At a Landmarked NoLIta Parochial School, Now Condos, Jonathan Marvel and Juliet Gold Traversed the Centuries
Tourists flock to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with its divine white marble arches soaring over Fifth Avenue, opposite Rockefeller Center. Before 1858, however, “St. Patrick’s” referred to a smaller building downtown. Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, as it’s known today, still slumbers in a garden behind a massive brick wall in NoLIta. For the past few summers, a trio of rented sheep have strolled the picturesque lawn, keeping it cropped neat and tight— paid for by a whimsical crowdsourcing campaign.
Meanwhile, on the next block, a parallel history unfolds. One of New York’s oldest Federal-style buildings, an official city landmark that dates to 1826, is the former parish parochial school and convent, which also included an orphanage. Civil War–era etchings reportedly show the Union army marching past the redbrick edifice. Fast-forward to the 20th century, when Italian-Americans dominated the neighborhood; the impressive list of school alums included director Martin Scorsese.
Nevertheless, enrollment dwindled over the decades, eventually leading the archdiocese to sell the property for over $30 million to Hamlin Ventures and Time Equities. They hired Marvel Architects, for an expansion and a conversion into the Residences at Prince, and Juliet Gold Design, for the model apartment. Meanwhile, the church retained a few spaces for offices and meeting rooms. You still enter those by mounting the stoop and passing through a central doorway beneath a brightly gilded cross bolted on the brick above.
The serene and symmetrical facade belied interiors that were a crazy quilt of classrooms and corridors when Jonathan Marvel first saw them. Marvel was awed by the subbasement’s stash of decades-old provisions and water storage barrels in case of disaster. Once he removed these and demolished an accumulation of extensions with architecturally mixed results, he stripped the central structure back to its pristine brick walls, still largely preserved beneath a layer of historical plaster. “We got the authenticity for free. Just dusted it off,” he quips. In reality, it was a laborious process to repair the walls and match the existing beige grout.
A former side doorway now serves as the primary point of access for the 34,500-square-foot project. Residents of the seven ultra-luxury apartments walk into a lobby with a concierge desk clad in slices of heavy timber salvaged from elsewhere in the building. Marvel digitally carved the wood with an abstract circular motif.
Massive beams are now exposed in an impressive unit tucked just under the roof, where the nuns’ sleeping cells used to be. Removing the cells, plus a portion of the floor joists, produced a duplex featuring a double-height living room with a wet bar installed in the far corner. A stunning window overlooks the quiet new rear garden.
“The unit is so private, you feel like you’re not even in Manhattan,” Juliet Gold says. Furnishing the 3,800-square-foot five-bedroom as the sales model for the Residences at Prince, Gold chose an array of Italian lighting. A multi-armed chandelier by Gino Sarfatti hangs in the formal dining room, which faces the old churchyard through the multi-paned windows approved by the landmarks commission. The living room got a pair of cocoonlike Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni pendant fixtures, while the master suite has an egglike flush-mounted ceiling fixture by Jasper Morrison.
Being “budget-challenged,” she continues, she used many extremely realistic artificial plants, plus furniture readily available at retail. Flanking the living room’s working fireplace, with its basalt surround, are two enormous white sofas. “In model apartments, I try to keep things neutral,” she says. Though the sofas were more complicated, logistically speaking, than they look. They had to be disassembled to come upstairs, then a team of upholsterers arrived, armed with tools and expertise, to put everything back together again. “That’s it. Those are not leaving,” Marvel jokes. With a simple low table placed in the middle, it’s not hard to imagine a sunlit Sunday morning here spent reading the Times or gazing at the artwork, which Gold was fortunate to be able to borrow from the personal collection of Time Equities chairman and CEO Francis Greenburger.
At the far end of the building from the model apartment, a rear addition hidden from the street is clad in a loose grid of gray cementitious panels. “It’s a dynamic play of the new and old, on purpose,” Marvel explains. In a similar mode, another duplex has a stair with balustrades assembled from folded plates of blackened steel and slabs of salvaged timber. That’s nothing, however, compared with his edgy scheme for a ground-up town house to be constructed on the property’s remaining unbuilt street frontage. The facade will not be Federal brick but modernist glass.
Project Team: Jiabao Zhang: Juliet Gold Design. Nebil Gokcebay; Clayton Fry; Elise Dechard; See Jia Ho; Angel Beale: Marvel Architects. Lighting Workshop: Lighting Consultant. Higgins Quasebarth & Partners: Preservation Consultant. Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers: Structural Engineer. Cosentini Associates: MEP. Derosier Engineering: Civil Engineer. Robert A. Hansen Associates: Acoustical Consultant. GZA Geoenvironmental: Geotechnical Consultant. Scanga Innovative Woodwork: Woodwork. Carrickmore: General Contractor.