Williamsburg Project Will Adapt Historic Theater Into Apartments, Keep Rare Exterior

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A 19th century Romanesque Revival-style building on Williamsburg’s South 6th Street, built as as theater and until recently slated to be razed for a 26-story hotel, will keep its striking exterior and be converted to a 29-unit residential building.

The preservation of the historic building at 107 South 6th Street is likely due to its current zoning, which stops developers from being able to build anything larger on the site without undergoing a rezoning. The four-story former theater is already larger than what would typically be allowed on the site in the mixed commercial residential area, according to PropertyShark data.

While the little-known 1891 architectural gem hasn’t been landmarked by the city, it was declared eligible for the National Register in 2019. The National Register notes of the building: “Distinctive features include the rusticated corner piers, turrets, round and square medallions, and round-arched windows on the upper floor…This is a relatively rare surviving building type.”

view from broadway and bedford showing the building with the williamsburg bridge in the distance

terra cotta details on the brick building including egg and dart molding

The report also says the building is representative of local industrial architecture of the late 19th century and early 20th century in Williamsburg. Its arched windows on the top floor, turrets, and decorative terra-cotta medallions, combined with its functional form, give the building a strong and elegant presence on the block.

Depending on the adaptive reuse plans for the building, and how much they will affect the historic facade (among other things), the developers could qualify for tax credits for the project.

Brownstoner reached out to Joseph Lentini, a member of building owner Williamsburg Workshop LLC, for more details on the conversion but didn’t hear back. But Nikolai Katz of Nikolai Katz Architect, the architect of record for the project, confirmed the facade will remain the same while the interior will be renovated.

williamsburg - view of the upper levels of the brick former theater showing decorative details

a runner passes by the rear of the building on the williamsburg bridge pedestrian walkway

A view of the rear facade of 107 South 6th Street from the Williamsburg Bridge

The building, which most recently housed a fitness center, opened in October of 1891 as the Bedford Avenue Theater and was designed by William H. Gaylor. The new theater replaced a brick stable previously on the site that was torn down to make way for the new venue.

A newspaper article covering the opening show at the theater on October 5, 1891 (a comedy translated from French) described the building as a “handsome and cozy playhouse,” “admirable in architectural design,” and “in all ways beautiful.” “Architect Gaylor has given to Brooklyn a playhouse of which it may well be proud,” the reporter wrote.

In 1893 the building was renamed the Empire Theater, and by the fall of 1901 the theater was closed. The stage and the back section of the building were sacrificed for the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge, which almost abuts the rear facade of the building.

The Odeon Theatre, opened at Driggs Avenue and South 4th Street in 1850s and renamed Seaver’s Opera House in the early 20th century, has at times been confused with the South 6th Street structure. However, the former theater at 107 South 6th Street never made a return as a cultural space.

A 1916 historic map shows that the truncated building was being used as a garage and repair shop, a use that continued through the 1920s and 1930s. In the middle to later half of the century, it became the headquarters and warehouse of Fruitcrest Corporation.

In 1975, the current owners seem to have taken ownership of the building, along with the neighboring three-story mixed-use building at 109 South 6th Street, city records show. In 2006 the deeds to both properties were transferred to Williamsburg Workshop LLC for no cost, with Joseph Lentini signing for both companies.

signs for the somo fitness business at the streetlevel of the building

Somo fitness center was the last tenant in the space

In 2007, the building at 107 South 6th was converted into use as the Soma fitness center and the exterior was restored. After a more than 20 year run, the gym closed around the start of 2020, online reviews show.

In April 2020, an application for a new-building permit was filed for a 26-story, 242-unit hotel that would have replaced 107, 109, and 111 South 6th Street, as well as 394 Bedford Avenue, according to DOB records.

The building would have had 94 underground parking spaces, commercial offices on four floors, and 20 floors of hotel rooms, the application said. However, the 255 feet tall hotel, designed by Achimaera Architecture, was ultimately rejected by DOB.

The upcoming residential conversion will see the building house 29 apartments and 5,444 square feet of commercial space, according to an application for an Alt-1 permit submitted December 14 but not yet issued. It specifies no work on the facade or exterior of the building. Shimon Kleinman is listed as a representative for the owner on the permit application; city records show the building is still owned by Williamsburg Workshop LLC.

williamsburg - view of former theater on 6th street with williamsburg bridge in the background

The building at 109 South 6th Street on the right

the bracketed cornice on the adjoining 109 south 6th street

Meanwhile, an application for an alteration permit has also been filed for the neighboring 19th century storefront building at 109 South 6th Street.

The permit says the work will include interior renovations on the second and third floors, but with no change in use, egress, or occupancy. The ground floor of the building had previously been used as a cafe for the gym next door.

Like the project at 107 South 6th Street, Nikolai Katz is listed as the architect behind the designs and Shimon Kleinman is listed as the owner’s representative.

99 South 6th Street

view from Berry Street showing low scale brick buildings some with windows missing

The block of South 6th Street between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street has relatively few new buildings on it and some of the older structures on the north side of the street don’t seem to be getting that much attention from landlords.

The buildings on the north side appear to have just a handful of owners, with those between 91 and 99 South 6th Street all associated with LLCs registered to the same address in New Rochelle, N.Y. The LLCs took ownership of the five sites in 1985, according to city records.

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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