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75 Livingston Street

Between Clinton Street & Court Street

Carter Horsley
Reviewed by Carter Horsley
Carter Horsley Carter B. Horsley, a former journalist for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Post. Mr. Horsley is also the editorial director of CityRealty.com.
 

The handsomest, pre-war skyscraper in Brooklyn, this 32-story tower at 75 Livingston Street in Downtown Brooklyn was erected in 1928. It has been known as the Court Chambers Building and the Chamber of Commerce Building.

The pyramid-topped building, which is also known as 66 Court Street, is distinguished by major setbacks and was designed by Abraham J. Simberg.

It was converted to cooperative apartments in 1981.

According to a "Streetscapes" column by Christopher Gray in the December 3, 2009 edition of The New York Times, the 430-foot-high building has "a dining room on the terrace at the 25th floor.

Mr. Gray said that the architect "had previously done some four- and five-story apartment buildings in Brooklyn and one- and two-story buildings in Manhattan. Born in Ukraine in 1892, Mr. Simberg arrived in the United States in 1900 and the 1920 census found him working as a draftsman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He received his architectural license in 1922."

"The Court Street building was a big project for a beginning architect," Mr. Gray continued, "but Mr. Simberg developed a blocky, faceted neo-Gothic tower that is perfectly credible against the rest of the skyline. The owners began missing tax and mortgage payments in early 1929, however, and by 1932 the building had gone into receivership, according to a 1939 article in The New York Times. And Mr. Simberg? It is unfortunate that just after his big break the stock market crashed. Through the 1930s, he did a series of modest alterations, like many major architects."

In a June 14, 1998 article in The New York Times, Barbara Whitaker wrote about a penthouse on the 31st and 32nd floors of the building, which apparently was then known as "Heights 75."

"The penthouse at Heights 75 wasn't much to look at when Kevin Steffens and Doug Dorsett first saw it. The apartment had been empty for several years, and the ceilings and walls had extensive water damage. Holes were everywhere. The floors had begun to buckle. The kitchen area had been scavenged for parts. There was no water or electricity, and during restoration work on the façade, the apartment had been used as a work area.

'''We had to go in with flashlights,'' Mr. Dorsett said of their first trip to the Brooklyn Heights structure, a former office building that was turned into a co-op in 1981.

'''Kevin just started shaking his head no, no, no,'' said Mr. Dorsett, financial manager for a wine and spirits company. 'I saw it and said: 'I love it. I want it.' ''

"The 2,700-square-foot penthouse, a duplex on the 31st and 32d floors at 75 Livingston Street, is thought to be the highest residence in Brooklyn Heights, so it's easy to understand the attraction. The apartment offers a 360-degree view that includes the far reaches of Brooklyn, New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, a stunning Manhattan panorama and all the city's bridges.

'''On a clear day you can see every bridge, all the way up to the Whitestone,;' said Mr. Steffens, a health-care administrator.

"Mr. Dorsett and Mr. Steffens, who were shopping for a loft-like space with at least 1,200 square feet, had looked at two other apartments in the building. They had heard people mention the penthouse, but details were always sketchy. They asked their broker, Jill A. Fuchs, at the time a sales agent with Brooklyn Heights Real Estate, what she knew about it.

'''I said: 'Huh? There is no penthouse,'' Ms. Fuchs recalled.

"But when she asked the co-op board she was told about it, and the board agreed to let her show the space, which the members were thinking of renovating as a rental. The asking price was $60,000, but Mr. Steffens said it was obvious that the apartment needed at least $100,000 in renovations.

"After seeing the apartment in the spring of 1997, the roommates retired to Patsy's Pizza at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge to crunch numbers. Part of the challenge was to come up with enough cash to make the purchase.

'''Not only did we not want a mortgage, our mortgage broker told us we could not have gotten one'' until the apartment was in move-in condition, said Mr. Steffens.

"The next day, Mr. Steffens called Ms. Fuchs and asked her to make an offer of $50,000.

"Although the offer was accepted, it took several anxious weeks for them to get the apartment. First, a resident of the building made a higher bid, and there were questions about whether it would be considered. But after discussions, the board decided that since the roommates' bid had been accepted it had to be honored.

"Then it was revealed that another tenant had a right of first refusal on the penthouse. There were another few weeks of agony as decisions were made about whether to act on the option or perhaps even sell the right. But eventually Mr. Steffens and Mr. Dorsett got the apartment....They finished the deal in May 1997 and began work the next month. The first phase of the renovation, done by Grand Renovation of Brooklyn, revolved around repairing the existing damage and getting the apartment operational. Almost all the sheetrock had to be replaced. The floors were repaired - to replace them would have cost $30,000, Mr. Steffens said.

"Throughout the work, subtle changes were made to accent the apartment's unusual features. The top floor has large rectangular windows that slope with the roofline, but the slope had been hidden in many places by walls. During replacement, the walls were pushed back to reflect the slope, adding more space.

"The apartment was made more functional by adding several closets, and a top-floor bathroom was opened up by taking off an internal ceiling and then slicing part of the wall. For the most part, however, the design has been kept simple. The floor plan is open, except for a trash chute that cuts through the middle of the space. The living room sits just to the right of stairs that lead from the elevator up to the apartment."

The building has an arched entrance, a 24-hour doorman, personal storage in the basement and a central laundry room. It is convenient to the Downtown Brooklyn business and civic district and to numerous subways.

Some apartments have 11-foot-high ceilings.

According to 2010 publication of the Brooklyn College Alumni Association, Ron Schweiger, class of 1970, wrote that "in 1930, the Brooklyn College was established at 66 Court Street in downtown Brooklyn," adding that "the Midwood/Flatbush campus opened in 1937." Another Brooklyn College website said that the building was then known as the Chamber of Commerce Building and that the college from 1930 to 1937 was housed in five separate office buildings in downtown Brooklyn; 383 Pearl Street on the corner of Willoughby Street..., the Ascutney Building on the corner of Willoughby and Lawrence Streets, and 165 Joralemon Street.

The 26-story "sliver" building erected next to it is a New York University dormitory.

The building is part of the Skyscraper Historic District in Brooklyn.

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