By Daniel Katzive
An historic industrial building on lower West End Avenue is being redeveloped for a 21st-century mission. Exterior work appears to be nearing completion and some interior construction seems to be happening now as well.
The building at 125 West End Avenue, between 65th and 66th Streets, was most recently occupied by ABC/Capital Cities and was originally built to house a Chrysler parts and service facility. In between, it served as part of the New York Times’s large printing facility that once dominated that stretch of West End.
Soon it will begin a new era as a life sciences center, housing a combination of bio labs, engineering zones, and conference/events spaces, and perhaps heralding a new key component of the city’s economy.
The Upper West Side has always been primarily a residential neighborhood, with apartment buildings, tenements, and brownstones dominating the landscape since the streets were first laid out at the turn of the century.
However, the southwest corner of the neighborhood was once quite different. The New York Central rail yards stretched from 60th Street to 72nd Street along the river and a number of commercial and industrial properties existed along West End Avenue, benefiting from easy access to rail freight.
The building at 125 West End Avenue was originally built in 1929 for the Chrysler Corporation on land owned by the New York Central. The facility was designed with an internal ramp and was utilized for auto parts storage and service. A rail siding on the lower level allowed for easy delivery of parts. It remained with Chrysler for 30 years, though during World War II it was leased by the Army for quartermaster functions according to a New York Times article from 1943.
In 1957, the building was purchased by the New York Times, to supplement a large printing plant the paper was building on land stretching along the west side of West End Avenue from 62nd to 65th Street. The plant was intended to eventually be the main printing facility for the Times, with the paper keen to get its production operations out of the crowded confines of Times Square and attracted by the ability to deliver newsprint via rail to this location. The 125 West End building was used for storage in support of the printing operations in the main building.
The Times began printing sections of its Sunday paper at the West End site in 1959, but plans to eventually move all production to this location never panned out. According to a retrospective on the plant written in the Times in 2015, technical problems with the printing process there and difficulty maneuvering trucks in tight confines prompted the paper to build a larger printing plant in New Jersey in 1975 and to begin phasing out printing operations on West End.
It took the Times another 10 years to sell its West End printing plant property to developers, using the space to park trucks during the interim. And it took another 10 years before developers would complete construction on the West End Towers building at West 63rd Street in 1995, with a towing company parking trucks there for some time after the Times had moved out.
Meanwhile, 125 West End escaped the wrecker’s ball and continued to soldier on in commercial service, housing various retail and light manufacturing operations. ABC/Capital Cities purchased the building in 1982 and housed radio operations and some set design facilities there, also constructing a building for television studios on the site of a power substation next door along West 66th Street. ABC remained for nearly 40 years,but with the network now having decamped for the Hudson Square neighborhood downtown, 125 West End was in need of a new purpose.
Enter Taconic Partners, which is in the process of converting the 125 West End building into what they call a life sciences center in partnership with Nuveen Real Estate. The building is being reskinned but the developer’s marketing material shows key structural elements are being retained, most notably the central automotive ramp which will provide meeting areas and pedestrian access between floors. JRM Construction is the general contractor for the project.
In an interview with The Real Deal in March 2021, Chris Balestra, Taconic’s President and CEO told the magazine, “The transformation of 125 West End Avenue into a state-of-the-art, life-science hub and our recapitalization of this project is a testament to the resilience of New York City and the promise of this emergent sector.”
The building is one of a number of projects underway in New York City with a goal of creating a life sciences hub here with state and local government support, according to the New York Times.
For residents on the Upper West Side, the building provides a link to an earlier, more industrial era in our neighborhood. And, by retaining a commercial purpose, it will help provide customers for local businesses, drawing in workers while local residents are increasingly off at work in other neighborhoods.