Old Meets New on Franklin Street

Studio MDA, an architecture firm based in Tribeca, presented to Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee its plan for a four-story addition atop the two-story building at 85 Franklin. The building has an interesting history: It was a five-story brick building when it was constructed in 1862, but in 1936, possibly because of a fire, the top three floors were removed, along with the facade of the remaining two stories. Architect Thomas White Lamb, known for movie palaces, replaced the facade with the striking Art Moderne one that exists today (in deteriorated condition). According to Studio MDA, 85 Franklin was Lamb’s only alteration and his only use of Art Moderne.

Studio MDA, which also designed the building at 137 Franklin (at the southwest corner of Varick), proposes to repair the current facade, updating the windows and reconfiguring the ground floor so that instead of one entrance in the center, there will be a residential entrance on the east side and a retail entrance on the west. Studio MDA’s Markus Dochantschi said the original signage was for a five-letter name, and because the new tenant for the space also has a five-letter name, the new signage will reference what was once there. According to the elevation below, the space will be a gallery.

Above the two-story building will be four stories, all residential. The lower three floors will be slightly set back—to give the current building a pedestal effect—while the topper will be pushed back farther, so as not to be visible from the street. The facade will be cast aluminum, painted white, with a three-dimensional argyle pattern above the third-floor windows and, in more dramatic fashion, at the cornice. (Click on the photo below to see it larger.) There will be wood-framed windows, and the penthouse will be clad in metal panels.

Personally, I’m onboard. The two-story building has never really fit in on that block, and the proposed addition acknowledges the past while having something fresh to say. The building will go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission on December 17.



  1. Good overview on this project…Thank you for this report.
    In my non-expert aesthetic opinion, the upper floors strike a good balance between contemporary and historically sensitive feel, but the lower two feel a bit too “1980s shopping mall”. I would prefer total restoration of the original facade, before the fire (any photos of that available?), which would probably harmonize best with the neighboring buildings; or restoration and perhaps embellishment of the Art Moderne design.

  2. Finally 85 Franklin will fit into the Streetscape and no longer be an oddball eyesore. Thank you StudioMDA!

    • Why would you consider a quaint building, with a unique façade by Thomas White Lamb an eyesore? Whenever I walk down that street, I marvel at that building, but never knew its providence. Tribeca used to be filled with structures like that, which was part of its charm, but sadly, most have been lost.