Saturday, May 28, 2011

From Firehouse to Luxury Prison -- No. 153 Franklin Street

Around the time that the Civil War came to an end, the area around Franklin Street was decidedly working class. In 1865, at No. 153 Franklin Street, a handsome but utilitarian firehouse was constructed for the newly formed Ladder Company 8.

Situated between Hudson and Varick Streets, the three-story brick fire station served an area of modest homes and commercial structures. Its straight-forward vernacular design featured limited embellishment: handsome brownstone lentils and window sills with small brackets and a modest cornice. Attractive double-truck bays graced the street level.

The interior of a typical contemporary New York fire house -- NYPL Collection
As the neighborhood industrialized, so did the building. Ladder Company 8 moved to 7 N. Moore Street and in 1893 John Regan set up his tin smith business here.

Throughout the 20th Century the building remained the home of small industrial businesses while all around grander structures rose, overshadowing it. Next door was the striking loft building of Lipton Tea Company.

Then, in 2008 as the Tribeca renaissance had firmly taken root, the grimy little building was purchased for $6.8 million by Michael Marvisi. Architect Leopoldo Rosati was hired to do a $4 million, one-and-a-half year renovation that transformed the once-humble building into a lavish townhouse.

Unlike those at Riker's Island, many of the fixtures were imported -- photo
Where horse-drawn fire trucks once stood were now a private theatre, a basement gym, a spa, and sleek open spaces. Much of the metal and stone work was crafted in Italy.

A skylight illuminates the sleek, modern living area -- photo
Almost as soon as it was completed, the owner put it on the market for $15 million then, after reconsidering, dropped the price to $14 million. Not that it mattered much.

While the building remained on the market, it was also offered for rental at $50,000 per month. Despite the glamorous interiors and some celebrity interest, there were no takers.

Not until French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn decided he did not like the accommodations on Riker’s Island where he was sent after being arrested for attempted rape of a midtown Manhattan hotel maid.

Strauss-Kahn and his wife, journalist Anne Sinclair, moved into the building at No. 153 Franklin on May 25, 2011 so he could serve his house arrest in decidedly more comfortable surroundings than were offered in prison.

The handsome little firehouse has come far from its humble origins.

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