Friday, November 14, 2014

Good Grief! Is THIS What Will Replace The Sweet Wood-Clad Building That Stood At 159 Smith Street?

Photos above taken of 159 Smith Street in December 2013
Below, the site the way it looks now.
What will be built in its place?
Every time I walk down Smith Street past the spot where, until recently,  a charming old wood-clad building stood, I get sad.

The three-story mixed use structure at 159 Smith Street, between Wycoff and Bergen Streets in Boerum Hill, was certainly in need of some attention. However, with its height, ornate cornice and window details, it fit perfectly between its two neighbors.  Most importantly, it had probably stood there for almost a century.

I knew its days were limited when, in late December 2013,  a green construction fence went up and a  NYC's Department of Building  permit for a "proposed 2 story addition to an existing 3 story mixed-use building" was taped to the plywood.
Sure enough, days later, a demo truck pulled up and tore the entire building down, leaving a huge hole.
For months, there was no activity at the site.  Just recently, however, work resumed and a banner with an architectural drawing was hung on the construction fence.

If the drawing is just halfway accurate, we can expect a rather bland 5 story glass box. Obviously, neither the architect nor the owner were going for 'contextual'.

Speaking of owner,  the building belongs to  dentists Bella and Garry Levingart, whose office used to occupy the ground floor of 159 Smith Street.  They relocated to 208 Smith Street shortly before the building was torn down.  They also have an office on Central Park West in Manhattan
Interestingly enough,  Dr. Garry Levingart has some rather negative YELP reviews.  His wife Bella's reviews are even worse.

Can someone please explain to me how a permit for a two story addition would allow the entire building to be taken down?  I know it has something to do with how much of the existing building's foundation is left, but the original structure was razed all the way to the cellar.

What's your thought on the new building?


neil said...

That's such a shame - it doesn't take much effort to align proportions, rooflines, and materials. They can still get their square footage and the neighborhood doesn't get stuck with such an ugly beast. And what's with the balconies? Enough with the balconies.

Anonymous said...

I believe that this will take-up more than half of the block as it appears that the old Smith-Hanten and Nutbox spaces are included in this new building. Definitely changes the look of the block.
Also, I noticed that work is finally being done in earnest on the several buildings on Smith that were vacated years ago. (252 Smith Street and its neighbors on either side) Any idea about the future of those buildings?

Anonymous said...

How on Earth does something like that get approved!! Outrageous.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that the old building was torn down. I wonder if there where structural issues; it looked to be in pretty bad shape.

I understand everyone's issues with contextual design, but Smith street is not the quaint little enclave it used to be; it is now a successful and affluent commercial corridor.

As new design and construction goes, this is not so bad. It is light and open; it could be a hell of a lot worse. We should all remember that we live in the 21st century, and our buildings should reflect that.

The real issue is what will CB6 do about this kind of development to prevent this from happening again. Clearly, that part of Smith St. is not landmarked; maybe it should be.

Catherine Torrey said...

Pretty soon the charm of carroll gardens will be gone. Let's all be mindful as this happens one building at a time.

Donald said...

I've been using Dr. Levingart for close to 20 years and have found him to be a good dentist. If I remember correctly, he bought the practice, and presumably the building, from a Dr. Brodey who was on Smith Street for many years. I've watched his clientele steadily improve over the years and he and his wife probably could have left the neighborhood years ago.

As for the building, I don't think it is out of character with the building nearly diagonally that houses Lululemon. A building with a quality storefront will attract a quality tenant.

SimpleTwig said...

I, an Architect, am also confused by the permit which states adding 2 floors to a 3 story existing structure, so perhaps they are illegally doing demo on this property, but this could be a technicality as they are probably legally allowed to do all this per zoning (with the right permits of course), and do so as per their own design wishes since it isn't landmarked. Keep in mind to rebuild even that cornice could cost some $30k, or to rebuild the brick would also be quite expensive and might of required a complete tear down to make the building structurally sound (which, most of these townhouses can not resist earthquake loads).

This project is a 'Quality Housing' project which means they should be sensitive to the surroundings only in terms of keeping the facade under 45' high (4 stories), and if there's a 5th floor (max height) it has to be set back 15' from the property line in front. It also provides tenants with certain amenities like a laundry. Just in terms of housing, Quality Housing is a step up in quality for 'us people' and in doing so the project must be financially feasible to accomplish this goal, thus I'm sure many of the aesthetic decisions were based on this compromise.

What this project isn't is the horror that occurred with the J. Michael Furniture building, having the neighborhood confronted with what could of been a great anchor building but instead turned into a huge white box w/ tiny little project windows.

Footnote, doing a complete demo and new construction next to the MTA also has ramifications...

Rob said...

I kind of wish whoever owns the empty lot on the corner of Smith and Douglass would do something with it. That fence takes up half the sidewalk. At this point a parking lot would be an upgrade.

Anonymous said...

Donald, hopefully architects won't be taking their cues from the Lululemon building, I think it is one of the most hideous eyesores on Smith St. I'm sure it looks better from inside.

Anonymous said...

Could the dentist have hired a more capable architect? Why would anyone want to make their building look like this in the given context?

Quality housing requires that the building front aligns with the neighbors, but the architect made no attempt to relate beyond that. The floor levels changes are even jarring. The building has no grace in it's proportion.

It is possible to design a new building that belongs in a context like this even with modern design pallet. But it appears that this architect comes out of a background of doing corporate interior work and has now turned his hand to this building design.

Anonymous said...

Katia...why be such a douchebag with all the personal information?????


Anonymous said...


Taste is subjective. I don't expect I could say anything to change your mind on this building. To each his own.

I will say, however, that to point out a negative Yelp review of a practice because you have such a difference in taste speaks about you, not them.


Katia said...

Hey, Dibs and Benson,
Slow day over on
Haven't been called a douchebag in a very long time, if ever.

Anonymous said...

maybe they just didnt say it loud enough!


Katia said...

See, Dibs, I published that, too.
Now that's class.

Anonymous said...

Katia - are all of the old buildings on Smith not landmarked??? How is that possible?

Katia said...

No. Carroll Gardens has the smallest landmarked section in all of the City. On Smith Street that means
the block between Carroll Street and President Street and half a block in each direction.