As Century 21 Shutdown Looms, Opportunity Arises to Ponder New Uses for a Storied Temple of Commerce
With local shoppers still mourning the impending demise of Century 21, the renowned fashion discounter, the family that owns the soon-to-be-defunct retailer may be crying all the way to the bank.
Century 21 was founded in 1961, by Al Gindi and his cousin, Samuel (“Sonny”) Gindi, who set up shop in the palatial former home of the East River Savings Bank at the corner and Church and Cortlandt Streets, and took their new venture’s name from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, which styled itself the “Century 21 Exposition.” That event focused on the theme of how Americans would live come the millennium, but its predictions did not include an epochal pandemic, or the death of retail driven by online shopping.
Then: The East River Savings Bank building at Church and Cortlandt Streets in the 1950s
And Now: The facade of the same building, shown in modern times, converted to use as Century 21’s flagship location
In the years that followed, the Gindi’s (who called their emporium “the store of the future” and eventually adopted the slogan, “New York’s Best Kept Secret”) used their newfound wealth to acquire a vast portfolio of Lower Manhattan property. The second and third generation of the family began liquidating these Downtown holdings almost a decade ago. In 2012, they sold a portfolio of more than a dozen buildings scattered throughout Lower Manhattan (including 20 John Street, Eight & Ten Liberty Street, 20 Beaver Street, 53 Nassau Street and 122 Nassau Street) for $164 million, and in 2013 they sold 287 Broadway for $8 million. The following year, the family unloaded three more buildings on Nassau Street for an additional $46 million. Much of the proceeds from these sales went to building a portfolio of 2.5 million square feet of retail, office and industrial space throughout the New York tri-state area, along with purchasing and developing properties around the United States (in California, Texas, Nevada, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania).
In 2017, two members of the Gindi family tried to sell a palatial penthouse at 380 Rector Place for $8.95 million, but ended up parting with the property for just $10, by transferring it to a partnership of trust funds in the names of their children.
That same year, Raymond Gindi sold a pair of adjoining lots at 140 and 142 Nassau Street, after buying 173 Broadway (in 2017) for $38.6 million, adding this parcel to properties he already owned at 175-177 Broadway. In 2016, the Gindi family purchased a retail condominium at One Coenties Slip for $19 million.
The interior banking hall became a galleria at which generations of Lower Manhattan residents built their wardrobes
But the center of the local Gindi empire remains the Century 21 store building, at 25 Church Street—a 43,000-square-foot structure, that connects to five other adjacent buildings, forming a 250,000-square-feet complex of retail space and offices.
In this context, the most relevant precedent may be the fate of another Lower Manhattan fashion discounter, Syms, which opened in 1958 and shut down in 2011. After declaring bankruptcy (as Century 21 recently did), the insolvent Syms transformed itself into a real estate concern, Trinity Place Holdings, which is now finishing a 42-story condominium tower at 77 Greenwich Street, in the Financial District.
Whether the former East River Savings Bank building at 25 Church Street (which is not landmarked) will be demolished and redeveloped, or a new use can be found for the space in its current form, remains an open question. But community leaders may wish to begin consideration soon of what goals they would like to see harnessed to the future of a structure that has, for generations, been woven into the fabric of the community.
A Basket of Inexorables
Trump Supporters, Critics Make Their Cases in Battery Park City
In a gesture that was apparently intended to provoke and offend residents of Lower Manhattan, an armada of yachts and powerboats festooned with signs proclaiming support for the reelection of Donald Trump converged on North Cove Marina in Battery Park City on Friday, coinciding with the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. One vessel carried the name “Team Deplorable,” while another, called “Frivolous,” hosted a professional Donald Trump imitator, who began lip synching as recorded speeches by the President were played over an amplifier. When the passengers disembarked, they unfurled a banner that read, “Trump 2020: Fuck Your Feelings.”
When Justine Cuccia, a co-founder of Democracy for Battery Park City, walked along the Esplanade and displayed a sign emblazoned with the words, “Trump Is Not America,” to the occupants of one of these boats, she was answered with raised middle fingers and calls of, “fuck you, entitled liberal bitch!” The irony of hurling accusations of “entitlement” from the deck of a yacht was apparently unintentional.
Thanks to Matthew Fenton for an eloquent and insightful editorial on a somber anniversary.
I was there on 9/11/01. Still bear the emotional scars of what I saw—and felt—on that day. Matthew mentions “the arc of forgetfulness.” None of us who were there on that day will ever forget what we saw. But I choose to interpret Matthew’s headline as an analogy of “A Learning Curve.”
None of us who were there on that day will ever forget. But we can move on. Which I interpret as Matthew’s point.
Matthew writes, “So we fight to recall, while longing to forget.” My approach is different. Cannot ever forget, but fighting not to recall.
The Forgetting Curve
Navigating the Waters of the River Lethe
In the recent controversy over whether the National September 11 Memorial & Museum ought to carry on this year with the annual traditions of reading the names of people who died during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Tribute in Light, both sides were certain in their assumptions. Those who favored cancelling the events felt it was an urgent matter of public safety, in the wake of the greatest heath crisis in a century. Critics were sure that those who resolved to call off the observances were trying to save cash, while cynically hiding behind lofty pronouncements about the common good.
But what if both sides are wrong? What if this was, instead, a half-conscious, instinctive attempt at gently, incrementally stepping away from horror and sadness? What if the decision was a form of forgetting on the installment plan?
1) Lower Manhattan Parks – Update by Terese Flores, Regional Manager, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation
2) Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Governors Island Residency Initiative – Update by Diego S. Segalini, Executive Director, Finance & Administration, LMCC
3) Capital and Expense Budget Items for FY 2022 – Discussion
Let There Be Light
On-Again, Off-Again Decision about Tribute in Light Revives Calls for National Parks to Manage September 11 Memorial
The recent controversy over the planned cancellation of the Tribute in Light (the twin beams of illumination that rise skyward from Lower Manhattan on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001) has led to renewed calls by community leaders for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum to be taken over by the federal government, and operated by the National Park Service (NPS).
The most recent dispute arose in August, when the Memorial announced that it was cancelling both the Tribute in Light and the annual reading of names that commemorates each life lost during the attacks. Both of these moves were characterized as public-safety measures, in the response to the ongoing pandemic coronavirus. To read more…
Photo: Robert Simko
Recently Reopened Businesses Downtown
Get Out on the Water
from North Cove
Need a safe and breezy break from your apartment? Several cruise operators have reopened in North Cove and are offering opportunities to get out on the water, including Tribeca Sailing, Ventura, and Classic Harbor Line. All cruise operators are adhering to social distancing guidelines; check individual websites for details.