Places that Matter

Middagh Street Studio Apartments (former)

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Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Brooklyn's first federally-subsidized housing for artists
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The Middagh Street Studio Apartment Building is a rare example of subsidized housing created for artists, and was Brooklyn's first housing of this type. Converted from an historic factory building in the 1970s, Middagh Street was developed using incentives offered by the Mitchell-Lama program. As of 2004, it is being turned into luxury apartments--an all too familiar transformation in New York City--and it has the dubious distinction of being the first Mitchell-Lama building to evict all of its subsidized tenants.

Originally built in 1870, the Middagh Street building is located at the north end of Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights (the building was also known as the Henry Street Studios). For many years it was operated by the Mason, Au & Magenheimer Confectionery Manufacturing Company, which used the factory to produce Mason Peaks, a candy bar with coconut covered in chocolate, and Mason Mints, round, chocolate-covered mint patties. The sign for the factory, reading "Peaks Mason Mints," still graces the building's exterior.

By the late 1960s, the building, like many others in the Brooklyn waterfront area, was vacant. Under the Cadman Plaza Urban Renewal Plan developed at this time it was slated to become a parking lot. Architect Lee Pomeroy and Congressman Fred Richmond pursued modifications to this plan that included the conversion of the factory as artists' housing. Due to their persistence Middagh Street became the first building in Brooklyn to have subsidized housing for a combination of artists and middle-income residents, and was among just a handful citywide. In keeping with their vision, the Middagh Street Studio Apartments Corporation bought the building for $55,500 and operated it under oversight of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as specified under the Mitchell-Lama program. The Mitchell-Lama program offered tax abatements and mortgage loans for construction in exchange for limited dividends (limits to the profits one could charge for rent). It was the largest subsidized housing program that the city has ever seen.

Because it was in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, the conversion of the Middagh Street building was subject to the approval by the city's Landmark Preservation Commission. Lee Pomeroy, who designed the conversion, retained most of the building's original exterior, but opened up its north wall with large custom-designed windows. When completed, the building included 42 loft studio apartments with exposed structural wooden beams and millwood floors. The conversion received a Progressive Architecture Design Award for adaptive reuse and a Residential Award from the NYC Chapter of the AIA.