A Case Study of an
Adaptive Use Project
Mc Creary Department Store
llth Street and Broadway
New York City, New York
Professor F. B. Reeves
University of Florida
December 12, 1977
Doyle R. Harper
Project: The Cast Iron Building
(Mc Creary's Department Store)
Architect: Stephen B. Jacobs and Associates,,
David M. Lewis, job captain.
Program: 144 units of housing in a converted
cast iron -tructure with ground floor
Site: Broadway and llth Streets, New York City
Costs: $20 per square foot (aprox.)
Consultants: Alvin Fischer and Robert D.
Redlien,, P.C., structural; Harold Rosen
Built in 1868 this building is one of the finest
cast-iron buildings left in New York City. Designed by
john Kellum for Mc Creary's Dry Goods Store, it was
favricated and put up by J. B. and W. W. Cornell for a
sum of $300,000.
Me Creary soon sold the building to the Methodist
Publishing Company. However, Mc Creary leased the lower
floors from the publishing company where they (Mc Creary)
had a very prosperous business until 1902.
When John Kellum designed the iron building for Mc Creary,,
he crowned it with a splendid mansard roof, which with its
lacy cresting has long since been replaced with a low
fifth story of square windows.
In 1940, this once proud building became a lowly shoe
and leather handbag factory with an antique statuary store,
on the lower floors. Early on the morning of October 3,
1971, a fire broke out in the factory area severely
damaging the building. However, the iron structure and
great facades withstood the blaze.
Brought to their attention by a brother-in-law,, the
building was purchased in 1972 by the Elghanayan brothers,.
They are the second generation of an old New York City
real estate family. The brothers--Henery, a 32 year-old
lawyer, Tom, a 28 year-old businessman, and Fred, a 24 year-
old engineer--have been doing renovations since they
started Rockrose Associated in 1969. Their work has been
primarily in smaller brownstones, but they have done two
landmarks: an apartment building in Brooklyn and the
Van Rensselaer Hotel on llth Street.
Since the brothers did not want to tackle the problems
of cast-iron, they saw the 17,000 square foot plot as an
ideal location to build a high-rise apartment house. The
City Planning Commission approved their plans for the
new building, but the Local Planning Board No. 2 had
reservations about loosing this majestic old building.
Although the planning buard didn't completely baulk at the
proposal, they make it clear that they were unhappy about
losing a favorite building. With this the brothers began
investigating the building's history and tried to determine
a new use for the old store.
To get a reasonable return on their money the
Elghanayan's decided that they would have to transform the
building into luxury apartments. However, the building was
not large enough to allow a sufficient number of large
apartments with high rents to show a profit. The lack
of a 30 foot yard required for residential buildings also
was a zoning problem. Therefore, Rockrose applied to the
Board of Standards and appeals for a variance to allow an
extra floor and because of the 16 foot windows, to permit
construction without the light and air yard.
After eight months the variances supported by Friends
of Cast-Iron, Local Flanning Board No. 2 and the llth Street
Block Association, passed the appeals Board and construction
began in October 1972.
Renovation of this project has proven costly and
time consuming. Although the cast-iron structure was
still in good condition after 100 years of service,, new
pressures of adaptive use required some steel reinforcing.
The project was challenging because so many things were
initially unknown. The first floor had six ceilings to be
removed as well as miles of old gas pipe thoughtout the
building. The sixteen foot high windows were decreased in
width as they progressed away from Broadway. Therefore,
each piece of glass had to be cut and fit individually
on the site.
High ceilings on most floors allowed the addition of
sleeping lofts in many of the apartment spaces. Since these
loft spaces would get hot, a flexible air conditioning
system qas needed. Also to maintain integrity on the exterior
facades the architect, Stephen B. Jacobs and Associates chose
not to use the conventional unit in a wall sleeve. He
chose instead the heat-pump system that would allow heating
and cooling interchangeably and it does not need a fresh
Renovation vosts were above $4 million, 25% over
initial estimates. Studios without sleeping lofts would
rent for $250 per month and those with the lofts would
start at $360 per month. The amenities would include
24 hour doorman service, valet service and private security
None of the 144 apartments would be the same, The
irregular cast-iron structure required that columns occur
where they might, in the kitchen, living room or the hall.
