A Tour of the Landmarked Watchtower Property Being Transformed into Luxury Senior Housing

Nov 11, 2019 | News


A Brooklyn Heights Watchtower property that was previously a swanky hotel where the top-paid Brooklyn Dodgers stayed is being turned into high-end seniors housing.

Construction work is 75 percent finished at The Towers at 21 Clark St. Formerly owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the landmarked property is being transformed into The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights, a 275-apartment rental building that’s expected to open in March.

It will have 29 independent-living units, 204 assisted-living units and 42 memory-care units for residents with cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

“The demand is great for luxury senior-living facilities in the Greater New York marketplace,” Andrea Ellen, managing director of Watermark Retirement Communities, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “There has been little or no new product built in the last 20 years.”

Watermark Retirement Communities/The Freshwater Group is a minority owner of 21 Clark St. and its operator and co-developer. Another minority owner, Tishman Speyer, is a development partner. The majority owner is investment firm Kayne Anderson.

They bought the property from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for $202.5 million in 2017, city Finance Department records indicate.

The 16-story former hotel, which was built in the 1920s, is a standout in low-rise brownstone Brooklyn Heights because of its distinctive design. The four corners of the building are topped with towers ringed with columns that call to mind a Venetian palazzo.

The Eagle got a sneak peek at the $330 million redevelopment project.

The private hard-hat tour started on the building’s top floor, which has wrap-around terraces with views of the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center and the lower Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Brooklyn Heights Historic District.

The terraces will be outfitted with teak outdoor furniture and plantings.

On the north-facing end of the terrace, you can see DUMBO, Williamsburg and Long Island City. On the south-facing end of the terrace you can see Brooklyn neighborhoods all the way down to Bay Ridge and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.

On the 16th floor, there’s a club room with Manhattan-facing arched windows.

The Leverich Towers Hotel, as it was originally known, was nicknamed “the Aristocrat of Brooklyn Hotels.” When the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field, their highest-paid stars lived at The Towers during baseball season.

Architecture firm Starrett & Van Vleck, which designed The Towers, also designed Saks Fifth Avenue’s and Lord & Taylor’s flagship stores in Manhattan.

A leasing gallery for The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights opened in late spring at nearby 70 Henry St. A marketing campaign started in the fall. It includes hard-hat tours of 21 Clark St. for Brooklyn Heights residents, even those who don’t intend to rent apartments but just want to see the building.

About 20 people have put down refundable $10,000 deposits for apartment leases, Ellen said. More than half are Brooklyn Heights residents. The rest live in other Brooklyn neighborhoods or Manhattan. The Manhattan residents either lived in Brooklyn in the past or now have family members in Brooklyn.

Rents range from $8,500 to $20,000 per month. They vary according to what type of living arrangement the person needs — independent, assisted or memory care — as well as the apartment’s size and the types of views it has. There are more than 70 different floor plans for the units, which are a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments.

They’re rented unfurnished, but Watermark can provide furniture if the tenant wishes. For instance, the child of a future resident purchased the furnishings in one of 21 Clark St.’s model apartments, which their mother is going to live in.

The building’s two model apartments are on the 10th floor. During the Eagle’s building tour, Ellen pointed out seniors-friendly details in them like sliding closet doors with finger pulls instead of doorknobs, which are hard on your wrists if you have arthritis.

The bathrooms were equipped with grab bars in the showers and alongside toilets. Shower thresholds were flush with the floors, which makes them easier to step into.

The model apartments are located on one of the 10 floors devoted to assisted-living units.

Assisted living at The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights entails a personalized care plan determined by a nurse’s assessment, three meals a day in the property’s dining room, housekeeping services, recreation and wellness programs, onsite classes and outings.

Memory-care units will be on two floors of the building, which will be staffed with certified dementia practitioners. These floors will have greenhouse facilities for horticulture therapy and a private outdoor courtyard.

On the two floors of 21 Clark St. where the independent living units are located, there are apartments with balconies. On each corner apartment’s balcony, you can look up and see one of the building’s towers right above your head.

People have been stopping by the leasing gallery to reminisce about The Towers.

“Everyone knows the building, whether they’re 25 or 85,” Ellen said. “We’ve had such amazing feedback from people with such fond memories.”

Some of them talked about dancing in The Towers’ ballroom. One woman recalled that her first kiss took place there.

The ballroom is being turned into a dining room. The space is two stories high and encircled by a mezzanine, where an art gallery will be situated.

The ballroom will become one of four dining and drinking venues at 21 Clark St., all of which will be solely for the use of residents and their guests. Another one will be a library with a wine bar. The building will also have storage space for residents’ wine collections.

Other amenities will include a fitness studio, a yoga and movement studio, a studio for creating art, a movie theater and a live-performance theater. A warm-water swimming pool that has been constructed in a subcellar will be used for water aerobics and aqua therapy classes, water walking and lap swimming.

When The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights is fully leased, it will have a staff of more than 200 people, Ellen said.

The project architect is Montroy DeMarco Architecture; the interior designer is Lemay + Escobar.

The Watchtower purchased 21 Clark St. for $1,992,229.08 in 1975, Finance Department records show. For four decades, the religious group used the property as housing and a dining hall for more than 1,000 people who worked at its nearby world headquarters.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses sold The Towers during the liquidation of their mammoth Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO real estate portfolio to prep for the relocation of their headquarters to upstate Warwick, New York.

Source: Brooklyn Eagle