By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
THEN: In the 19th century, Greenwich village became an established ‘suburb’ of the growing Manhattan metropolis, and a ca. 1852 map shows West 11th Street (then Hammond Street) built up with many buildings on small lots, although it also shows a group of buildings labeled “Iron Works” at what would become 360 W 11th Street.
354 West 11th Street, adjacent to it, is a three-story Greek Revival row house on a 22’ lot, dating from ca.1841-42 (it serves as a well-preserved individual landmark example of the fine homes built during those prosperous times).
At the turn of the century, as the Hudson River surpassed the East River as the primary artery for maritime commerce, and the Gansevoort and Chelsea Piers (1894-1910) were constructed, West Street north of Christopher Street became the busiest section of New York’s commercial waterfront. The streets near the busy docks and Hudson River Railroad on West Street were filled with working-class dwellings and warehouses. Large storage warehouses, as well as transportation-related commerce, were in high demand, so in 1900 (some records say 1915), a stables building of four floors and five carriage bays off the narrow street at 360 West 11th Street was built, its 66’ front consolidating lots 60, 61, and 62.
In the 1940 Tax Photo, the white-painted 354 West 11th Street abuts the dark brown brick with light stone details of 360 West 11th Street; note the elevator bulkhead and fascia above the center of 360 West 11th Street, that will be incorporated into the later alterations. The construction in the foreground of the photo is part of the NY Central Railroad viaduct (“High Line”) built ca. 1927. Both the townhouse at Lot 64 and the house lots beyond 360 West 11th Street are destined for new residential buildings; Lot 64 will eventually be part of the West Village Houses, promoted by Jane Jacobs.
In 1961 Jane Jacobs, an editor of Architectural Forum magazine who lived nearby, rallied neighborhood residents to oppose Mayor Robert Wagner’s plan to have this twelve-block area west of Hudson Street declared an urban renewal site, thereby saving the area from complete demolition. That same year, Jane Jacobs authored the influential The Death and Life of Great American Cities. When the Landmarks Preservation Commission was formed in 1963, she recommended the entire West Village be included in an Historic District; unfortunately, only a smaller part further east was designated in 1969.
NOW: From almost the day the 12-story, 170 feet tall, condo building was completed in 2008, re-christened as “Palazzo Chupi” by the artist/owner Julian Schnabel, it has been considered a landmark for the neighborhood, having garnered tons of publicity in newspapers, magazines, and other media, as well as a Wikipedia page. Julian Schnabel is a successful American artist and filmmaker, born in Brooklyn in October 1951. He bought this property in 1997 and designed his neo-Venetian villa, to be built on top of the former horse stable, before the area was about to be rezoned in 2005; he raced to start the foundation work before the rezoning would void his designs. Brian Kelly is a musician and long-time friend who managed the construction project for the artist, who maintains, despite claims from neighbors to the contrary, “We played by the rules and didn’t seek any favors.”
Completed at the start of the 2008 economic meltdown, the five residential units and two commercial spaces remained half empty for a while, inhabited mostly by family members and friends. Mr. Schnabel occupies the lower floors of warehouse and studio, his garage, an exhibition space, and a pool. One unit was reserved for Schnabel’s wife, “Chupi” (his nickname for his second (ex-)wife), the actress Olatz López Garmendia, and their twin teenage sons, Olmo and Cy (both became actors). Of his other children with his first wife Jacqueline, including Stella and Lola (both became actors), Vito is an art curator and dealer, who curated his first art show in 2003 when he was 16, and also lives at Chupi.
William Brady, a managing director of Credit Suisse, bought one unit for $15.5 million, and actor Richard Gere bought another for $12 million, both well below the initial asking price. By the end of 2010 however, the last unit on the market had sold, grossing Schnabel about $45 million in total sales. In 2012, the fading pink paint on this “piece of art” got a refresher coating.
To put this construction in context, two 15-story towers stand on the north and south corners of Perry and West Streets; the 173 & 176 Perry Street Condominiums were added in 1999-2002 to the West Village skyline. As the first new construction in Manhattan to be designed by Richard Meier, who started his career repurposing the Bell Labs for the Westbeth Artists’ Coop, these were striking transparent minimalist forms, shocking to many. Then in 2003-2006, he added the sister 16-story condo at 165 Charles Street.
Mr. Schnabel, who likes pajamas for lounging and working, pointed out that artists are always misunderstood. He said he’d always liked the work of Addison Mizner, the architect who created the resort of Boca Raton, Florida in the 1920s, and he wanted to merge that style with some elements of his own Stanford White-designed house in Montauk.
Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, described Schnabel’s building as a monument to this guy’s ego. So true, but another local critic considers the Palazzo to be much more in the tradition of the West Village than all those glass towers. The beauty and peaceful environment in the Village still attracts an interesting variety of people who thrive on the excitement of Manhattan, yet long for their own special place to call home. Cinematic and romantic, this always made the West Village unique and attractive.
There is a part of the populace that cherishes both the old and new West Village. Wouldn’t it be a shame if all the joy and surprise were squelched for future work?
Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP, is an architectural consultant in private practice, serves on Community Board 2 in Manhattan, and is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee.