While you may not believe in ghosts, you’ve probably felt the aura of the thousands of people who have walked before you when you enter a historic building.
Whether it’s an office building where Winston Churchill fought to save England during World War II, a Beaux Arts-style school on the Upper West Side of New York City, a 1920s-era Park Slope, Brooklyn, hot spot for society gatherings or an iconic ’60s modernist tower, buyers are attracted to the unique architecture and stories that come with living in a landmark transformed to a luxury residence.
“I love heritage architecture rather than glass modern towers,” said Colleen DeCourcy, who recently purchased a condo at One Prospect Park West in Brooklyn. “My daughter sent me a photo of the exterior of One Prospect Park West, and I was immediately drawn to the architectural details.”
Ms. DeCourcy, 57, recently retired from her role as president of Wieden+Kennedy ad agency and wanted to downsize from her condo in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.
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“This building is imbued with that quintessential New York feeling, with its arched doorways, detailed trim and its history,” Ms. DeCourcy said. “It’s got great high ceilings and lots of light and has such a great flow inside that it feels much bigger than 1,300 square feet.”
One Prospect Park West, built in 1925 by the Knights of Columbus and converted to condos in 2022, sits directly across from Prospect Park, one of the biggest parks in New York City. The building served as a clubhouse with a ballroom, restaurant, bowling alley and indoor swimming pool, and has views of Prospect Park, Grand Army Plaza and the Statue of Liberty from some units and the rooftop garden designed by ODA.
“Even though this building is nearly 100 years old, it’s not in a landmarked historic district so we didn’t have to restore it, but we wanted to,” said Ramon Maislen, head of development for Sugar Hill Capital Partners, developer of One Prospect Park West. “Our goal was to keep the exterior as it is to complement the neighborhood. Inside, we want to marry the strong emotional attachment of the pre-war building’s feeling with modern kitchens and bathrooms. We deliberately chose to design the interiors with a good flow but with some feeling of separation of spaces.”
Honoring the architectural gravitas of historic buildings while creating sumptuous living spaces requires special attention to craftsmanship even when there’s little to save inside. At One Prospect Park, the 64 units range from $1.5 million to $7 million, with two to four bedrooms. Most have three bedrooms and 1,800 square feet or more.
“The interior had been gutted, but we hired Workstead, a Brooklyn design firm that was as committed as we are to using stone and other materials inside that match the craftsmanship of the outside,” Mr. Maislen said.
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Revitalization of One of London’s Most Historic Buildings
London’s Old War Office rests across the street from Her Majesty’s Horse Guards in the heart of Whitehall, a site steeped in history. Currently undergoing transformation into London’s first Raffles hotel and into 85 residences priced from nearly £6 million (US$8.15 million) to approximately £30 million, the location was Henry VIII’s home as the original Palace of Whitehall.
The building today, designed by British architect William Young in 1906, was used by Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and John Profumo when he was secretary of state. The grand architecture of the building inspired Ian Fleming when he wrote the James Bond series and is familiar to millions of people from the Bond movies and the Netflix series, “The Crown.” The transformation from grand office building to hotel and residences is on track to complete this year.
“The building has these amazing architectural features such as the dramatic colonnade at the façade, turrets at each corner and these beautiful marble steps inside,” said Matteo Canepari, head of design and planning for Westminster Development Services for The OWO Residences by Raffles. “Some of the ceilings are 4.4 meters high with full-height windows to match, plus there are these thick structural walls and miles of corridors that are three meters wide.”
The public areas and some of the condos feature restored marble, mosaic and terrazzo flooring, and oak paneling. Some condos feature similar designs that complement the original elements of the building, said Mr. Canepari. The original floor-to-ceiling windows have extra glazing inside for higher performance.
“Many of the residences have what were the ‘messenger rooms’ during the war, small glass-enclosed spaces where the messengers waited in between trips around London,” said Mr. Canepari. “We restored them and turned them into little libraries.”
Nearly every one of the 85 apartments, which include studios to five-bedroom homes and two turret residences, is different because of the configuration of the building.