Even with unanticipated problems and additional costs,.
the future looks good for the project. The tax abatement
for renovated buildings and all units filled guarantee a
bright future. When asked if Rockrose and Associates would
do the project again,if they had the chance, Tom Elghanayan
replies that, even with the uncertainties, they would
do it again.
In researching this project I wrote to the architect,
the mechanical engineers, the structural engineers and the
Friends of Cast-Iron. Of these I heard from Stephen B.
Jacobs and Associates, architects who supplied at my expense
the plans and specifications after two letters and a phone
call. Also, Margot Gayle, chairperson of Friends of Cast-
Iron, wrote to inform me of that organizations role in
helpint to pass the variances to the Board of Standards.
Ms. Gayle also sent a copy of a New York Times article of
Sunday, July 15, 1973, that was of great help and
she supplied me with suggestions for other sourses including
her book, Cast-Iron Architecture in New York.
The plans reveal much about the building, I must commend
the architect on meeting safety and fire code requirements,
and overall the project looks well done. However, I
question some of the layouts in the apartments. I realize
the limitations of the structure and that a free standing
column adds character and possibly a higher rent to an
apartment, but columns in doorways and directly in front of
doorways is poor disign when minor adjustments and changes
could correct this problem.
The study of this project has been particularly
enjoyable to me, and I look forward to visiting New York
City and personally viewing the site.
"Cast Iron Conversion," Progressive Architecture,
February, 1975, pp. 64-66.
Gayle,. Margot and Edmund J. Gillon Jr,, Cast Iron
Architecture in New York, New York: Dover
Publications, Inc., 1974, pp. 161-162.
Spencer, Janet, "A Cast-Iron Leftover Being Converted
to Apartments," The New York Times, July 15, 1973o
Cast iron conversion
.EF77r7n ,, &;7
The old McCreary Department Store at the corner of
Broadway and 11th streets in New York City, is one of the
largest remaining cast iron buildings. Like many other loft-
type buildings, it had fallen into disuse and was finally
abandoned. Under pressure from artists groups, recent re-
zoning in the SoHo area of the city legally permitted living
In these buildings and, with a growing demand for this loft-
type living as an alternative to high-rise, expensive, drab
housing, it seems natural that this building be adapted for
similar uses. The developer who had bought the building,
however, wanted to demolish it and build a high-rise, but
with the help of the Friends of Cast Iron and local commu-
nity groups who appeared before the Board of Appeals,
* variances were obtained to make residential renovation
economically feasible, The variances allowed two addi-
tional floors to be built within the existing building bulk; one
was inserted in the 20-ft-high first floor space; the second
was built on the roof up to the old cornice height,
LR L *R i LOR BR L
.5-- ---- -
LA, Lr L A.L R L
TI -AN LO
THIRD AND FOURTH FLOOR (TYPICAL)
64 Progressive Architecture 2:75
SECTION LOOKING EAST
' I o '' .
2:75 Proaressive Architecture
Interiors of apartments show the interesting spatial layout achieved
by building in sleeping lofts in the three floors with high ceilings.
Lobby entrance (below) has Corinthian column popping up in its midst.
Because of its unusual corner site, its cast iron facades
are load bearing, and the interior structure of heavy timber
beams supported by Corinthian columns is on a somewhat
irregular grid, due to the sites odd shape. Architect Ste-
phen Jacobs laid out 144 units ranging from studios to
three bedrooms with duplex apartments on the upper two
floors and commercial spaces on the ground floor. As the
rather random grid of columns seldom aligned with the ex-
terior columns, the grid of the exterior walls was chosen
(for the most part) as the module for the apartments, leav-
ing cast iron columns to pop up where they might. Besides
the standard studio and duplex type apartments, the gener-
ous height of the loft building's 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors al-
lowed the architect to design sleeping lofts over the kitch-
ens and baths in all of these units. Costs for this type of
renovation, according to the developer, are 20 to 30 per-
cent less than for new construction, Although the architect
feels that some corners were cut, these are not evident and
the tenants seem quite satisfied with what they are getting
for their money.
Project: The Cast Iron Building.
Architect: Stephen B. Jacobs & Associates, David M. Lewis, job captain.
