Condo, Hotel, or School?

Last month, Mayor Bloomberg announced his intention to sell three city buildings (346 Broadway, 49-51 Chambers, and 22 Reade), possibly to developers who might convert them into condos or hotels. Local politicians, however, would like them turned into schools or affordable housing. It’s hard to know what to think without going inside, so that’s what I did yesterday at 346 Broadway.

The stunning building at Leonard and Broadway is the New York Criminal Court, but you might know it as the one that’s been scaffolded forever.

The for-employees-only entrance (I think) on Broadway is gorgeous, not that it’s easy to tell. The photo directly below is actually one of the side doors in the semi-circular entryway; the battleship gray is a shame.

I do hope the netting isn’t there to stop bricks from hitting people on the head. But there are also lovely details like this rosette on  the side of the building—and even the bars on the windows are noteworthy.

The main entrance is at 108 Leonard.

But the real payoff is when you look up….Time to go inside. I had been in the building once, when I wrote about James Franco’s art exhibit at the Clocktower Gallery, which is on the 13th floor. As I remembered, you have to go through near-airport-level security (belts off!) to get in. What is the point of showing an ID if no one is checking the name against anything? I suppose I shouldn’t complain, given that I had no legitimate reason to be there. I took the elevator to 12.

Not very interesting. But the elevator bank is a curve. (More on that in a minute. I didn’t want to shoot the lobby until I was on the way out.) To reach the Clocktower Gallery, you get off on 12 and look for the red door, behind which is a staircase up to 13, which is also home to Clocktower’s parent organization, Art on Air. There was no one there, so I wandered around and took photos. I also checked out the kooky “Candy Canyon” exhibit, a re-creation of a dark western canyon; it feels a bit like waiting in line at Disneyland, but without the payoff. Nonetheless, I love the overall vibe of the gallery. A lot of the windows in the main exhibition space were blocked for “Candy Canyon,” but this one made up for that.

There’s also this off-limits stairwell. Take a second to admire the banister.

Someday I’ll get through that door, behind which might be the clocktower itself. Until then, bathroom break!

The building’s main staircase is undeniably lovely, or once was. It’s nice and wide, with ornate metalwork and lots of marble. The stairwell feels old, so I’m not sure why it doesn’t line up with the windows.

The closest floor with re-entry was the 8th floor. The dropped ceiling and grim light almost made me cry.

The only room I could sneak into was a conference room with some style (and with some people in the adjacent room). And as I mentioned, the elevator banks have potential.

Back in the stairwell, I ran into a woman on a break. I told her she was lucky to work in a building with such an amazing staircase, but she didn’t seem convinced.

The fourth floor’s door was unlocked, but access was restricted. So I walked down to the first floor, which is actually a mezzanine. (Maybe it’s the first floor on Broadway?) The Leonard entrance lobby, down a level and currently marred by security stations, is—or could be—rather dramatic.

The bottom line? While the staircase would be great for a school, and far less used in a condo or a hotel, this building needs someone who can show it some real love. Can the city do that? Unlikely—from the evidence here, the city rides a building hard. I vote condo or hotel. Maybe one of the other two buildings will make a better school….

P.P.S. I meant to look up what the AIA Guide said about the building, but I forgot. Here it is: “Originally New York Life Insurance Company Building/now New York City Municipal Offices, 346 Broadway, bet. Catherine Lane and Leonard St. E side to Lafayette St. (originally Elm St.) also known as 108 Leonard St. E end, 1894-1899. Stephen D. Hatch with McKim, Mead & White. W end, Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White. […] N.Y. Life occupied the Broadway end of this long narrow block since 1870. Hatch was engaged to design an eastern addition but died (1894) before construction was completed. MM&W joined in the completion of the addition and went on to demolish the original Broadway structure and design its successor, with its distinguished Classical clock overlooking Broadway. N.Y. Life vacated the building in 1928 for its uptown tower; No. 346 has been owned since 1967 by the City. Do look at the semicircular elevator bank and visit the Clocktower Gallery.”

Up next: 49–51 Chambers.

P.S. Can you or someone you know get me into 22 Reade? Email



  1. HAH!
    This gorgeous building will never be used for affordable housing! Look at that ornate detail…look at that palatial elevator embankment…are those twenty-foot ceilings I see? Surely no one who has spend more than a decade in Tribeca even thinks for a minute that this gem will be gifted to the working class? Us poor folks will soon have to search for closet, er, I mean studio apartments in East New York.

    Great photos, though! Thanks for sharing this info!
    I do hope they infuse a bit of affordable housing into tribeca again. It’s getting a little stuffy here. ;-)

  2. These gorgeous buildings…plural.

  3. @Julie: Yeah, that’s why I didn’t really entertain that notion.

  4. Hope they become condos or hotels just to help this stretch of Broadway. I live in the area and at night Broadway is too quite. Not many people and few stores open. With a few more luxury housing options the area will continue to get nicer.

  5. I’ve lived across the street for 5 years, and had NO idea this was the criminal court building – I always wondered why so many shady characters lined up at the entrance on Leonard street every morning. I vote to make this a hotel or condo – one way to bring affordable housing would be to have a housing lottery like many new developments gave in the early ’00. It would bring some much needed vitality to the neighborhood, and get rid of the seediness of that block. I’m with the mayor on this one!

  6. Fantastic photos.
    Floor 8 with it’s low ceiling reminds me of Floor 7 1/2 in the film “Being John Malkovitch”.
    And, not only does the city seem to ride a building hard, they put it away wet. It’s such a shame to see the state of things but it makes me look forward to a glorious restoration.

  7. I used to eat lunch in the clocktower up on the roof every week around 1996. That’s a great building – used to roam all over the top floors, back before terrorists made us care about silly kids checking out cool buildings (bastards!)

  8. This is the building where choreographer Noemie Lafrance set Descent, her spectacular 2003 site-specific dance.

    Descent is s short dance film inspired by the live perfromance of Descent performed by twelve female dancers around the architecture of a spiraling stairwell, where the audience was invited to view the performance looking down through the center well of the stairs and to descend the entire staircase to experience each of the multiple tableaus. Descent reflected on women as subjects and objects of desire within the domestic realm.

  9. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. I worked at 346 for a few years starting in 1970. Met my husband there, in fact.The floors we worked on were hellholes, more like your shot of the door at the top of the stairs and the next-to-last “mezzanine” shot. I haven’t been inside between that time and when I had to appear in court following my arrest related to Giuliani’s second crowning, I mean inauguration. And not since then.

    I have no problem with the sale of the buildings for housing as long as there are restrictions on the sales so that the developers must 1) include a percentage of the apartments at below-market-rate/”affordable” rates and 2) build a school in the space. The community managed to get the latter for the Ratner/Gehry building (8 Spruce), so if people can get our local officials involved and are willing to put in the effort to make it happen, it can happen. Even if someone has to bring suit, as we did against the mayor and FCR.