“Buyers are interested in OWO because of the powerful story of the building, not just the architecture and physical details,” Mr. Canepari said.
Amenities that are private to residents include an interior garden, a spa, a cinema, a games room, a fitness center and lounge areas. Complete concierge services are available through the Raffles Hotel, along with a shared swimming pool and access to the nine bars and restaurants onsite.
Iconic New Orleans Tower Transformed
While its history only goes back to the 1960s, the former World Trade Center on the Mississippi River, designed by Edward Durell Stone, is one of the most recognizable buildings in New Orleans. The tower, which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and abandoned, has blossomed after years of construction into the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, which opened in 2021.
“The building has a majestic four-pointed design with four wings that represent reaching out to the four points on the compass to embrace the world,” said Gary Johnson, principal and president of Cambridge Seven Associates in Boston and architect of the Four Seasons New Orleans.
That unusual design, which creates a 12-sided building, complicated the renovation process, especially for the 19th through 31st floors that feature 81 residences and several penthouses.
“The building is the tallest on the Mississippi River, which means residents will have views of the river, the French Quarter, parks and Canal Street,” Mr. Johnson said. “Some of the units fill an entire wing and have views in every direction.”
Mr. Johnson designed each condo with a gallery entrance and wide hallways that lead the eye to the views.
“New Orleans is such a unique city with Southern, European, Caribbean, Spanish and French influences,” Mr. Johnson said. “We decided to make the interiors of the units as clean and simple as possible to serve as a cool, refreshing respite from the hot, humid and colorful city outside.”
The one exception is the 29th floor amenity space, which was designed with a Spanish theme including elaborate mosaic floors and Moroccan stone arches when the building served as the World Trade Center, said Mr. Johnson. That space and the exterior were preserved when the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The amenities include an event space, a children’s playroom, a golf simulator, a lounge and a 50-foot bar with a view of the river and the French Quarter, said David Seerman, managing director of sales for the Four Seasons New Orleans Private Residences.
Residents also have access to the Four Seasons Hotel swimming pool, spa, fitness center, restaurant, bar and concierge services.
“There are about 20 different floor plans in the building with 1,100 to 4,000 square feet, and we’ve already sold about 70% of the units,” said Mr. Seerman. “They’ve set record prices for New Orleans, with prices from $2 million to $7 million and penthouses at $10 million.”
From Private School to Spectacular Residences
Architect William A. Boring, known for his work on the Immigration Station at Ellis Island, designed the Beaux Arts building at 555 West End Ave. on New York City’s Upper West Side as a private school in 1908.
“The architect’s name is ironic because there’s nothing boring about this building at all,” said Cathy Taub, an associate broker with Sotheby’s International Realty who is selling the 13 condos at 555 West End Ave., where sales launched in 2019. “There are all kinds of flourishes and details such as turrets and parapets that you don’t see in new developments.”
Preserving the exterior and interior resulted in 13 unique condos with ceilings from 12 to 20 feet high and oversized original windows.
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“The building lent itself to large spaces because of the high ceilings and huge windows, which have been restored with new fittings,” Ms. Taub said. “The spaces were classrooms, libraries and gymnasiums and now the homes range from 3,500 to 5,000 square feet.”
Prices for the condos start at $7.5 million. The former rooftop gymnasium has been converted into the “Solarium” penthouse, which is part of a combo penthouse offering that has a 20-foot-high vaulted ceiling, seven bedrooms, a 2,500-square-foot terrace, more than 8,400 square feet of living space and a price tag of $42 million.
“Buyers aren’t coming here because they want to live in a former schoolhouse, but they are attracted by the unusual facade and the uniqueness of the units,” said Ms. Taub. “It’s a discreet building with no shared elevator landings and the homes are large with detailed millwork.”
Building amenities include a 24-hour doorman, a gym in the English basement, a tweens lounge, a stroller room and a storage room.
When you’re looking for a condo with character, a historic conversion may add just the twist you need.