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Aug 9, 2010 10:59 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Plans are afoot to re-purpose Bulova Watch Case Factory

Aug 9, 2010 10:59 AM

The former Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor has been at the center of the news in recent times due to the environmental complications surrounding its past uses. But those close to the current redevelopment project—which just received a two-year extension by the planning and zoning boards—predict it will come into the spotlight in a more positive way, via the combined efforts of the design team that is looking to bring the building up to date while preserving its industrial identity and its historical contribution to the village’s past.

That’s exactly the sentiment reported by Nicholas Quennell, a Sag Harbor homeowner who is also the lead landscape architect on the project. His firm, Manhattan-based Quennell Rothschild and Partners, is now involved in the process of rehabbing the property.

“The first point is saving the building and treating the building with respect and love. The building is amazing,” he said during a recent interview. “We had a walkthrough and I had not seen all the interior spaces. It is not like a New York City loft space with a large open space that can be carved up, it is much more of a challenge for an architect.”

According to Mr. Quennell, all involved in the project are in agreement that the former factory has to be saved. But what do they need to do to convert the entire site into livable space built with 21st century design, construction and environmental concepts?

Because of his local ties and respect for the old factory in the middle of town, Mr. Quennell said he is happy to be working with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects, known as the foremost adaptive re-use architects in country.

It is not uncommon for industrial buildings like the former Bulova factory, which have outlasted their economic heyday, to be renovated and used for a mix of commercial and residential uses. However, no matter how romantic the idea is of honoring history and architecture, the design team has a lot of practical considerations to incorporate into their design solutions.

Part of the process for the developer, David Kronman of Cape Associates, was to attend numerous public hearings and to solicit community input, as the block-long structure is imbedded in a tightly-knit neighborhood and has a visual and physical impact that extends beyond simple traffic circulation. He reported that his company has a history of developing challenging sites similar to Bulova. One of those projects was an old abandoned building on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan, which Cape Associates turned into apartments.

Mr. Kronman’s favorite parts of the job are finding creative ways to reuse notable old buildings by incorporating their historic fabric to create something else out of that canvas.

For example, in the Bulova building “there are still old vaults where they used to store precious metals, the rooms are built out of huge granite blocks. We are keeping those spaces intact for another use, perhaps a wine cellar,” he said. “They are on every floor of the building. There are old, yellow heavy timber beams in the ceiling that are the most beautiful beams you have ever seen. So instead of covering them up we are running all the mechanical equipment through raised flooring in order to keep the ceilings exposed.”

Revamping industrial buildings into other uses can succeed for many reasons. Among them are the high ceilings and large windows that were so important in terms of letting in daylight for production. They create wonderful interior spaces for living. Also, the buildings are often constructed with materials that would be prohibitively expensive today and so are desirable for mixed residential and commercial uses and also exhibition space for museums.

This trend can be seen in many areas that wish to preserve their architectural and industrial heritage. The DIA Art Foundation in Beacon, New York is a great example. This modern art museum is a converted 300,000-square-foot historic printing factory (once home to a Nabisco box-printing facility) which has vast interior spaces, perfect for large-scale modern artwork. Stained hardwood floors show evidence of past uses, and north-facing skylights allow the perfect light to view the true colors of the artwork.

In Guilford, Connecticut there are two repurposed buildings in the historic district—the red brick Spencer Foundry, which was renovated decades ago into apartments; and a granite building that used to house the Shoreline Times newspaper, which has just been redone into residential space as well.

Put simply, when done well, reuse is about maintaining these elegant old buildings as a part of the small town’s history and preserving the architectural styles from another era in keeping the character of a place alive.

Sag Harbor has its share of spectacular buildings that have already been converted to new uses. The former Masonic Temple is now the Whaling Museum. And several churches in town have been renovated into living space. The movie theatre may be next, though just about everybody agrees that the art deco sign on the facade contributes to the wonderful ambiance of Main Street.

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I like listening to April's sensible and information commentary on air, so I hope this does not cause any sting, I feel I must say, what precious bull, " to bring the building up to date while preserving its industrial identity and its historical contribution to the village’s past." What industrial identity? Is Ms. Gonzales kidding or being mordant? Cape associates idea of industrial identity is about luxury units for the NY glitterat and Wall St. dandies sipping blue watermelon Bellinis ...more
By mo (89), Sag Harbor on Aug 14, 10 3:19 AM
2 members liked this comment
I concur with mo. This whole thing is bull. I remember the place when it was in operation and it's workers. It been closed for over 30 years. These developers never set foot in the place or know exactly what went on there. I have fond memories of Miss Elizabeth Hall, the production supervisor there. Don't tell us about the building's history when you wern't even there. The whole thing is about money. Good luck coming up with the 100 million plus required to restore the old Bulova factory. It will ...more
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Aug 15, 10 6:11 PM
2 members liked this comment
Sag Harbor and the entire east end needs housing that local working people can afford. It can be done here and has been done elsewhere as MO points out.
We do not need more luxury homes...there are several on the market right now just on my short street in Southampton.

What is lacking so far is the will on the part of local authorities in Sag Harbor to address the real need.
By Tony Ernst (10), Southampton on Aug 16, 10 11:31 AM
3 members liked this comment
Mo is right on target.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Aug 16, 10 8:47 PM
GO MO!!!!!
Aug 16, 10 10:51 PM appended by Mr. Z
"De pecuniae" segregation is just as historically, and societally unacceptable as "de facto" segregation EVER WAS.
By Mr. Z (11376), North Sea on Aug 16, 10 10:51 PM
Of course the developers are going to have a sales pitch which will always be mostly hogwash.

Just curious, does everyone think that this building should be restored?
If so, how can it restored to allow for affordable housing? It seems as if it will cost far more than the affordable housing units would return to the investors.

On a separate note, what about the toxicity in the ground? I find it hard to believe they cleaned up 100 years worth of pollution in 10 or so. When ...more
By ICE (1214), Southhampton on Aug 17, 10 11:28 PM
"Thing is an obnoxiously rich Manhattanite deserves the same right to exclude others from their newly acquired property as a generationally local blue collar resident does." ice

This is a hoot and what a send up on Voltaire's famous dictum: The law in all its majesty treats the rich man the same as the starving man should they steal a loaf of bread.

You are quite right ICY, the homeless have the same rights as the obnoxiously rich Manhattanite to exclude people from from their ...more
By mo (89), Sag Harbor on Aug 18, 10 2:50 PM
Ahhh, true to form mo, you twist words and side step legitimate questions.

Then bring something totally irrelevant into the thread.

No park access for you.... lol
By ICE (1214), Southhampton on Aug 18, 10 4:58 PM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser