PICTURE, if you will, the Brooklyn Bridge: the solid stone towers and the gentle arc of the roadbed over the river. Picture it from the Brooklyn side, where thousands gathered Thursday to celebrate the span’s 125th anniversary as one of the city’s most loved structures. If your picture is clear enough, you will also see, looming directly behind it in Manhattan, what may be the least loved: the 32-story, beige limestone monolith that is 375 Pearl Street.
All those people gathered on Thursday were looking at it, too, whether they liked it or not. The building, which holds offices and telephone switching equipment, has been there since 1976, 200 feet taller than the bridge and largely featureless except for a few narrow rows of windows along the sides and a neon logo on top — first the bell of New York Telephone and, more recently, a glowing red check mark for Verizon.
Andrew Dolkart, a Columbia University architecture professor and preservationist, knows the structure well.
“I rate that as the No. 1 worst building in New York whenever I’m asked the question,” Mr. Dolkart said by phone the other day.
“I can’t imagine a worse location,” he added, “right there next to something that is so awe-inspiring.”
Sentiments like these may be why plans for a renovation, released this month by the building’s new owner, Taconic Investment Partners, have touched off a flurry of excitement: They involve stripping away all the limestone and replacing it with a new facade of glass over steel support beams.
The planned transformation is so thorough that some wags have wondered if fans of the building will come out of the woodwork to defend it. “I’m waiting,” one commenter wrote on the Weblog Curbed.com, “for someone to call this a landmark that must be preserved at all costs.”
He should not hold his breath.
“I’ve never spoken with anybody who’s brought that particular building up as something to be concerned about,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council.
Ari Shalam, director of acquisitions at Taconic, went a step further.
“I have not found anybody that thinks the building is attractive,” he said. “It’s totally ugly. From the first day it was built, from what I hear, everybody hated it.”
The renovation, Mr. Shalam said, will begin sometime after Verizon, which sold the building to Taconic in January but holds a lease on it, moves out, most likely after the end of the year. The work, which will open panoramic views and modernize the structure for office tenants, has always been part of the plan, Mr. Shalam said. Tenants, he explained, want to be able to see outside, and there will be more of them after the renovation than now, with switching equipment currently occupying more space than it eventually will.
Verizon, meanwhile, will retain ownership of three floors and part of the basement for communications equipment that cannot be moved. John Bonomo, a spokesman for the company, did not defend the building’s design, by a firm in White Plains that is now defunct, but did offer that, for its role in communications, “It is an unsung hero in the network for Manhattan. It’s kind of one of those workhorse locations for us.”
Architecturally, though, the closest thing to a defense came from John Jurayj, co-chairman of the Modern Architecture Working Group, a preservationist organization. Mr. Jurayj cautioned against dismissing any building just on the basis of beauty, both because tastes change and because architecturally significant buildings are not necessarily attractive.
“Preservation and value is not a beauty contest,” Mr. Jurayj said. “I’m not making a case for this building, either. It’s just that fine line, saying, ‘Oh, that’s ugly’ — it diminishes buildings that do have value."
There are several good modern buildings downtown that are worth preserving, Mr. Jurayj said.
Not that modernism, as a movement, is eager to claim 375 Pearl as an exemplar. “You could call it late utilitarian brutalism, but that doesn’t really mean anything — it’s more descriptive,” Mr. Bankoff offered.
Mr. Dolkart, for his part, said this: “It is an incredibly debased modernism. And I am a lover of modernism.”
In one sad way, though, the renovation at 375 Pearl could spur Mr. Dolkart on to further study.
“I’m going to have to find a new worst building,” he said.
WHAT price glory? It could be more than $100 million.
At 15 Central Park West, perhaps the most successful development of the decade, there is still a clamor for long-since sold-out condominiums, especially glorious trophy apartments with sweeping terraces overlooking Central Park.
But while the developers, Arthur and William Lie Zeckendorf, are still finishing the last batch of apartments, as well as the gymnasium, pool and other amenities, brokers and owners are struggling to figure out just what the apartments are worth on the resale market.
The first batch of resales at 15 Central Park West went into contract last December and January, almost as soon as they became available. In the last few weeks, a new crop has come on the market at higher prices. Two high-floor two-bedrooms, however, quickly cut their prices — one to $13 million from $15 million, another to $12.5 million from $14 million — shortly before a similar apartment came on the market at a lower price.
Michel Madie, who runs an independent brokerage company in Manhattan, says the building is still in its infancy, having opened only last summer, which makes pricing something of a guessing game. “It is still at birth,” he said, “and it is difficult to assess where the price will settle” once the “cocoon of services” at the building is completed.
Mr. Madie is asking $21 million for a three-bedroom on the 36th floor with more than 2,700 square feet of space and park views, or about $7,600 a square foot, which would make it one of the most expensive apartments per square foot ever sold.
Other brokers are showing two-bedrooms on high floors with good views for under $5,500 a square foot. Mr. Madie is hoping to find a buyer interesting in combining his condo with the two-bedroom next door, which is on the market for $12.75 million, listed by Roger Erickson of Sotheby’s International Realty.
While all this is sorting itself out, brokers have exchanged stories about calls that have been made to some very affluent buyers at 15 Central Park West’s most desirable condos, offering to buy them out. They are somewhat akin to the calls that brownstone owners in rapidly gentrifying areas sometimes get, with offers of cash for their homes.
In one such account, Dr. Lindsay Rosenwald, a physician who became a venture capitalist and a founder and senior managing director of Paramount Capital Asset Management in New York, was said to have been offered $85 million for his 5,870-square-foot duplex penthouse (with a 1,128-square-foot terrace), or $14,480 per square foot (not counting the terrace).
When asked to confirm this, Dr. Rosenwald said he had actually received five or six calls from brokers, offering as much as $100 million for his apartment. He said he had turned the offers down.
Designed by Robert A. M. Stern, 15 Central Park West includes two buildings connected by a garden. In April, Dr. Rosenwald paid $30 million for his apartment on parts of the 18th and 19th floors, below the $42.4 million rooftop penthouse bought last August by Sanford I. Weill, the former chairman and chief executive of Citigroup.
“The only thing in my life that is not for sale is my wife and my kids,” Dr. Rosenwald said. But he said that he was enjoying living at 15 Central Park West, where it was quiet, because most of his neighbors had not yet moved in. He said he had heard of an offer of $125 million on another apartment in the building.