By Allyn Freeman
The address bespeaks good luck and good fortune: 711 Greenwich Street at the southeast corner of Charles and Greenwich Streets. For decades, this spacious building served as a parking garage, and then, for a few years, it was converted into a paper-recycling center. In the late 1990s, it was sold, and the initial rumor of the new owner, a music studio; a neighborhood horror, where loud heavy metal bands would record all hours of the day and night.
Instead, reality witnessed an attractive architectural conversion, a renovation planned with consideration and great care, preserving and expanding the one-story building’s brick facade without a hint of future commercial purpose. Handsome lead windows replaced street-level garage doors. A second-floor bricked space with twenty-foot ceilings was added featuring an arched glass window, and outside on the open terrace, a well-planted Japanese garden.
The sign on the door read: “Stephan Weiss Studio.” He was a noted painter and sculptor recognized also as the husband and partner of famed clothing designer Donna Karan. Weiss, an abstract painter, exuded a quiet refinement, a bona fides gentleman. Sadly, after a seven-year battle with cancer, he died in 2001 at age 62. Karan decided to adapt the building into a multiple-use facility as an exhibition showroom for her DKNY collections, and as a rental area for political, cultural, and private events. The expansive downstairs totaled 6,000 square feet, the upstairs—known as the Loft—2,000 square feet.
Karan hired Graham Graham, an art curator from Seattle, to become the steward of the space. He designed conversion plans for 711 and for the house at 705 Greenwich Street, also part of the Studio complex. Weiss’ massive bronze sculpture—The Apple—moved to the Millennium Garden in the Hudson River Park at Charles Street where it resides today. The former art studio would be used for Karan’s design shows, a wellness center for yoga, art exhibits, and lectures. What Graham needed was a multi-talented, handy person who could oversee the space’s daily care and maintenance. Enter Troy Conyers.
Conyers is a true Villager from the east side of lower Manhattan, growing up on Avenue D and Columbia Street. He attended Seward Park High School on Grand Street, and followed with an Associate Degree from SUNY-Farmingdale. As a teenager, Conyers was part of a local breakdancing team that was so famous it toured Rome. (N.B. His father, Professor James Conyers, is Program Director of Africana Studies at Kean University, New Jersey.)
Out of college, Conyers found an assortment of retail positions until a friend suggested he contact the Weiss Studio. He arrived in 2010 in time to assist Karan’s Urban Zen Wellness Center hosting of a fund-raising visit by the Dalai Lama. Karan founded Urban Zen as an altruistic project dedicated to “the preservation of culture (past), bringing mind, body and spirit to healthcare (present) and education (future).”
In addition to showcasing Karan’s DKNY collections, the 711 space attracted a variety of renters, including private affairs and public gatherings. The latter included visits by Hillary and Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the Bloomberg Foundation. Karan generously allows the Charles Street Block Association to use the space for its Christmas get together.
When Graham returned to Seattle, he appointed Conyers Facilities Manager to deal with the supervision of the two buildings. Key is the Urban Zen Marketplace at 705 Greenwich, a retail store that sells home furnishings, jewelry, clothing, and books.
The affable Conyers is well known to the daily passersby, usually standing in front of the open garage workroom on Charles Street where he and his assistant do repair work. He will inform all of the next open house in the downstairs showroom space, especially the Urban Zen global artists’ exhibit. Troy Conyers continues the Stephan Weiss and Donna Karan mission to be a good neighbor to the West Village community.