How a Nazi Sympathizer’s Tribeca Garage Will Become a Luxe Mansion

Extreme Makeover

An architect's rendering of how the former garage will appear after conversion into a palatial townhouse.An architect's rendering of how the former garage will appear after conversion into a palatial townhouse.
A building with a tangled pedigree will soon become Lower Manhattan’s newest palatial townhouse, if plans recently approved by Community Board 1 (CB1) are carried out. The building in question is located at 11 Hubert Street, roughly between the Citigroup tower and the Holland Tunnel plaza.

The structure was built in 1946 by Dietrich Wortman, who was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1884, and emigrated to the United States, where he studied architecture at Columbia University. He was also a talented amateur wrestler, who represented his adopted country at the 1904 Summer Olympics, where he placed third. Two years later, he captured the U.S. national wrestling title in the welterweight division. Even after he retired from competition, Wortman remained active as a sporting statesman, pioneering the weightlifting competition in America, and later campaigning to prevent a U.S. boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Many Americans, deeply troubled by the Nazi government’s persecution of Jews, had argued for pulling out of the games, which the German regime planned as a propaganda showcase to project the image of a newly invigorated and united Germany, while camouflaging its racism and growing militarism.

Leading the charge against the proposed boycott was Wortman, through a German-language New York newspaper he helped found, Deutsche Zeitung, and his posts as president of the German-American Athletic Club and chairman of the German American Olympic Fund Committee. He argued that American athletes who competed in Berlin would, “return as apostles of truth and justice for the promotion of friendship between our great countries.”

In the end, Wortman’s side prevailed, and American athletes participated in Berlin, although the Nazi propaganda victory was incomplete, at best: an African-American runner, Jesse Owens bested his Aryan adversaries and took home four gold medals, infuriating Adolf Hitler.

An architect’s rendering of how the former garage will appear after conversion into a palatial townhouse.

And Wortman, although criticized as de facto Nazi spokesman, continued to prosper in the years after World War Two. Based in an office at Lexington Avenue and 28th Street, he worked as both an architect and a builder. In 1946, a trucking firm, the Highway Transportation Company, bought a Lower Manhattan lot that had been vacant for almost a decade. Located at the corner of Hubert and Collister Streets, the site had once been a coal yard, which was replaced in the 1850s by a six-story building that housed a sugar refinery, and was later converted to a tin-can factory, which was finally demolished in 1937. On this parcel, the company wanted to erect a one-story garage, with loading bays for its trucks. They hired Wortman, who both designed and built the structure.

Wortman died in 1952, but his building was altered three decades later, when the Gold Wings Air Freight Company added two floors of office space above the garage, in the early 1990s. In the early 2000s, the offices had been converted to apartments, and 11 Hubert was the subject of a lawsuit between neighbors who each wanted control of the building. In 2014, both parties sold their interests to an undisclosed buyer (who intends to convert to property into a single dwelling) for $15.3 million.

The new owner hired architect Maya Lin, who gained fame as a college student for winning the 1981 national design competition to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Ms. Lin is collaborating on the design of the new Tribeca mansion with Lower Manhattan architect Bill Bialosky.

Their design (which calls for recladding and expanding the existing structure, rather than demolishing it) envisions a 20,000-square-foot home, complete with five bedrooms, 11 baths, multiple studies, a gym, a screening room, and a landscaped courtyard — plus the parking space in Wortman’s original garage. The new facade will be adored with limestone, metal, and glass.

Because this building is located within what is now the Tribeca North Historic District, the alterations require permission from the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. That body does not consider such applications until the local community board has weighed in. Ms. Lin and Mr. Bialosky’s plan first came before CB1’s Landmarks Committee in January, where members asked that its height (originally proposed to increase to 70 feet) be scaled back, and that some design features be made more contextual.

The architects returned to the Landmark’s Committee in May, which presented their findings at CB1 as a whole on May 24. “Maya went back and considered our comments and indeed considered more of them than we made to her,” observed Landmarks Committee chair Roger Byron. “She was very receptive, and we’re all very happy with that as you can see.

CB1 member Marc Ameruso was less than impressed, saying, “there’s really an over exaggeration of glass here.”

“Mr. Byrom replied, “we’ve had a long discussion with Maya, we’ve worked extensively with her, and it’s been through two committee meetings. We were comfortable with it.”

After this discussion, CB1’s resolution in support of the proposed changes to 11 Hubert Street passed. It is next slated to go before the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission during the summer. If the proposed changes are approved there, construction could begin later this year.

 

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