderful rag--I hope you know it.

Thank you for writing--and remembering.

Zach said...

The loss of the St. Dennis and its replacement with that new development represents the essence of New York's struggle for preserving the soul of the past while moving into the future. There was no landmark status, no historic neighborhood protection, and no commemorative plaque--all the while being rich in history. I'm afraid we would accomplish more by focusing our resources and outrage on buildings whose appeal is a bit more visual and obvious to those who don't care. -WW

Eric B said...

I don't understand what developers get out of tearing down solid old architecture, and putting up these glass and steel monstrosities. I guess the irregular shape of these things is what's supposed to make it look interesting, but it's still so cold, and nothing like the detail and symmetry of the old masonry. These new things could be anywhere in the world. (Is it some form of "globalism"?) It's like they're trying to make us look like some modern European neighborhood, but at least over there, they preserve larger swaths of their old stuff.

Greg Bevier said...

That new building, of course, looks awful.