P&Z Watch: Historic Building to be Repurposed as Residential, Parking Access via Car Elevator

Recently P&Z commissioners had a site visit of the “mothballed” bowling alley at 44-48 West Putnam Avenue, for which there is an application for a final site plan and special permit to create 14 residential units on two floors.

The space was originally The Pickwick Theater. It opened in 1929 and offered both moving pictures and vaudeville acts. At the time it was one of the largest theaters in New England, boasting somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 seats. In 1959 it was converted into the bowling alley where a billboard advertised 56 lanes.

In 1995 the new building owner installed windows on what was previously a solid wall that had been painted white, according to a narrative her attorney provided. The lower lower level facade with retail stores will remain as is. The property is in the CGBR and CGIO zones.

Chip Haslun, the attorney representing the applicant, Marcy Fagan, said that when the theater was converted to a bowling alley, some of the original Spanish motifs, including the marquee and the lobby were lost, but it had been “an atmospheric theater,” giving the feel of a Spanish village, with a Proscenium stage.

When Ms Fagan brought the property in 1995, a prior P&Z commission had granted approval for the bowling alley to be converted into office and commercial space, but 15,000 sq ft on the upper levels being mothballed due to concerns about inadequate parking.

That mothballed floor area is an expansive space that currently houses HVAC equipment. If the application is approved, the mechanicals will be replaced with smaller ones that would be housed underneath the floor.

The existing parking lot out front is for the use of existing retailers and will remain so.

44 West Putnam Ave in Greenwich was originally home to Pickwick Theatre. Later it became a bowling alley that operated in the 80s and early 90s. Photo: Leslie Yager

“We’re taking this cavernous two-story space that you walked through, inserting a steel structure, and creating 14 apartments on two floors within that space, and a parking garage,” said architect Richard Granoff.

The plan is to remove one parking space from the existing indoor parking garage in order to add a residential vehicle elevator.

Each resident will have a transmitter to open the elevator and takes their car up to the second floor. They propose a new residential entrance under a covered pathway to the lobby and both the residential and vehicular elevators.

The parking garage will be in the middle of the space and the residential units will be arranged around the perimeter to take advantage of oversized windows that will replace the existing ones.

There will be 14 parking spaces, plus one handicapped space.

The apartments will be a mix of one and two-bedroom units on main floor. Above, more units would be created between the trusses, which Mr. Granoff described as “extremely robust.” Those upper floor units will have private terraces. All building residents will have access to a roof terrace with Long Island Sound views.

There was some discussion about the bedroom count.

The units feature a room referred to as a den, Zoom room, or home office.

Granoff said that by definition these “dens” do not count as bedrooms because per the building dept regs, they don’t have natural light, ventilation, a closet and access to a bathroom.

P&Z commission chair Margarita Alban questioned the layouts of the “dens,” which are currently designed to include closets and bathroom access.

“My guess is you’re going to have to take out the closets and access to the bathroom,” she said.

“If we have to take out closets or change the access to a bathroom to negate it as a bedroom, that’s what we’ll do,” Granoff said.

Commissioner Peter Lowe suggested the building feature some sort of recognition of the building’s significant history.

The Historic District Commission has legal authority in the state statutes and in the town charter. However, their authority does not likely impact this project.

“If we go with HDC on something, we’re giving them authority where they have none,” said deputy P&Z director LaRow.

“Find a way of bringing the HDC to the table,” Alban suggested. “But from a purely technical point, this is not a registered historic building. It’s not in a historic district. They’re not applying for a historic overlay.”

Commissioner Nick Macri suggested the changes to the building should be hashed out with the Architectural Review Committee rather than HDC.

“The bones of this building are pretty much staying the way they are,” said commissioner Nick Macri. “We’re looking at new windows, doors balconies, etc… Actually if we were looking at replicating historic details or trying to save historic aspects of the building, it would be one story. But with this you’re putting holes into blank facades of brick adding exterior egress stairs.”

“We’re good. We’ve got a deal. You’re gong to go to ARC. That’s a good thing,” Alban said. “Most of your outstanding issues will be resolved with ZBA and ARC. You have some issues with the layout. The car transport thing always gives us a little pause. But that’s the owner’s call. It’s their marketing decision.”

During public comment Liz Peldunas from the Riverside Association complimented Mr. Granoff.

“It’s just beautiful, brilliant – really absolutely neat,” Peldunas said. “I think it would be a real asset to Greenwich…I like to support good projects.”

“We’re most of the way there,” Alban said.

See also:

12 Residential Units Proposed for Mothballed Space in Former Bowling Alley

Dec 21, 2020

Former bowling alley has been”mothballed” for many years. The P&Z commission did a site visit in March, 2021 The photo shows the original trusses, which will remain when the space is converted to residential units.