May 1, 2007
by Carolyn Sponza AIA LEED AP

Event: Downtown Third Thursdays Lecture: Forgotten Splendor: Restoring Downtown’s Historic Architecture
Location: Federal Hall, 04.19.07
Speaker: Mary Dierickx — preservationist & Principal, Mary B. Dierickx
Organizer: Downtown Alliance

Claremont Prep

Claremont Prep is one example of the recent wave of downtown buildings that have transformed their uses after renovation.

Carolyn Sponza

While new towers and planned transit hubs for downtown Manhattan have dominated the media over the past few years, a number of daring downtown restoration projects have been slipping quietly under the radar. According to preservationist Mary Dierickx, that may be intentional. At the Historic Front Street residential lofts, located at South Street Seaport, architects Cook+Fox purposely retained the distressed look of street elevations of 11 historic buildings, while inserting three new structures. In reference to the restoration of the retained façades, Dierickx said, “This is not an incredible ‘after’ project. The whole point was to keep [the buildings] looking old.”

Historic Front Street was subsidized in part by a combination of Liberty Bonds and historic preservation tax credits. Utilizing resources such as these, and post-9/11 support like the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, “helped kick off the preservation movement downtown,” said Dierickx. While Historic Front Street retained and updated its original use (with retail on street level and residential above), many current downtown restoration projects are undertaking wholesale use changes, such as the conversion of a former bank building on Broad Street into Claremont Prep private academy. The banking hall (with its murals) was restored to serve as a multi-purpose room for the K-8 school, while the original vaults were converted into annex space for the cafeteria. Expect to see more creative downtown conversions like this one under construction in the next few years, proving that while banking may become virtual, living cannot.

Carolyn Sponza, AIA, is an architect with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners and is the AIANY Chapter Vice President of Professional Development.

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