By Carter B. Horsley
Robert and Melvyn Kaufman of
the William Kaufman Organization erected many office buildings
in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that were unusual and three of them
are modern landmarks in Lower Manhattan: this building, 77 Water
Street and 17 State Street.]
This 32-story building was
erected in 1971 and its design by Emery Roth & Sons and by
Corchia-de Harak Assocs., headed by Rudi de Harak shocked the
real estate community for it was a very sleek modern and clean-cut
office building whose entrance on Water Street was through a very
large corrugated steel, neon-lit tunnel and whose entrance on
Fulton Street was cascading canvas canopies. In addition, it
featured the worlds largest digital clock on its Water Street
As the most prominent building
at the entrance to the South Street Seaport, it was hard not to
notice and it caused even more of a stir than the other Kaufman
building on Water Street, 77 Water Street, which was very notable
for its open lobby with wooden-front general store fronting on
a meandering stream lined with day-glo love-seats with bright
plastic backs in the form of giant twiddly-winks. That buildings
crowning glory, of course, was a full-size sculpture of a Sopwith
Camel fighter plane (World War I vintage) on an Astroturf runway
replete with windsock.
Several years later, the Kaufmans
broke with their own tradition and had Richard Roth of Emery Roth
& Sons design an office building facing the Statue of Liberty
at 17 State Street with a reflective-glass curved façade
and a glass lobby surrounded by cobblestones. It is the city's,
and perhaps the worlds, most beautiful reflective-glass
Melvyn Kaufman, the feisty,
irascible, and delightful philosopher-developer of the two brothers,
believed vehemently that buildings should do something for the
In 1997, the Rockrose Development
Corporation took over the office building at 127 John Street and
converted it to 576 residential apartments and in the process
changed its address to 200 Water Street. It is also known as
32-38 Fulton Street and 240-266 Pearl Street.
The city enacted zoning changes
in the late 1990s to encourage residential conversions in the
The John Street area was for
many years known as an important insurance company enclave. Rockrose
also converted 99 John Street, which once housed part of AIG Insurance,
to apartments. WSA Equities of Garden City, L.I., converted 80
John Street, a former Travelers Insurance property, to a 147-unit
127 John Street had housed
Prudential Securities when it was an office building but when
the bank consortium that held the mortgage on it took it back
when the market faltered, Rockrose acquired the leasehold in 1996
for $5 million.
According to an article in
the April 6, 1997 edition of The New York Times by Alan
Oser, the $80 million conversion by Rockrose was "the first
in New York in which a first-class postwar office building has
been converted to purely residential use (though with street-level
The base was converted to about
100 duplex apartments of about 1,800 square feet, with living
rooms two stories high and Avinash K. Malhotra noted in Mr. Oser's
article that "Eight elevators will serve the 576 apartments
is three more than would probably have been used in a new building
of similar size designed for residential use."
The article noted that the
curtainwall facade of the building was retained but modified to
provide operable windows and it quoted Mr. Malhotra as saying
that "It's rare to have an apartment house with a curtainwall
facade because it's usually much too expensive."
"The Kaufmans," Mr.
Oser observed, "were known for unusual, highly contemporary
esthetics on their properties, and 127 John Street was no exception.
The lighting designer Howard Branston went to court on behalf
of himself and other designers to try to assure preservation of
some of those elements. 'It was a public amenity, and the developer
was given a floor-area bonus on the basis of the plaza design,'
Mr. Branston said. The case was eventually settled, with Rockrose
agreeing to preserve some elements, although not the unusual galvanized
sheetmetal neon-lit tunnel through which pedestrians entered the
lobby of 127 John."
The building became known as
NYU at the Seaport and was used as a student dormitory, but in
the summer of 2009 Rockrose decided to reconvert the property
to rental apartments.
The building will open a roof
deck next month that will include a barbecue grill, cabana, vending
machines and a "waterfall shower" activated by pulling
a chain attached to the building's rooftop watertank.
Apartments on the seventh floor
have terraces and there are a few duplexes with 21-foot-high ceilings.
The building has 546 apartments.