By Tara Kyle
HELL'S KITCHEN — A once elegant apartment complex with an ugly history has turned a new corner on the road to restoration.
The latest owner of the Windermere, a landmarked, 130-year-old Queen Anne style apartment complex located at the intersection of 57th Street and Ninth Avenue, has parted ways with nonprofit partner Project Find.
New Jersey-based developer Mark Tress, who bought the Windermere in 2009, plans to open a boutique hotel on site.
But, because the Windermere is located within the boundaries of the Special Clinton District, any rehabilitation must also include affordable housing units, which Project Find was in charge of.
The nonprofit and Tress could not reach an agreement on building plans, including offering residents an exclusive entrance and elevator, Project Find executive director David Gilcrest said at a meeting of Community Board 4 this week.
Now, the developer will work with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
No-one should expect the Windermere, uninhabited for the past few years and still covered by boards and scaffolding, to reopen any time soon. Negotiations for new plans will likely stretch through the year, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer told CB4 members.
In its heyday, the Windermere housed a glitzy mix of tenants including actor Steve McQueen. The building also played an important role in the 1890s when it was one of a small number of residences catering to single, self-supporting women, according to Landmarks Preservation Commission documents.
In darker times, beginning in the early 1980s, it hosted one of the city's worst cases of tenant harassment. CB4 land use committee chair Joe Restuccia, who served on the board at the time, recalled cases of tenants who would leave for work in the morning and come home to find cement blocking their apartment entrances — with their belongings still inside.
One former Windermere manager came to a CB4 meeting with a gun peaking out of the shoulder of his jacket, Restuccia recalled. On another occasion, management took chainsaws to building beams, forcing some tenants to move out abruptly following an FDNY order to vacate.
"People were picked off one by one," Restuccia said of the tenure of owner Alan Weissman, whose building managers served jail time. Weissman sold to Japan-based Toa Construction Inc. in 1986.
The building fell into disrepair, and the city ultimately penalized Toa with a $1.1 million fee for failing to maintain the property, landmarked in 2005. The Japan-based company also paid $2.6 million to a group of tenants who sued after an FDNY order to vacate in 2007.
Once Tress' restoration is complete, the hotel is expected to be relatively inexpensive and serve a predominantly European clientele — something closer to the pod-style Yotel than the neighboring Hudson Hotel, CB4 members and Brewer said.