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Big Nick's to Become a Bakery as Part of UWS Storefront Renovations

By Emily Frost | September 24, 2013 2:15pm
 The hotel's designs were called historically inappropriate by the CB7 preservation committee.
Hotel Belleclaire's New Designs
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Big Nick's decades-old pizza ovens may soon be churning out croissants and tartelettes as part of major facelift planned for the former longtime eatery and its neighboring storefronts.

The 110-year-old Hotel Belleclaire, which manages the three Broadway storefronts south of West 77th Street, has found a French bakery to replace Big Nick's, which closed in late July after 51 years, said Brooke Schafran, a consultant for the hotel.

Schafran didn't specify which bakery would take its place but described it as a "patisserie." 

The new tenant will come in as part of the hotel's larger renovation plan aimed at updating and standardizing its Broadway storefronts.

On Monday night, the project's architect outlined the metal-and-glass redesign plans in front of Community Board 7's Preservation Committee, which took issue with many of its features.

Lead architect Matt Markowitz's plan for the landmarked building would not restore the Emory Roth-designed facade to its original look of "massive stone work," he said, but rather would strive for a "harmonious condition that’s an upgrade" to the hodgepodge of store awnings there now.

Strong metal framing would combine with large glass windows across the three storefronts from the corner of West 77th Street to the Westside Market, he said. 

The other tenants, Bra Smyth and a magazine shop, will remain in place for now, but an entryway to the hotel will be added next to them on Broadway.

The idea of an unmarked doorway on Broadway — which Belleclaire representatives insisted would only be used for access to the street and not as the hotel's official entryway — combined with the planned storefront design led the committee to reject the proposal.

"We’re kind of making it pristine and prissy and sanitizing it," said committee co-chairwoman Gabrielle Palitz. "Retail isn’t supposed to be quite so sanitary."

Board member Ping Kwan went even further in his criticisms.

"It looks horrible," he said. "[The design] looks like stone floating on glass...It is completely historically inaccurate." 

He eventually conceded that it would be too expensive to return the storefronts to their original, turn-of-the-century design, noting that some version of a mid-century or modern storefront would have to work.

Palitz thought that having a door to the hotel right in the middle of a row of stores was historically inappropriate for the building. 

"It’s architecturally confusing, and there’s a historical precedent to entrances having a different [design] vocabulary," Palitz said of the proposed unmarked Broadway entryway, which she thought should become either a clearly marked entrance or scrapped altogether.

"Let me speak to the owner and see if he’s going to be willing to restore more [of the original design]," Markowitz responded.

Lophijo Realty owns the storefronts and the Belleclaire.

Four committee members voted against the design, while two supported it. Their decision will come before the full board for review on Oct. 2. 

The board's opinion is advisory, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission will make the final decision.