Residential Redevelopment of Theater Proposed for Bartel-Pritchard Circle Site

Architect's rendering of the Pavilion Theater development. Image credit: Morris Adjmi Architects

Architect’s rendering of the Pavilion Theater development. Image credit: Morris Adjmi Architects

Proposal would demolish one-story commercial building to construct five-story-plus-penthouse apartment building, and build a contemporary addition onto 1920s theater. On April 18, 2015, Landmarks considered a proposal to demolish a one-story 1920s commercial building, construct a new apartment building, and alter and build an addition to a 1920s theater at 187-191 Prospect Park West in the Park Slope Historic District Extension. The theater building, at the corner of 14th Street, faces Prospect Park, as would the new apartment building, but with a longer curved facade on Bartel Pritchard Circle. The site’s developers are Hidrock Properties.

The one-story brick commercial building put forth for demolition is listed as “no-style” in the district’s designation report. The neo-Renaissance theater, thought to date to 1928, originally provided live entertainment, and was converted into a movie theater in 1949. Originally known as the Sanders Theater, it was later renamed the Pavilion Theater. The developers intend to retain the movie theater use on the ground floor, while the rest of the building will be converted to residential use.

Architect Morris Adjmi and consultant Ward Dennis, of Higgins Quasebarth and Partners, introduced the proposal. Dennis stated that the theater retained the majority of its historic fabric, though windows had been enlarged and ground floor infill had been replaced.

The new apartment building would be clad in light buff-colored brick with a limestone base. Its park-fronting facade would be set back eight inches from the face of the theater, and its longer face, along Bartel Pritchard Circle, would curve with the circumference of the roundabout. The building would have a projecting string course above the fourth floor, and a concave cornice would be intended to reflect the circle it would face. The metal-clad setback penthouse floor would be minimally visible from public thoroughfares. On the ground floor, large square windows would be reminiscent of the retail storefronts of the area.

A fire stair running along both street facades would be removed, and new balcony installed where the fire escape was on the front facade. A rooftop addition to the theater was proposed, inspired by the cast-iron and glass rooftop garden pavilions that historically topped some theaters. The addition, made of corrugated metal and glass, would take the form of a gambrel. The addition would be partially visible from some street vantages, and substantially visible for certain points within Prospect Park. A new marquee would be installed at the base.

On the theater’s 14th-Street facing sidewall, windows would be created for the residential interior. Decorative, patterned brick would surround the windows, constituting large framed panels. A garage entry would be created on the 14th Street sidewall, and the applicants have already received permission from the Department of Transportation for a curb cut. Windows on the main façade, as well as the storefront, would be replaced.

Council Member Brad Lander, who represents Park Slope, commended Hidrock for agreeing to maintain a movie theater at the site, which he recognized as an act of preservation outside Landmark’s scope, but one which was important to the quality of life in the neighborhood. Lander also praised the applicants for altering their design in response to objections raised at Community Board meeting, including the incorporation of more masonry, limestone cladding, and brick of a color similar to the district’s historic brick. Craig Hammerman, District Manager for Brooklyn Community Board 6, read a statement in conditional approval of the development. The community board supported the proposed demolition, but found the height of the apartment building excessive, and its base to have too much of retail-like appearance. He also recommended that the cornice be strengthened, and opined that the fenestration on the building was too symmetrical for the district. A representative of Assembly Member James Brennan read a statement objecting to the commercialization of Bartel Pritchard Circle, and calling the new building “out of context with the existing historic district.”

The Park Slope Civic Council’s Peter Bray testified in strong opposition to the height of the proposed apartment building, which he said was out of scale with the buildings on the Circle, and would overwhelm the theater. The Society for the Architecture of the City’s Christabel Gough objected to the insertion of windows on the theater’s secondary 14th Street facade, asking Landmarks to “preserve the monumental experience” of the theater’s sidewall. Barbara Zay, of the Historic District Council, said the theater building should be “respected…rather than stripped of its defining details and dwarfed by monstrous accretions.” Another area resident said the applicant made no attempt at “historical or contextual accuracy,” and that the introduction of contemporary architecture to the site would have a “jarring effect” on the district. Other speakers testified that buildings on the circle had a consistent cornice line at the fourth floor.

Adjmi responded to testimony saying he heard the concerns about the height of the new building “loud and clear,” and would look at ways to set back or reduce the fifth floor to render the building deferential to the theater. Dennis said the project was never intended to replicate historic architecture and was always meant to read as something of its own period.

Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan found the planned adaptive reuse of the Pavilion building and development of the underutilized adjacent lot “incredibly positive,” and said there was much to admire in the proposal. Srinivasan found that the theater could support a rooftop addition, but questioned the size of the one proposed.

Commissioner Roberta Washington asked the applicants to consider adding a reveal between the new building and the theater to better differentiate the new and old fabric, and also opined that the fifth floor of the new apartment building should be reduced or removed. Commissioner Michael Devonshire thought the theater addition should be made smaller, and that the new building needed to be lowered. Devonshire also was concerned about the possible effect of light from the new ground floor windows on the street experience at night. Commissioner Michael Goldblum thought the theater addition should be redesigned to give it more of the “lightness and laciness” of historic roof pavilions.

Srinivasan asked the applicants to revise their design in light of commissioner comments, and return to Landmarks at a later date.

LPC: 187-191 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn (16-9249) (August 18, 2015) (Architects:

By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law)

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