New York has always been a place where people could start over, reinvent, try something new.
Buildings have been no different.
Perhaps from the moment somebody turned a stable in colonial Manhattan into a crash pad, what constitutes a home has been open to interpretation.
Naturally, office towers have been favorite targets of makeovers, as businesses require far fewer desks than they used to, freeing up lots of space. And no high-rise has been too sacred: Even the Cathedral of Commerce itself, the Woolworth Building, is adding condos.
But if anything really speaks to second chances, it may be the conversion of buildings that were hard to imagine ever living in — power plants and parking garages, schools and cinemas, warehouses and banks.
And it is no coincidence that there seem to be more of these quirkier conversions than in the past, according to developers, real estate brokers and city officials.
Land is extremely scarce, they say, and historic districts, which are numerous, make new construction tough. Besides, some old-time structures are far bigger than what zoning would allow on their lots today. Adaptive reuse can also be speedier.
But curb appeal may also have something to do with it. “There’s a general movement now that goes beyond real estate, a reaction to a world that’s become increasingly electronic,” said Toby Moskovits, president of Heritage Equity Partners, which is transforming a church-and-school complex into apartments in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “People are more comfortable,” she added, “with something that feels authentic.”