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Former Prince St. Orphanage to Become Condos, Townhouses

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The St. Patrick's Old Cathedral School on Prince between Mulberry and Mott streets was built in the Georgian-Federal style in 1826 as the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum, and became an individual city landmark in 1966. However, it is one of five historic buildings in the St. Patrick's Old Cathedral complex, and in order to be able to pay for upkeep and repairs on the other four, St. Patrick's recently made the decision to sell the former orphanage/convent/girl's school to Hamlin Ventures, a developer of high-end condos and townhouses.

Hamlin's plans for the landmarked structure include demolishing an attached building and additions from the 1950s and constructing a new building and rear and rooftop additions, as well as some minor changes to the historic orphanage—altering window openings, replacing doors, etc.—in order to turn the whole thing into two single-family townhouses and eight condos, designed by Marvel Architects. First, though, they have to get approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, to whom they presented the designs yesterday afternoon.

The most controversial aspect of the presentation was the brand new freestanding single-family townhouse that would be constructed in place of the demolished '50s building. The facade of that structure would be made of gray glass bricks, opaque at the upper levels, but semi-transparent at the street level. With the lights turned on, that portion would glow at night. Needless to say, the design didn't take many cues from the landmarked building right next to it, which preservationists and the Landmarks Commissioners didn't necessarily see as a negative. "The glass brick frontage disassociates itself from the landmark and neighborhood," commented Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City, "and will probably not be perceived as part of it, which is fortunate."

It was that townhouse that the commissioners had trouble agreeing on—one found the color of the glass brick jarring, another bemoaned the lack of articulation, a third commented that it should relate more to the landmark, a fourth said it was basically approvable as it was, and a fifth called the glass brick "undignified" and "cartoon-like." A host of other more minor issues relating to the disjointedness of the rear yard facades and the restoration of the 1826 orphanage ensured that approval would not be in the cards today for the 32 Prince Street project. It will return to the Commission at a later date.
· Rogers Marvel Architects coverage [Curbed]
· Hamlin Ventures coverage [Curbed]