HISTORY NOW: 727 Washington Street
By Brian J Pape, AIA
Greenwich Village in the late 19th century had matured from a rural village to an important commercial center as the rapidly growing New York City expanded north. The southern part was “lost” to tenement development, while the western part was seriously invaded by commercial loft buildings, light industry and warehouses serving the busy freight piers.
Washington Street’s East Side between West 11th and Bank Streets show good examples of this invasion. According to the 1969 Historic District report, page 406, #719-721 is a large six-story corner warehouse designed in 1905 by C. Abbott French, Eclectic in style, with a very handsome rusticated ground floor, executed in brick with arched openings, and a fifth floor of the Romanesque Revival vocabulary. #725 was a five-story apartment house of 1886, altered in 1939 for use as a two-story garage, then later (post-designation) expanded and modernized to its current four-story mixed use.
#727-729 (now labeled as 727) was a brick five-story loft building built in 1893, having a ground floor with two large arches at the sides, and two smaller arches in the center. This unusual composition must have had a reason, lost in time. One speculation is that it allowed two loading docks and entrances for two businesses. The lot dimensions are a width of 36.50’, and depth of 91.58’, or 3,800 SF.
Around the corner, a charming row of three brick residences, 132-136 Bank Street, was built in 1833 for William E. Fink, a grocer. These houses, early Greek Revival in style, are three stories in height with basements, and have rear yards against the side of 729 Washington Street. There is a small parking lot at 138 Bank Street, abutting #136’s parged blank party wall, that may have had an earlier rowhouse. In 1969, there was a small white painted stucco structure and filling station at that corner of Bank Street, aka 731 Washington Street, erected in 1938 to serve the neighborhood.
In 1936, the three upper stories of 727-729 Washington Street were removed and the remaining two lower floors converted to an industrial use, retaining some Romanesque Revival features.
Perhaps it’s coincidence, but since both this and the neighbor buildings were drastically altered in the mid-1930s, it’s possible a fire may have damaged the upper floors of each.
We live with history in our built environment; history enriches our lives and gives us a sense of place. These are stories about historic places.
From 1989 to 1992, the interior of the industrial remnant of #727 got renovated by architect Steven Mensch, married to Pamela Newhouse, the daughter of publisher S. I. Newhouse, as reported in Curbed, 1/20/2009. The four-story, 8,000-square-foot brick building had a gallery, retractable glass walls, and a third-floor reflecting pool. A newer layer of tan brick covers only the left side and part of the top of the right side of the facade, forming a border with the older red brick left exposed on the rest of the ground floor around the arches. Carved stone elements have been introduced at the openings.
The home was purchased for $6.1 million in 2000 by Australian fashion designer Richard Tyler and his wife, Lisa Trafficante, to serve as a showroom. Tyler and Trafficante put the house back on the market in April 2007 for $15.9 million, and it sold one year later for $14.4 million.
In 2009, the interior of the building was completely rebuilt into a single-family townhouse. The new construction includes a modern interior structure and floor plates, and the construction of a new interior glass facade behind the historic facade, featuring aluminum window frames, with only the exterior facade preserved. Starting on June 2009, Raymond King, President of Bamboo Technologies, Inc., occupied the space. Sam Gavish reportedly owned the property at the time. Anthony Davis was the residence owner Aug 20, 2013.
Real estate activity, including 727-729 Washington Street, was reported in the 2/10/23 Wall Street Journal. Katherine Clarke wrote that Stewart Butterfield and Jen Rubio, a Silicon Valley power couple who married in 2020, have in the past two years collected quite a real estate portfolio in New Mexico, Colorado, the Hamptons and New York City. Butterfield is a co-founder of Slack in 2009, and Rubio is a co-founder of Away in 2015.
The couple paid $32.2 million in May 2022 for a circa 1910 mansion with 11 bedrooms and 17,000 square feet (SF) in Southampton, owned by developer David and Jane Walentas. Walentas is well-known for developing Dumbo, as well as many other major historic neighborhoods.
In New York City, Butterfield and Rubio bought and then sold a Tribeca townhouse in a multi-family loft building; the 4,000 SF unit was sold for $8.417 million in 2021, according to property records. They must have liked Tribeca, because in August 2022, they also bought a historic townhouse for $20 million, down from an asking price of $50 million in 2015, quite a bargain. You’ll know it by its inclusion of an iconic street bridge between two halves of the unit. The 8,200 SF space plus 1,200 SF of outdoor space was once the residence and studio of fashion designer Zoran Ladicorbic, records show. The couple’s agent had indicated it would serve as the family foundation office and programming space.
In August 2021, Butterfield and Rubio acquired 727-729 Washington Street from the former owner, Anthony Davis, for $27.27 million. According to previous listings, claiming from 8,019 to 10,935 SF, there are massive-scale entertaining rooms with 20-foot ceilings and a pavilion with a reflecting pool. On the first floor, a loggia has been created by one step up from the sidewalk, behind the original brick façade. From this loggia is a wide oak door as a separate entrance to the first floor, and another door leads to a long narrow staircase to the third floor, similar to the New Museum staircase. This floor is open to flexible possibilities, a large gallery with a 17’ height glass ceiling. From this ground floor are two stairways leading to the second floor, where there are two mezzanines, front and back, two bedrooms, one bath and a balcony overlooking the gallery below. On the third floor is a great room with 20’ ceilings, a pavilion with reflecting pool, ivy covered walls, canopied above by Zelkova trees and a retractable glass roof, a living/dining room with terrace, kitchen, and bath. All floors are Appalachian granite and have radiant heat. On the fourth floor, there is a master bedroom suite overlooking the pool below and a terrace overlooking neighboring rear gardens.
The published floor plans reveal the unusual nature of the property. Besides its extra width of over 36’, the commercial origin meant full lot coverage. The previous gut renovation created a squared-off front curtain wall behind the street wall. The hollowed out middle section reduces the floor area on the second and fourth levels to about half the footprint, and the only connection between all four floors is one staircase at the far east corner, and there is no elevator.
Construction permit notices are taped to the front windows, drapes have been removed, and demolition is observed in the front room. When money seems to be no object, we hope the neighborhood character will be respected.