Brownstoner happened across this apparently finished installation by artist Tom Fruin on the top of the former Broken Angel building at 4-8 Downing Street in Clinton Hill. As readers may recall, developer and architect Alex Barrett of Barrett Design, who is converting the building to condos, told Brownstoner in April the piece was in the works.
The condos are still under construction, but sold out in less than a month when they went on the market in April. Longtime Brooklyn residents and Brownstoner readers will recall the sad story of this building, which could be read as a metaphor for the history of Brooklyn in recent years. It has gone from tenement to empty shell to art project to condos, as property values have fluctuated.
Broken Angel intact in 2006. Photo by Onebadapple
It was built as a tenement in the 1880s, and artist Arthur Wood and his family bought the empty shell for a few thousand dollars in the late 1970s. They made it their home and Wood transformed the building into an art project that some compared to Los Angeles’ Watts Towers. In 2006, the city ordered the elegiac sculpture dismantled because it violated building codes.
After a team of Pratt students and professors tried but failed to preserve the structure as art, eventually Wood lost the building to foreclosure, around the same time his wife Cynthia died of cancer. Many pictures of the building and the Wood family around this time can be seen at the Flickr account of Wood’s son Christopher Wood.
Wood was evicted in 2013 at the age of 82 and moved to Beacon. In 2014, Barrett Design bought the property for $4,100,000 from another developer.
Artist Arthur Wood at his farewell party in 2013
The Fruin piece is somewhat reminscent of Broken Angel. It also uses found scraps, including glass and metal. Fruin, best known for his water-tower sculptures, “started out his career walking around Bed Stuy picking up found objects, not unlike Arthur Wood, so I think it’s appropriate,” Barrett said in April.
It reflects “our desire to pay tribute to the artistic history of the building without being directly referential,” he said. The conversion and adaptation of the building “was a real challenge for us because there is a lot of history here. We didn’t want to whitewash that, but we wanted to do something new.”
The cornice of the building was lost long ago — perhaps when Arthur Wood built his soaring structure on the roof, perhaps earlier — so the railing serves as a cornice or a “decorative terminus of the facade,” in Barrett’s words.
The townhouse condos under construction next door — in the former yard space — are also part of the development.
The building under construction earlier this year, before the installation of the Fruin sculpture
Eight of 10 Broken Angel Condos in Contract in Less Than a Month [Brownstoner]
Look Inside the Condos at Clinton Hill’s Former Broken Angel [Brownstoner]
Developer Buys Broken Angel for $4.1 Million, Plans Condos [Brownstoner]
A Few Pics From the Broken Angel Party [Brownstoner]
Broken Angel Coverage [Brownstoner]