New York Times
IN the parking lot behind Castle Braid, a new rental complex in Bushwick, Brooklyn, BMWs and Volvos sit beside murals by local graffiti legends like Jesus Saves and Robots Will Kill.
The luxury cars are something of an anomaly in Bushwick, the working-class neighborhood to the east of Williamsburg that is New York’s current locus of bohemianism. Apartments at Castle Braid, named for a trimmings factory once on the site, have soaking tubs, energy-efficient appliances and Italian cabinetry. Monthly rents range from $1,700, for one-bedrooms, to $3,300 for three-bedrooms, in an area where struggling artists roost in unconverted lofts.
Drawing on Bushwick’s cachet, Castle Braid is being marketed by its developer, Mayer Schwartz, as “a world custom-built to enable the artist,” and is aimed at art lovers willing to pay Williamsburg prices to live in an area sorely lacking in both trees and retail. The graffiti murals were commissioned by Mr. Schwartz as part of Brooklyn Artillery, a six-week art fair/open house last fall that converted the 125 then-vacant apartments into temporary galleries.
The tactic appears to be working on both fronts: only two units remain to be filled, and tenants say they are trying to realize Mr. Schwartz’s vision of an artists’ utopia.
“I relate to Mayer’s desire to create a family of people here,” said Khalil Chishtee, 46, a Pakistani sculptor. Last winter Mr. Chishtee decorated the parking lot gate with a metallic collage based on the novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” — in which the Castle Braid factory figures prominently — after Mr. Schwartz had given him a copy of the book.
Mr. Schwartz, who also developed the Bedford Avenue miniature mall (in a former girdle factory) and the 66-unit Opera House Lofts (in a former German singing hall in Bushwick) is trying to compensate for a lack of local amenities by providing them all in one place.
Castle Braid’s U-shaped layout accommodates a recording studio, a screening room, a gym, a media lab, rentable video equipment and a lending library with more than 1,500 books and 300 DVDs — all cataloged on the building’s private social networking site. Mr. Schwartz plans to install a metal shop, a coffee bar and a ceramics studio complete with a $5,000 kiln.
Though some have called his use of art a ploy to sell apartments, Mr. Schwartz says that making a place for people to grow and enjoy themselves far outweighs any financial incentives. “A kiln is not such a big expense if it’s going to make people happy,” he said.
Castle Braid’s marketing director, Taylor Clark, a 25-year-old skateboarder and comedian who lives in another of Mr. Schwartz’s buildings, has organized a 48-Hour Short Film Festival (the winners — both residents — won six months’ rent) and a weekly comedy show with performers like Reggie Watts, who recently toured with Conan O’Brien.
Before committing to a year’s rent on a $2,500-a-month duplex, Helmut Kohli, a Swiss artist, spent weeks wandering the space. One night in February, Mr. Kohli, 49, lit the tree-filled 6,000-square-foot courtyard with 1,500 candles and a six-story torch while a number of tenants, among them a violinist for the New York Philharmonic, played Classical music.
But blurring the line between art gallery and private residences has its perils. In early June, Jinkyung Chong, an installation artist and tenant, received Mr. Schwartz’s blessing to curate a show in the lobby as part of Bushwick Open Studios. That was when a graphic nude photograph by Rafael Fuchs (titled “Nude Megillah #1” and priced at $1,800) disturbed one tenant, a mother of two young children, who eventually removed the work herself, damaging the print. Mr. Fuchs has threatened to sue Mr. Schwartz, claiming the piece is worth over $7,200.
“I told him it was wrong what he’s doing, but that I loved him anyway, as I love the whole world,” Mr. Schwartz said. But he is requiring curators to discuss any provocative art with him beforehand and sign a document stipulating that work found offensive by tenants will be removed within 24 hours.
And Mr. Schwartz admits that the cost of living at Castle Braid is out of the reach of most up-and-coming artists. “It was more intended for mature artists who have gotten somewhere in their careers,” he said.
Not everyone at Castle Braid is an artist. But “because of how we designed it,” Mr. Schwartz said, “we pulled in people who are passionate about art and want to contribute.”
Accordingly, Castle Braid, like a cutting-edge gallery opening in Chelsea, has attracted its share of young people for whom art is often a pretext for socializing. “It’s like a college dorm for me,” Jensen Lee, 20, a recent film school graduate, said in reference to the numerous in-house parties posted on the complex’s self-contained networking site.
“People ask me where I made all my friends,” said Ms. Lee, whose roommate at Castle Braid is Barry Hollywood, a 50-year-old fashion photographer. “I’m like: ‘My building. Aren’t you friends with the people in your building?’ And they’re like, ‘No.’ ”