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70 Washington Street: Review and Ratings

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Carter Horsley
Review of 70 Washington Street by Carter Horsley

After converting the Clock Tower Building and the Sweeney Building in Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in Brooklyn, David and Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management began their conversion of this building at 70 Washington Street, also in Dumbo, in 2004 into 225 apartments.

In a June 29, 2004 article in The New York Times entitled "The Doorman Cometh," Jesse McKinley wrote that "On Thursday morning, Karlis Rekevics, a 40-year-old sculptor who works in giant slabs of cast plaster, picked up a sledgehammer and prepared to store his work in the only way he saw possible: in little, tiny pieces."

"'I'm a very unprecious artist,' Mr. Rekevics said," the article continued, "before smashing his multi-ton sculpture to bits. 'And I wanted to go out with a bang.' Mr. Rekevics was just one part of a mass exodus of artists who were packing up, breaking down and moving out last week, leaving behind their lives at 70 Washington Street, a hulking 12-story building, between Front and York Streets, in the riverfront Brooklyn neighborhood known as Dumbo....Beginning in August, the building, a once-vibrant honeycomb of artist studios, galleries, a theater and all manner of artistic enterprise, will be converted into luxury loft apartments, selling for anywhere from $500,000 to more than $1 million. That artists are being displaced by pricey housing shouldn't surprise anyone who has watched over the years as other arty neighborhoods like the East Village, TriBeCa and Williamsburg have been gentrified. But what has shocked many in Dumbo is the extreme speed and calculation with which the neighborhood - barely residential a decade ago - has begun to be co-opted by co-ops. (Or condos, to be precise.)"

"'Five years ago, when I first came here, there were no city services, no trash pickup, and it was completely dark and desolate,' said Adrienne Campbell-Holt, 24, artistic director of the Nest theater space, which closed its doors with a farewell on Saturday. Now, she said, the neighborhood has a sushi restaurant, a West Elm store selling minimalist homewares, and a gourmet chocolatier where a sweet-toothed bohemian can drop $50 for a box of Champagne truffles. (Not to mention $50 for a square foot, the likely rate at 70 Washington.) 'It was all a part of a master plan,' Ms. Campbell-Holt said," according to the article.

"The primary author of that plan, neighborhood residents say, is Two Trees Management, a development company. Two Trees, which owns 70 Washington Street among many other buildings in the area, a collection of brick-faced warehouses and former factories, offered low rents to artists to make the neighborhood more desirable for more affluent professionals, artificially accelerating the age-old cycle of neighborhood renewal in New York City, whereby artists come first as renting homesteaders, and the wealthy follow to buy," the article continued.

"'The artists,' the article noted, 'were in Dumbo before we were,' said Jed Walentas, who runs Two Trees with his father, David C. Walentas. 'The neighborhood obviously had an appeal to artists. Our intent was not to reinvent the neighborhood but to add to its obvious strengths.' The artists who filled its bare-bones studios (peeling paint, fluorescent lights, dicey plumbing) at 70 Washington Street knew their days were numbered; the elder Mr. Walentas had long made clear his intention to convert the building and had tailored their leases accordingly."

Considering the rent breaks and cheap space they've received, many who left 70 Washington were loath to paint Two Trees as villains; some art groups, in fact, credited Two Trees with helping them relocate in the neighborhood to better-maintained or newly renovated spaces. Smack Mellon, a visual arts group that was in Dumbo since 1998, went to a Two Trees building nearby on Plymouth Street a few blocks away, allowing it to keep a gallery, an artists' workshop and offices under a single roof.

The younger Mr. Walentas observed that the area is different than it was a decade or so ago, when his company first began renting space to artists. It began buying property in the area in the early 1980's when it was still largely zoned for industry. The article said that "Tattooed young men and pierced young women still talk Dada and hang out at the local cafes and bars....But Dumbo's cobblestone streets now show increasing signs of more manicured residential life....And there are doormen at the Sweeney Building, the sold-out 84-unit luxury building on Main Street, and at the the Clock Tower Building across the street, the first Two Trees residential project, which was converted into 124 luxury apartments in 1998."

This building, however, is the company's biggest project, with 225 residential condominium apartments ranging in size from 1,200 to 3,000 square feet.

The city designated a Dumbo Historic District in 2007 and in early 2008 the City Planning Department proposed that the neighborhood be rezoned to allow taller buildings in high-density areas, according to an article by Robin Pogrebin in The New York Times March 6, 2008.

Some 1,000 artists and arts organizations are now working in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, courtesy of Two Trees Management.

"It adds value to any neighborhood," David Walentas said in the article, adding that "It s like good architecture. Good architecture is cheap and adds value. People will pay a premium for it."

Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University, gave David Walentas points for figuring out how to make a neighborhood vital, the article noted: "He understands that you have to have creative energy."

The Two Trees developers, who own about three million square feet of property in Dumbo, tell their tenants that they will try to find other places for them in the area if their spaces are sold or developed. But they make no guarantees.

When Two Trees converted 70 Washington Street to condos, it offered almost every artist in the building below-market rates at one of its other buildings, 20 Jay Street or 55 Washington Street, and 80 percent accepted. "We're in a unique position to do these things because we own the whole neighborhood," Jed Walentas said.

Toby Klein, director of sales at Two Trees Management, told Steve Cutler of in October, 2005 that about "25 percent of sales so far have come from people who are upgrading from other Two Trees' Dumbo properties and the remainder are split evenly between people from Manhattan and from Brooklyn and elsewhere."

The loft apartments feature 11-foot ceilings, bamboo flooring, wine coolers, kitchens with Sub Zero, Viking and Thermador appliances and master bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs, separate showers and glass tile floor. The building offers city and river views, a fitness center and a 7,500-square foot roof deck. Rooftop cabanas are available for sale for 22 residents. The units started at $800,000.

The reinforced concrete building, which has a rusticated base as well as rustication between the 9th and 10th floors, was designed by William Higginson for Robert Gair (1839-1927) who made a fortune in paper boxes. It has a many large windows, which were originally multi-paned, and is distinguished by its large clock on its top floor and a large cornice.

In 1916, the building was expanded with a matching addition at 27 York Street.


Out of 44

Architecture Rating: 24 / 44

Out of 36

Location Rating: 28 / 36

Out of 39

Features Rating: 15 / 39


CityRealty Rating Reference

  • 30+ remarkable
  • 20-29 distinguished
  • 11-19 average
  • < 11 below average
  • 27+ remarkable
  • 18-26 distinguished
  • 9-17 average
  • < 9 below average
  • 22+ remarkable
  • 16-21 distinguished
  • 9-15 average
  • < 9 below average
  • #7 Rated condo - DUMBO
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