Program: 144 units of housing in a converted cast iron structure with
ground floor commercial use.
Site: Broadway and 11th sts, New York City.
Costs: $20 per sq ft. (approximate)
Consultants: Alvin Fischer & Robert D. Redlien, P.C., structural; Harold
Rosen Associates, mechanical.
Photography: James Brett.
Professional Practice Study
My architect that I contacted about this study was:
Mr. William Bodley Lane
101 S. Harrison Avenue
Kirkwood, Missouri 63122
After writing twice, once on October 24,, and again on
November 15, I have to date not received any reply.
A Cast-Iron Leftover
To Apartments A
Sunday, July 15, 1973
An elegant relic with
will soon be a modern
By JANET SPENCER
At the corner of llth Street and
Broadway, in a neighborhood of loft
buildings relieved by antique shops
and used-book stores, stands one of
the finest cast-iron structures in New
York. The elegant relic is tattered
now, but after massive renovation it
is to open its doors next winter to a
new public of residents and shop
Transforming this 19th-century left-
over into a profitable 20th-century
apartment house has been a problem
and a challenge. The building, al-
though architecturally sound, was not
thought to be economically viable and
consequently was not eligible for the
official sanction of the city's Land-
marks Preservation Commission.
The building was purchased in 1972
by the Elghanayan brothers, Amer-
ican-born Iranians whose name, while
difficult to pronounce (it's EI-GAHN-
yan), is by no means unfamiliar in
New York real estate circles. Their
father, Nourollah, and uncle, John,
were active builders of large residen-
tial buildings in the city for more than
15 years. They operated the Elmore
Both have now retired from real
estate, and the younger generation is
carrying on the family tradition
through Rockrose Associates, 31 West
The brothers-Henry, a 32-year-old
lawyer; Tom, a 28-year-old business-
man, and Fred, a 24-year-old engineer
-have been doing renovations since
they started Rockrose four years ago.
Most of their jobs have been small
brownstones, but historical buildings
are nothing new to them. In fact, they
have renovated two landmarks: an
apartment building in Brooklyn
Heights and the Van Rensselaer Hotel,
also on 11th Street, which is now
The cast-iron building was first
called to their attention by their
brother-in-law, an antiques dealer who
saw it as a perfect location for nu-
merous antique shops.
The builders saw the 17,000-square-
foot plot as ideal for a high-rise apart-
ment house. "We didn't want to
tackle the problems of cast iron,"
Tom recalls, "and it made sense to
build a new building on such a big
plot, of land, especially if we could
buy the adjoining properties." With
this in mind, they asked their archi-
tect, Stephen Jacobs, to obtain the
necessary zoning change.
The City Planning Commission indi-
cated that it would approve the high-
rise, but Local Planning Board No. 2
Continued on Page 10, Col. 1
Photograph by Henri CzhorawskL
THE NEW YORK TIMES, SUNDAY, JULY 15, 1973
Cast-Iron Relic Being
Continued from Page I
in Greenwich Village had
While the planning board
members could not exactly
balk at the proposal, they
made it clear that the loss
of a favorite building would
make them unhappy. The
builders began thinking in
terms of renovation.
'"The community didn't
push us into renovation,"
says Henry, "but their sup-
port gave us the courage to
pursue a time-consuming, ex-
The brothers started dig-
ging into the building's his-
tory. Built in 1868 as a depart-
ment store (the designer is un-
known), it was sold shortly
thereafter to the Methodist
Publishing Company, which
in turn sold it in 1889 to
James McCreary Dry Goods
In 1940 the once-proud
building became a lowly shoe a
factory. Finally deserted and ..
damaged by a fire in 1971.
the building was ripe for
demolition when Rockrose
purchased it. The cast-iron columns in the old bi
Cast iron is above all dur- various places in the apartments, w
able, however. Even years of were usually commercial
neglect could not destroy it. structures, cast iron was
It was the first modular considered a bastard child
architecture, and Americans of neoclassical architecture
-especially New Yorkers- (when James Bogardus, the
built the standard compo- leading cast-iron designer,
nents and sent them for as- built his Fifth Avenue town-
semblage throughout the house, he hired Stanford
country and the world, White to create it). But now
Because of its mail-order history and esthetics have
nature and because the build- dulled the aura of illegit-
ings in which it was used imacy, And the sheer
Room 20, 44 West 9th Sti
Converted to Apartments
has a pleasing effect, but it
means that the glass must be
cut separately for each win-
Although their appearance
indicates otherwise, cast-iron
buildings are flammable, so a
complete sprinkler system is
required. To preserve the in-
tegrity of the exterior, central
S air-conditioning is necessary
instead of more standard
room units in sleeires.
