Source: The Wall Street Journal

May 04, 2016

Film Vaults Set for Remake Into Offices

The owner of the Film Center Building on Manhattan’s West Side is creating new office space from relics of the tower’s past- vaults designed to store highly flammable film.

Newmark Holdings has begun a $7.5 million renovation that will transform more than 150 vaults into about 25,000 square feet of office space. Once critical to the movie industry, the vaults have long outlived their original purpose.

“It’s not the highest and best use,” Brian R. Steinwurtzel, co-chief executive of Newmark, said of the vaults.

As offices become denser and tenants put more workers in less space, Newmark’s executives decided they had to reconfigure the floors to create more space and upgrade bathrooms.

Each vault is its own fortress. Seven-inch brick walls encase a narrow, rectangular space. Each one has a shaft to direct flames and smoke to the roof or the north and south sides of the building, Mr. Steinwurtzel said.

The 2-inch steel doors were once secured by ropes, which, when hit by flames, would release the doors and seal the unit to contain a fire, and there are 12 sprinkler heads in each of the vaults. Today’s standards require only one.

Completed in 1929, the 13-story, Art Deco building was designed by architect Ely Jacques Kahn as a support facility with offices for the movie industry that was thriving in Times Square at the time, according to a New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission report. The lobby of the Film Center Building was designated as a landmark in 1982.

Newspaper reports detailing the buildings construction on Ninth Avenue between West 44th and 45th streets noted film companies as tenants.

Other industry players located their support services in the less expensive areas west of Times Square, according to city documents.

About a decade after it was built, the Film Center Building housed over 70 film distributors with offices that remained open all night as film was shipped out to the area’s movie theaters, then returned to the building.

Today the 250,000 square-foot building is home to small and mid-sized tenants in industries such as media and advertising. The building also holds a special significance for Newmark, the Gural family real-estate arm, which acquired it in 1971. It was one of the first major real-estate purchases made by Aaron Gural, Mr. Steinwurtzel’s grandfather who is considered among the pioneers in recognizing the potential of Manhattan’s once industrial West Side. Newmark owns and manages 10 million square feet of commercial space in New York City.

The renovation will add 220 windows to the building, offering views looking east.

Newmark intends to pay homage to the building’s past. The company, which is restoring portions of the lobby and adding security turnstyles, sent its team to pore over original architectural drawings at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia University to research design elements of the time.

"Each vault is its own fortress. Seven-inch brick walls encase a narrow, rectangular space. Each one has a shaft to direct flames and smoke to the roof or the north and south sides of the building," -Brian Steinwurtzel, Co-CEO of GFP Real Estate

When it upgrades the halls on each floor, the company plans to use images of the old movie-style countdown clock to indicate the floor number. Newmark also is saving the brick from walls of the vaults and will reuse them to build out the office space. The process of retrieving the bricks in a useable form is a delicate process, which Mr. Steinwurtzel likened to “surgery.”

In some areas, the footprints of the vaults and the sealed shafts are outlined on polished concrete floors with the old brick.

I thought it was nice to keep the history alive and keep telling the story of why it was built and what originally occupied the building,” said Nicole Richard, a drawings and archives assistant at Avery.