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Crystal-Inspired Facade Proposed for Dumbo's 10 Jay Street

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The 10-story building at 10 Jay Street is finally headed for a makeover and residential conversion. Since the building sits within the Dumbo Historic District, the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard a proposal this week for an ambitious new facade for the building. ODA Architecture outlined plans for a glass and steel, sugar crystal-inspired front for the East River-facing side of the building, as well as a restoration of the building's other three faces. The LPC approved of the latter, but ultimately decided that the "striking" design was not a fit for the historic district.

The building dates back to 1898 and was originally designed by the George M. Newhall Engineering Co. for the Arbuckle Brothers sugar refinery. In 1945, it was converted into a warehouse, and in that same decade, a massive portion of the building's north side was demolished, leaving the section extant today, with its northern facade not original. Most recently, the building was home to several creative commercial tenants, but last August, a neighborhood blog reported that the tenants' leases would end on December 31, 2014. The website of Dumbo Sky, a previous tenant in the building, says they "closed as of Jan. 2015."

A look through 10 Jay's profile in the Department of Building's Building Information System shows that changes have been in the works for awhile. In 2008, Brownstoner reported that a five-story addition was planned. Over the years, the building has racked up dozens of complaints and violations, and there's currently an open "Work Without a Permit" violation. The owner and developer is listed as Glacier Global Partners. The building is adjacent to the northern most section of Brooklyn Bridge Park and One John Street, both of which are currently under construction. In fact, part of the new parkland was handed over to the city by GGP.

In December, permits were filed by Eran Chen of ODA to convert the building into a mixed-use structure with 46 apartments. If approved, there would be some retail on the ground floor, but the rest of the building would be for residential uses. Chen and Bill Higgins of the preservation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners presented the proposal to the LPC. Chen said the building is a "very exciting proposition." The plan for the north facade—which faces the East River, not the historic district—is for a glass and steel structure made of three patterns that would repeat along its length. Chen drew inspiration from sugar crystals, the Manhattan Bridge, and the existing steel and brick of Dumbo. Higgins said they didn't want to take the "safe approach" to this building.

The west, south, and east faces would be restored to their original masonry appearance. Additionally, the 10th floor penthouse would be restored with a new north facade that would complement the proposed glass and steel facade. The loading docks would also be reconfigured, signage would be added, and a canopy would be constructed for the residential entrance.

The restoration efforts met with no real resistance from the commissioners. The proposal for the north face, on the other hand, met with mixed results. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan called the design "exceptional" and said she found the "entire presentation compelling." (It featured a video fly-through of the site, complete with music.) She wondered if it fit in this historic district, but seemed like she could lean towards approval. Commissioner Frederick Bland, who lives in nearby Brooklyn Heights, said he falls on the side of creating new things when the conditions are right. He said he was "moved" by the presentation and called the proposal a "lyrical, personal statement of great beauty."

Commissoner John Gustafsson said he knew he'd be seen as among the dinosaurs for his take on the proposal. He said there was a "wide range" of options between a simple masonry facade and the proposal. He said it says, "Look at me!" not, "Look at the historic district." He could see approving this design somewhere else, but not in Dumbo. Commissioner Michael Devonshire said he knew he'd be viewed along with Gustafsson in his criticism of the "diaphanous" design. Commissioner Roberta Washington also objected, while commissioner Christopher Moore said it was an "excellent presentation" and the proposal for the north facade was "striking," but it wasn't right for this spot.

Srinivasan noted that Brooklyn Community Board 2 also had a mixed reaction to it, not endorsing the proposed north facade. The Historic Districts Council said a brick face would be preferable,. Doreen Gallo of the Dumbo Neighborhood Alliance and Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City also spoke out against the proposal.

What happens next? The applicants will rework their proposal and return to the LPC.

—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]

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