Former Chocolate Factory Houses Now Upscale Lofts

More than half century has elapsed, but from the outside at least, the chocolate factory still looks pretty much like it did 100 years ago. Inside, though, the former factory facade now has a different heart: a residential one.
More than half century has elapsed, but from the outside at least, the chocolate factory still looks pretty much like it did 100 years ago. Inside, though, the former factory facade now has a different heart: a residential one.

— In New York, the history of a neighborhood can sometimes be reflected in a single building. Take the blockwide brick structure that stands on Park Avenue between Waverly and Washington Avenues in Clinton Hill.  Today it is a seven-story luxury residential rental-featuring loft that is home to 123 households; but in the 1900’s, it was a thriving chocolate factory. And in the years in between, an abandoned building.

At the turn of the century, the Rockwood & Company chocolate factory resided in this small Brooklyn neighborhood, known as the Wallabout District. Founded in Manhattan in 1886 by W. E. Rockwood and W. T. Jones, the company, once aligned with Hershey, ranked as the second largest  chocolate producer across the country.  The factory closed for good in 1967 and had been abandoned for a few decades. A part of the building was dilapidated when a real estate developer took it over in 1996 and transformed it into a luxury apartment building called, aptly, The Chocolate Factory.


Interactive Map/Slideshow

Wallabout Grows Younger

Wallabout Grows Richer

The building has come a long way since the Van Glahn Brothers constructed the building in 1890 and established a wholesale grocery here. Since, it has become a witness to the vicissitude of industrialism in the neighborhood. The manufacturing flavor of this district is now residential—and The Chocolate Factory illustrates that shift. Today, the area that surrounds the former factory is populated by a growing number of young people: According to census data, the number of residents aged 20 to 35 has increased 21 percent over the past decade.

“It is just amazing to see how it was transformed from an empty shell to beautiful loft apartments,” said Mira Goldin, who opened SPA, a lounge that serves drinks, on the first floor of the building six years ago. “A lot of nice young people live here, with families, dogs and children. It’s totally revitalizing the whole neighborhood.”

Back in late 19th century, after the openings of the Brooklyn Bridge and the elevated railroad on Myrtle Avenue, industrialism burgeoned in theneighborhoods of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. And Brooklyn’s population was only a third of what it is nowadays. From 1880 to 1920, Wallabout stood as the fourth largest manufacturing center in the entire country, according to a report published by an architectural historian and Columbia professor Andrew Dolkart. In 1860, approximately 1,000 industrial firms with close to 13,000 workers thrived here. Nearly 50 years later, the number of industrial establishments reached 5,200 and employed 10 times more workers.

“Much of the industry clustered in the neighborhoods along the East River waterfront, including Williamsburg, Greenpoint, DUMBO, and Wallabout,” Dolkart wrote.

Imports of cocoa bean and spice entered into the city here, so food production, including many bakeries and confectioners,  sprouted in this area. Wagons and trucks jammed the streets and here stood  the Wallabout Market, the world’s second largest produce market at the time.

Whispers of what this neighborhood once was still resonate here, sometimes in faded lettering along the sides of this now thriving residential community: American Self Storage, a large building across the street from The Chocolate Factory, was once the Consumers’ Biscuit and Manufacturing Company. And the Benjamin Banneker Academy, a community high school, located only one block away in the junction of Clinton and Park Avenues, used to be the home of the Drake Brothers Bakery (known as today’s Drake’s Cake). Its famous products like Yodels and Ring Dings can now be found in convenience stores across the country. Inside the school, some floors still remain in Drake’s style.

Rockwood Chocolate Factory leased the Van Glahn complex on Washington Avenue in 1904, and extended its scale northward to Flushing Avenue and westward to Waverly Avenue as its business grew greatly over the next decade. The complex was listed on the National Register as the Rockwood Chocolate Factory Historic District.

