It's been two and a half years since Streit's Matzo Factory at Rivington and Suffolk Street was demolished to make way for a luxury condominium (don't weep for Streit's—they sold the property for $30 million to Cogswell Lee Development and moved upstate). The 45-unit building at 150 Rivington is almost ready for its Tesla-driving residents, and thanks to Open House New York, we were able to take a tour of what is arguably the handsomist glass box on the Lower East Side.
Streit's was actually a collection of 4 buildings with five different addresses. "It was pretty amazing, there were ramps, stairs, and ladders connecting everything," said Marc Gee, a principle at Gluck+, the firm that designed and built 150 Rivington. "There were a lot of modifications and conveyor belts that went through, like a Rube Goldberg machine."
When it came time to tear everything down, Gee said the workers made do with just crowbars: "All the mortar had turned to sand."
Gee noted that "the neighborhood had mixed reactions...Some people were upset that we took down the matzo factory, but we didn't take it down, somebody asked us to."
Streit's 150 Rivington Street headquarters in 2014 (courtesy Menemsha Films)
The surviving 100-year-old tenement buildings surrounding 150 Rivington presented a design challenge, one that many developers seem happy to ignore. "We tried to keep the rhythm and the texture around us, but in a modern way," architect Rikako Wakabayashi explained. To that end, the firm created four different panels of Fiber Reinforced Polymer, material that is used to make boats and bathtubs, for the facade, and arranged them in a way to create a look of "fabric that is flowing and undulating," Wakabayashi said.
Gee said that after the FRP facade was installed, "that was when the neighbors realized it wasn't just another condominium going up. They saw it was slightly unique, and would bring value to the neighborhood."
FRP is also a very strong material. "You can drive a forklift into it," Gee added.
Some of the apartments will have retractable glass walls (at left), in case residents want to quickly add or subtract a bedroom. (One of those units is selling for $2.7 million.)
Three lucky condo owners on the second floor will have access to their own 700 square-foot shared patio. The rest of the building will have to make do with the 1,500-square-foot roof, which will have a "yoga deck," BBQ grills, and common space.
The penthouse (Gothamist)
Four penthouses are located on the seventh floor, and some of them will have private staircases to private patios. The ceilings in the penthouses are 13 feet, 6 inches high.
"Developers care about ceiling height and the number of units," Gee told the group. "Those are the first questions they generally ask: 'How tall? How many?'"
The view from a penthouse (Gothamist)
Standing in the northwest penthouse, Gee expounded on the project.
"Ultimately, these are very big houses. And it's satisfying [to build]. Maybe not as satisfying as working for a not-for-profit, where there are going to be hundreds, if not thousands of people sharing the space."
The penthouses are selling for around $4 million apiece.
Outside on the street, Gee pointed out that the glass used for the penthouses is more reflective than the glass used for the rest of the building. "Has anyone seen the movie Predator?" Gee asked, explaining that the different glass allows the penthouses to melt away and become less visible and intrusive at a distance. "If you're walking up to the building, that block fades away, and it blends into the background."
150 Rivington's first floor is reserved for retail, though no leases have been signed yet. Gee said that interest has come from food vendors, but the building isn't equipped to accommodate restaurants. Construction is slated to be finished by the end of 2018.
At some point, the luxury condo building will share the block with a reborn ABC No Rio, at 156 Rivington. The crumbling tenement that housed the venerated Lower East Side community art space, home to countless hardcore and punk Saturday matinees, was demolished along with Streit's. No Rio was able to raise around $8 million in donations and grants from the city to build its new space, a passive house designed by architect Paul Castrucci.
"We've got a few more hoops to jump through but we really do hope that we'll start work by the end of the year, or early 2019," said Steven Englander, ABC No Rio's director. (Currently, the organization's zine library lives "in exile" at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on Suffolk Street.)
"I'm not a big fan of glass curtain buildings personally, but I don't doubt for a second that the developer knows his market," Englander said of 150 Rivington. "If people didn't want to live in glass curtain buildings, they'd stop building them."
Englander, who has lived in the LES off and on since 1979, and first became involved with ABC No Rio in the late '80s, said he felt that the neighborhood's "more drastic changes" happened a decade or more ago, long before Streit's was knocked down.
"To be honest with you, in some respects, the emergence of Hell's Square, or what I'd call the 'entertainment district,' probably has more impact on the flavor of the neighborhood than a development like this," Englander said. "And Essex Crossing is going to have the greatest impact."
Back in the '80s and '90s, most of the people who frequented ABC No Rio lived in the neighborhood. "The people who volunteered to run No Rio recently came from all the boroughs, they came from New Jersey, Westchester, Long Island," Englander noted. "The idea of one bohemian neighborhood in New York City is sort of over."
Did Englander think that the residents of 150 Rivington would hang out at ABC No Rio?
"Maybe their children," he replied.