NEW YORK — The city's landmark Police Building, hailed at the turn of the century as a structure grand enough to "impress both officer and prisoner with the majesty of the law," will soon be housing New York's well-to-do instead of its men in blue.
The limestone and terra cotta building, designed in the manner of a French town hall, is undergoing a $30-million renovation after sitting vacant for more than a decade.
By next May, the developers hope to have 55 luxury co-op apartments carved from the old offices, gymnasium and radio room. The cheapest, a 670-square-foot studio, is expected to run about $300,000.
Occupying a wedge-shaped city block bordered by Little Italy, SoHo and Chinatown in Lower Manhattan, the five-story building served as police headquarters from 1909 until 1973, when the department moved to its present home near City Hall.
"At that point, it was sort of touch and go as to what the future of the building would be," said Lloyd A. Kaplan, a spokesman for the project's developers, Fourth Jeffersonian Associates of New York.
Proposals that failed over the years included turning the building into a community center, a small opera house or a hotel, Kaplan said.
"As time just went on, the building was starting to fall apart," said Anthony Dapolito, a longtime member of Community Board 2, which oversees the area.
In 1978 the city granted landmark status to the building, calling it one of the "most important examples of the Edwardian Baroque style of architecture and of Beaux Arts principles of design." The Beaux Arts school believed that a structure should be symmetrical, and its masses and shapes should balance like weights on a fulcrum.
The building "was a symbol for many, many years of one of the greatest police departments in the world," said city Landmarks Commission chairman Gene Norman.
It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Three years later, Fourth Jeffersonian's proposal was accepted by the city, and it bought the building for $4.3 million, Kaplan said.
Historians set to work to find original drawings, floor plans and blueprints for the building. Architects numbered and rated each piece of trim, deciding which could be restored and which had to be replaced.
"Aspects of this are like an archeological dig," Kaplan said.
Statues on the building front representing New York's five boroughs will be restored, said Larry Quinn, a limited partner with Fourth Jeffersonian. The copper on the roof and dome, stripped by vandals, is being replaced.
The building's 31 6-by-10-foot steel-mesh basement cells once housed gangsters such as the notorious Legs Diamond. But Quinn says prospective buyers are more interested in the building's character than the characters who once spent time there.
"We haven't really had any police buffs that have come in," he said.
Eight of the 55 apartments have already been sold, including one that includes the old police commissioner's office, Quinn said. That apartment was bought for about $1.5 million by Arthur D. Emil, a lawyer and one of Fourth Jeffersonian's principal partners.
The old radio room on the top floor was made into a $1-million apartment boasting a circular room 30 feet in diameter with a skylight. It was sold to film and television producer Daniel Melnick, Kaplan said.
The dome apartment, consisting of three levels with its own private elevator, offers a 360-degree view of Lower Manhattan from the top level, nearly 180 feet above ground.
"The theory was that in case there was ever some kind of insurrection, the police could come up here and hold them off," Kaplan said. "Of course, it was never used for that."
The south end of the fourth floor is dominated by the building's old gymnasium, where officers ran laps and police lineups were held daily. That 89-foot-by-34-foot space--with a 35-foot-high domed ceiling--will become the living room in a $2-million, two-bedroom apartment.
Fourth Jeffersonian's other principal partner, Edward R. Downe, bought that apartment, the most expensive, to hang some of the larger artworks he and his wife, Charlotte Ford, have accumulated, Kaplan said.
Also on that floor, window sills are being cut down to allow for the installation of French doors leading on to the terrace, which runs the length of the building.
"That's an example of a detail that had to get approval" from the Landmarks Commission, Kaplan said.
The commission also required the developers to provide 18,000 square feet of space for nonprofit groups to lease at a "modest rate," he said. That space, along with 13,000 square feet of other commercial space, will occupy the building's ground floor.
William Messick, who works across the street from the Police Building at one of the area's remaining gun and police supply stores, says the building's new tenants probably won't help his business much, but he's glad nevertheless to see something finally being done there.
"It's being put back to useful purpose, instead of sitting empty," he said.
Dapolito echoed that sentiment, although he said the Community Board generally is opposed to new luxury apartment buildings. "We think there's too many luxury apartments now."