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06.21.2011
Not Too Close
New renderings of Chelsea's General Theological Seminary reveal new luxury enclave.
View east along 20th Street.
Courtesy BBB

In 1883 the General Theological Seminary campus designed by Charles Coolidge Haight was lapped  at its western edge by the waters of the Hudson. Now it will lap more condo owners in luxury.

After selling the buildings on the east end for $10 million to the Brodsky Organization to develop Chelsea Enclave, luxury apartments designed by Polshek Partnership, the seminary still found itself $41 million in the hole. Last winter, it was revealed that Brodsky   continued on page 10  Not?too Close continued from front page  would take over an additional 90,000 square feet, including the seminary’s oldest building, the West Building, built in 1836. The developer retained Beyer, Blinder, Belle (BBB) to design more luxury housing within the historic quad, known as the Close. New renderings show a building replacing a tennis court and playground and connected by a glass link to the West Building, also being converted to luxe condos.

 
View of the glass link between the West Building and addition from the Close (left) and from 20th street (right).
 

BBB principal John Beyer said that the new building’s design refers back to the old campus in the same manner as Polshek’s. With the exception of the West Building, the old campus structures have strong rusticated bases, red brick midsections with pronounced cornice lines and robust turrets and slate clad gables above. The new design mimics that organization, with the same rusticated base, a red brick middle, but with a zinc clad set-back at the top. A steel band course divides base from the midsection with recessed flush bay windows for four stories, before setting back twice to provide balconies for the top two floors. Facing the Close, Beyer said, the generous glass corners at the top defer to the set backs of the original campus. “We wanted to dematerialize that top, to make it soft,” he said.

For the gothic West Building, the firm plans to clear away the ivy that is eating away the Manhattan schist façade and otherwise restore the exterior. The garden will be restored as well by Andrew Moore of Quennell Rothschild Partners. Moore said that with the exception of one crabapple tree, all of the large trees would be left untouched and the hodgepodge of paving stones will be restored to the original bluestone. “We’ve been looking at the historical development of the Close and the character is primarily grass and trees in the center,” said Moore, noting that a child’s play area will be relocated and adults provided with a barbeque area in place of the tennis court.

At the Community Board 4 meeting held on June 1, Save Chelsea, who in the past has been an outspoken critic of the Brodsky plan, referred reporters to one lone voice against the plan. Architect and Chelsea resident David Holowka argued the new building design “cynically imitates” Polshek’s as “a strategy to get it through landmarks.” Noting that even the original master planner “took pains to take a hands-off approach to the West Building, to leave it to its own time, symmetry and materials,” he complained that with the glass link, “it’s no longer a self-contained free standing symmetrical building.”

A public hearing for the proposal at the Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled for June 21.

Tom Stoelker