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50 Years Of Architectural Success With Stephen B. Jacobs Of SBJ Group Architects And Planners

I recently spoke with Stephen B. Jacobs, founder of SBJ Group Architects, who has been a visionary and leader in the architecture industry for over 50 years. Mr. Jacobs and his firm are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and he shared his top 10 most innovative and/or exciting projects over the past 50 years. Small Caveat: I had to push Mr. Jacobs to single out projects, as he seems to be in love with everything he has done, and rightfully so, they are some of the most well known projects in NYC (and around the globe). So, below you will find the answers to the #1 question that I asked Mr. Jacobs: After 5 Decades as an Architect, What Are Your Top 10 Favorite Projects?

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1. 52 West 76th Street

SBJ Group

Looking back 50 years, I have to go back to the beginning. When we started, most of our projects were renovations, beginning with owner-occupied brownstones, predominantly on the West Side. One of the best buildings of that period was 52 West 76th Street, which was completed in 1969. This project was important because it was the first time that I introduced new levels to an existing building in a meaningful way by relocating a floor and picking up sufficient ceiling height to slip in a new level. This became the hallmark of many of our projects in that period, and we became known for designing many buildings that contained multi-level apartments.

2. 130 Barrow

SBJ Group

By the mid-1970’s, our renovation work was extensive. New York City had tax abatement programs to encourage renovation of neglected residential buildings and underutilized or obsolete commercial buildings. We would become one of the leading firms doing that work, particularly finding new uses for obsolete buildings which were adaptively reused residentially.

The project that stands out from that period is 130 Barrow Street, the conversion of an old Hertz truck garage that ran through the block from Barrow to Christopher Street. It was converted to mostly split-level duplex units built around a unique, newly created courtyard.

3. Falls Mills

Both the Patterson Mills (see below) and Falls Mills were located in historic districts, so historic tax credits were utilized to make the project financially feasible. In the 1980’s we started developing projects for our own account, predominantly in downtown Brooklyn, utilizing historic tax credits. This work was very specialized. A typical project of that time was Washington Court and St. James Court in Fort Greene, located on the full block front of Washington and Gates Avenues. Both were severely burnt out, 6-story apartment buildings that were completely renovated.

4. Patterson Mills

Obsolete industrial buildings were not limited to New York City. We converted several mills in Patterson, New Jersey which was the first industrial city built in the US, founded by Alexander Hamilton, and Falls Mill in Norwich, CT, which became a textbook example of how to adaptively convert a 19th century mill complex to residential uses.

5. Library Hotel on 41st Street and Madison Avenue

Library Hotels

Hotels were always an area of interest. In the early 1970’s, we converted the old Shelton Hotel on Lexington Avenue and 49th Street, famous for being the residence of Georgia O’Keeffe, into the Halloran House which is now the Marriott. A few years later we were commissioned to renovate what was then the Gotham Hotel on 55th Street and 5th Avenue, which is now the Peninsula. We also designed a new hotel in Key West called The Reach. In the 1990’s we designed some of the early boutique hotels in New York City, such as Sixty Thompson, The Giraffe, and probably the smallest but most unique, is the Library Hotel on 41st Street and Madison Avenue, which even today is consistently in the top 10 hotels of Trip Advisor.

7. Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial

SBJ Group

The Buchenwald Little Camp Memorial is a project very different from our typical work. This project is very meaningful to me because I was liberated in Buchenwald when I was not quite 6 years old, and I am told that I am the only Holocaust survivor to have designed a Holocaust memorial.

8. Hawthorne Park and The Encore

Alexander Severin / Alexander Severin/RAZUMMEDIA

Hawthorn Park and The Encore – I cannot look back at the last 50 years without including a Glenwood Management project. Glenwood has been a major presence in our office over the last 20 years, and this project on the West Side, backing up onto Lincoln Center, is one of the most important that we have designed for Glenwood up to now.

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