Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: “The Heights” Retail Complex
Address: 110 Court Street
Cross Streets: Schermerhorn and State Streets
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1999-2000
Architectural Style: Modernist, Brutalist???
Architect: Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA)
Other Work by Architect: Renovation/Restoration of BAM Majestic Theater, Brooklyn. Also restoration of Radio City Music Hall, New Victory and New Amsterdam Theaters, as re-do of Bryant Park, Manhattan. Also many other projects all over the world.
The story: When I first moved to Brooklyn, in 1983, this block was a mess. Downtown Brooklyn was probably at its lowest point in history, and this block, which had small retail stores, a deli, pizza parlor, and a movie theater, was in varying stages of decay. The movie theater, which had opened as the Boro Hall Theater in 1924, was now the Cine-Art Theater, specializing in porn, with occasional live strip shows. It gave class to the whole neighborhood. NOT.
In 1989, even they gave up the ghost, and the theater doors were boarded up, leaving a dark, graffiti-engraved cave-like entrance where the homeless and other desperate people found shelter and a place to relieve themselves or shoot up. One by one the businesses closed, and so when Forest City Ratner bought up the whole block, everyone in the area was quite happy about it. Unfortunately, there was a lot of time between purchase and project, and this block was still dangerous and scary for many years. I remember the wind used to blow garbage and newspapers into the doorways, covering the homeless guy in the theater entryway, and at a time when not much of New York City was ever clean, this was always worse.
Forest City began tearing the old buildings down, and out of the rubble came this strange building. I don’t recall anyone every saying they liked it, and by the time it was finished, it was official – it was strange and quite unattractive. But it gave us a decent, safe and clean movie theater, a 12-plex, even, which downtown hadn’t had in fifty years, and it gave us Barnes & Noble Booksellers, with a Starbucks inside. Who’s going to complain about that? Well, of course, plenty of people. This is Brooklyn, after all.
Forest City Ratner and their architects, HHPA, said this about the building, which they had named “The Heights”: “Design of the new building responds to the assorted architectural influences of its surroundings, and with careful manipulation of massing and materials, minimizes its impact. A marquee at the southeast corner announces the cinemas’ entrance and through the use of glass corners, exposes activities within cinema lobbies. To express individual cinemas and enliven the windowless facades, HHPA developed a design that juxtaposes a broad spectrum of colors, patterns, and setbacks creating an overlap that variegates the tower’s dimensions and patterns.”
Today, thirteen years later, the building has sort of grown on us. It no longer shocks; its multicolored chevrons have mellowed with age, and we are more used to seeing tall but rather ungainly buildings rising on Brooklyn’s avenues. Barnes & Noble is full of children in strollers, nannies and parents, teenagers slouched in the aisles and adults at their computers at Starbucks. The movie theater shows the latest blockbusters, and the lines sometimes stretch back as far as Barnes & Noble’s doors. Whether you like the design or not, the building works as it was intended, anchoring the retail and fast food joints on this end of Court Street. Should we have expected more? GMAP