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Walker Tower wows ’em

By Liana Grey


Several years ago, Michael Stern, managing partner at JDS Development, set out to convert an Art Deco office tower at 212 West 18th Street into condos.

Rather than tear down the 82-year-old building, which was owned by Verizon, and replace it with a modern glass-and-steel development, JDS and partner Property Markets Group (PMG) gutted the interior and spruced up the façade with ornamental metalwork inspired by the Art Deco era.

“You’d never build something like this today,” said Stern, who founded JDS while in his 20s. “You couldn’t afford to.” Stern’s firm is responsible for a handful of modern buildings elsewhere in the city. “We build new glass buildings where appropriate,” he said.

Towering above southern Chelsea’s row houses at 23 stories, with five different shades of brick in a variety of shapes, the former Verizon building is a neighborhood treasure, he explained.  And it had good bones for residential conversion.

Setbacks that were part of the building’s tiered, wedding-cake like design, for instance, formed natural terraces. So nearly half of the development’s 50 units — which average about 3,000 s/f each and range from one to five bedrooms — have outdoor space.

When sales launched at the end of June, 400 people managed to squeeze into the building’s 10th floor model unit and mingle on the terrace, Stern said. The three-bedroom unit has historic touches, including bathroom tiles modeled after a wallpaper print Stern came across in a coffee table book on Art Deco design, and framed portals between the kitchen and living room.

Units average about 3,000 s/f each and range from one to five bedrooms

But it also has modern ones, including an iPad mounted on the living room wall and an iPod in the kitchen. With a separate foyer, the unit resembles a stately suburban home.

“You come into a defined entry space,” Stern explained. “These are the kind of things that make [the units] feel like homes instead of apartments.”Though the development won’t be complete until next June, Shaun Osher of CORE, who is directing sales for the building, has already sold around 25 percent of the units.

“The buyers are primarily New Yorkers, moving from uptown, Tribeca or SoHo,” said Stern, adding that only one buyer so far is foreign. Though units at the building are unusually large, some buyers have opted to combine apartments.

“You’d never build something like this today,” said Stern. “You couldn’t afford to.”

On average, units are priced around $3,000 per s/f, according to CORE’s website, with the development’s eight penthouses closer to $10,000 per s/f. A duplex penthouse with three bedrooms, 4.5 baths, and a wood burning fireplace is listed on Streeteasy at $14 million. A full-floor, nearly 7,000 s/f penthouse on the top floor — which is currently only accessible by construction elevator — has a living room spanning 70 feet and unobstructed views of midtown (including the Empire State Building), the Financial District, the Hudson River, and the Statue of Liberty. A children’s playroom, fitness center, and roof deck are still under construction.

And the sales office will eventually be converted into a residents’ lounge. Before sales were launched, the space held an exhibit on Walker’s architectural work, including the first Art Deco tower in Manhattan: the Barclay-Vesey Telephone Building, now known as the Verizon Building, at 140 West Street.Stern is a big fan of the architect.

Soon, JDS Development and PMG will begin converting another Verizon building designed by Walker, 435 West 50th Street, into condos, which are slated for completion in 2014. 

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