High ceilings in all but two
of the floors (they are build-
Sing one between the original
first and second floors as
well as adding one on top)
make possible sleeping lofts
with eight-foot ceilings. But
the lofts will get hot, winter
The answer is a heat-pump
Schooling and heating system
t i M that does not require a fresh-
air intake and that will make
cool air and heat available all
year. It is, the Elghanayans
say, the first time such a sys-
tem has been used in a resi-
dential building in the city.
S"es. s ey cThe projected costs have
Photographs by Henri Clschorowsil escalated beyond $4-million
building (above) will remain, appearing at (about 25 per cent more than
which will also have 16-foot windows (left). anticipated), but renovated
buildings enjoy a tax abate-
gth of cast-iron exteri- paying mortgage interest and ment and if the apartments
makes renovation pos- taxes on an empty building, are all rented and a good
even in century-old the brothers received the mortgage is obtained, the
wings. variance in October, 1972, promise of a profit still lights
get a reasonable re- and renovation began. the end of the tunnel.
on their money, the Streamlining 19th-century The critical question is
aayan brothers con- grandeur is proving costly, whether the apartments will
d, they would have to time- consuming and im- command high enough rents.
form the old shoe fac- mensely complicated. With- The amenities will include
into a luxury apartment out alteration, the building 24-hour doorman service,
ing. Loft space for light could easily have stood for valet service and private
facturing and offices 100 years longer, but the alarm systems. But the
begging in Manhattan, pressures of renovation have building, though it will no
artists prefer the SoHo made steel reinforcing neces- doubt serve to make its area
for their studios. sary. more desirable, is in a limbo
e building was not large It is a look-and-learn oper- between the charm of Green-
gh, however, to allow a action all the way; no one, in. which Village and the seedi-
cient number of spacious eluding the various contrac- ness of 14th Street. In the
ments commanding fair- tors, has renovated cast iron end, it will be the apart-
igh rents so they could before, so there is no one to ments that will make the dif-
a profit. In addition, it go to for advice. "We are ference, and they will be, in
d the 30-foot yard the working with technology short, unusual.
requires for residential that is 100 years old and ob- The interior lines will be
ings. solete," explains Tom Elgha- simple, but working within
cordingly, Rockrose ap- nayan, "and we have to in- the confines of cast iron has
to the Board of Stand- tegrate it with modem me- made certain demands. None
and Appeals for a vari- thods." of the 144 dwellings in the
to allow an extra floor "There are so many things' seven-story building will be
because of the spacious we had no way of knowing the same. Almost all of them
ows allowing plentiful about," says Fred. "We will contain a cast-iron
and air, to. permit con- found five or six ceilings on column or two, and the col-
tion without the usual the first floor alone, and umns may turn up any-
there are pipes--especially where--the kitchen, living
e Landmarks Commis- gas pipes-everywhere. room, the hall. The other
the lth Street Block "But," he adds as his en- common denominators are
ciation, Local Planning ineer's eyes light up, "there wide-open space-some stu-
d No. 2 and the Friends is some beautiful work in dios will contain 1,000 square
ast Iron actively sup- that old building." feet-and those 16-foot win-
d the appeal, and the The 16-foot-high arched dows.
anayans say the essen- window frames decrease The rental for studios
variance could not have lightly in width as they get without sleeping lofts will be
obtained without such further from the Broadway about $250 a month. On the
ort. corner. That effort to create five floors on which studio
ter eight months of an illusion of increased size units will include lofts, rents
will start at about $360. Even
though the square footage in
these units is greater than
that in the standard one-bed-
room apartment and the loft
is a separate if open room,
IT the studios require a certain
"It's a lot of.weird space,"
says Tom Elghanayan, "and
we can only hope enough
reet, New York 10011 people will want it."
But, yes, with all the un-
certainties, they would do it