“It is just amazing to see how it was transformed from an empty shell to beautiful loft apartment. A lot nice young people live here, with families, dogs and children. It’s totally vitalizing the whole neighborhood.”
– Mira Goldin,
SPA Lounge Owner
But World War II brought changes to the district as a result of the outward expansion of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When the Yard finally shut down in 1966, the industrialism in the neighborhood also declined. Rockwood shut its doors and remained so, until 1996 when the building was reconfigured as a residential structure.

“There was a fire in the old section that a portion [of the building] was completely gone, and we were unable to restore it,” said Jake Zorka, the manager of the loft’s development and administration office that reconstructed the building in early 2000’s. “What is original now is only the shell. Everything else was redone.”

Around the time of its renovation, a bunch of other apartment buildings also sprung up in the neighborhood, attracting many people who were bothered by the rising costs in Williamsburg and Greenpoint into Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

Various small businesses also opened up. So far, a grocery supermarket, Goldin’s SPA lounge, a Cuban restaurant and a cocktail lounge have all taken root in this newly fertilized former chocolate land.

More than half century has elapsed, but from the outside at least, the chocolate factory still looks pretty much like it did 100 years ago. The West building in the complex retained its red brick walls with white limestone and yellow brick trim. And the East building, designed in the Romanesque Revival style, still has the Van Glahn name inscribed on the corner. Inside, though, the former factory facade now has a different heart: a residential one. Apartments still hint at the building’s origin.

“Our apartment has industrial ceilings, but they’re covered for fire safety,” said Mengia Hong, who lives in a 1,300-square-foot open loft with hardwood floors with her husband and two kids. The family moved here from their tiny but expensive Tribecca apartment a year ago.

Hints of cocoa no longer waft from street to street; the neighborhood is no longer industrial. Even so, when you pass by the southwest corner of Waverly and Park Avenues, the large bronze “R”s set on the third story of the red-and-yellow brick wall will always remind people of the building’s original identity—and of the district’s former industrial character.

Stuyvesant Town Showdown

College students celebrating the last days of school in the sun, but older residents are not fond of these dormitory-like parties.
College students celebrate their last days of school in the sun with beer much to the chagrin of older residents.

— Jacqueline Duran, 23, left her sixth floor apartment in Stuyvesant Town one recent April afternoon with her recycled bottles in hand. But as she stepped out of the elevator in the lobby of her building, she was greeted by a handwritten note on the glass garbage disposal room door that read: “College students, you’re the reason why we have bugs and rats. Why don’t you go back to your mommies and daddies in the suburbs.”

Duran, a student at Parsons New School for Design, along with her three roommates, are caught in a war between rent-stabilized residents at Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village and college students.  Tensions began in the 60-year-old red-brick residential complex, in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village, when management began adding wall-dividers in 2007 to allow large groups of students into the complex. Financial overseer CW Capital and Rose Associates management are now marketing the 11,000-units to students with the promise of safety, convenience and pressurized walls, which can turn any one-bedroom apartment into three.


Battle for Sty Town

Before & After

Reporter’s Reflections

“We paid about $3,000 for a contractor to divide the apartment,” said Nadia Zuban, 22, a student at Fashion Institute of Technology who moved into Peter Cooper Village in January and hired one of the three contractors recommended by management.

A standard one-bedroom apartment, which usually costs about $3,400 a month, is completely painted white with wooden floors, a small dining room and kitchen at the entranceway.   A squared alcove connects the living room and dining room, and in the corner a narrow hallway leads to the master bedroom.  But, a student one-bedroom apartment is divided from the dining room across the living room up to the master bedroom by a wall.

Zuban, like other aspiring tenants, were told that they can move into a flexi-one-bedroom apartment or have their one-bedroom converted to fit three roommates by Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village’s leasing office.

Joe DePiasco, spokesman for Stuyvesant Town, said, in response to an email question, that the complex is no longer allowing the construction of these non-structural walls.

Even though management says its stopped separating the units, long time residents are unhappy with the behavior of many of the complex’s newer occupants.

“You have a lot of bad things like people vomiting in the elevators and drunkenness and people smoking outside.”
– Jane Holland,
Long-time Resident

Social worker Jane Holland says that the  atmosphere of Stuyvesant Town now resembles a dormitory with excessive drunkenness and noise.

Residents are striking back with its Tenant Association, a representative group which has called for several fire code investigations, more security control of drunkenness, and more support for residents to own their apartments in order to maintain a family environment.

“You have a lot of bad things like people vomiting in the elevators and drunkenness and people smoking outside,” said Holland, 59. “It used to be a nice middle class neighborhood, and I hoped that we could maintain that for our families.”

A small war is brewing in the housing development because many residents believe that dormitory life cannot coexist with residential family life.

Tolerance of college students reached its limit a year ago after Jim Flanagan, an 80-year-old resident that has lived in Stuyvesant town for 30 years, found a drunken student passed out in front of his 11th- floor apartment door. Flanagan knew that the young man lived on the 10th floor of his building, but still escorted the student outside and told him to have someone else let him back in.

Flanagan reiterates his experience:


“They put like four or five people in a one-bedroom apartment, and then they move out in one semester,” said Flanagan.

Students like, David Keltz, 22. have felt the wrath of older residents when a 60-year-old woman yelled at him for talking on his cell phone while walking along the grass one afternoon this month.

Keltz, a student at Pace University, said she told him to find somewhere else to talk on his cell phone because he “was driving her and her husband crazy. She didn’t say I was talking too loud, but that I was talking at all.”


Keltz reenacts his encounter:


Stuyvesant town is mostly a rent-stabilized multi-building apartment complex, with some residents paying as little as $1,200 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.  But tenants, like Holland, say, management has increased the amount of student leasing to help increase rent for individual units.

The Tenants Association  is trying to help rent-stabilized tenants take control of their residential environment by advocating for the conversion of apartments into condominiums.

“We will be able to set rules for ourselves about leasing to prevent a dormitory like environment that is detrimental to the quiet enjoyment of our homes and the long-term stability of our community,” stated the Tenant Association in a February press release on condominium conversion.

In March, the Tenant Association’s real estate partner Brookfield Asset Management released a statement agreeing that the aggressive amount of student leasing has gotten out of hand and interferes with the quality of residential life

Until the Tenants Association is able to purchase Stuyvesant Town, maintaining the residential environment is in the hands of CW Capital and Rose Associates management. An apartment conversion bid will not be made until the summer after CW Capital places a value on the residential complex, says congressman Daniel Garodnick a longtime resident of Peter Cooper Village.

“We lease to all qualified prospects who come into our leasing office regardless of age,” said Joe DePlasco managing director for public relations in an email.   “In some cases there are prospective residents who want to share units to reduce costs.”

While  many rent stabilized residents are not happy with this open door policy, students argue that they can coexist with families despite snarky notes, like the one Duran saw in her apartment, posted throughout the residential buildings.

“I agree that it is a family place,” said Duran, “But I think it is stupid to try and restrict apartments.”

Duran moved from Annapolis, Maryland two years ago to study fashion design at Parsons. She found that living in an apartment with roommates was $300 cheaper than living in a dorm (the usual cost of a Parsons dorm room is about $1,300.)

In Duran’s two-bedroom apartment, each roommate shares a room, splitting the $4,000 rent, four ways.  The apartment within Stuyvesant Town was the perfect place to enjoy the freedom of renting an apartment with no dormitory restrictions, like having friends visit and sleepover, says Duran.

But Duran got more than what she bargained for: countless noise complaints.

She and many of the other college students that live in the complex have received a barrage of protests from the sound of a broomstick slamming against the ceiling of her downstairs neighbor for wearing high-heels to residential security guards knocking at the door during small parties.

Some students, like Eric Feuster, 20, another student from Parsons along with his roommates, were even warned by security, on several occasions, that if they continue to disturb their neighbors with parties and drunkenness they would receive a $300 fine for every security visit.

“We’re terminating our lease because the neighbors just don’t like us,” said Feuster.  “They complain constantly that were too loud.”

For Duran, the note on the garbage disposal door was the last straw: she says she is likely not to sign another one-year lease, even if management lets her.