For the past decade, the former Mangrove Feather factory has stood dormant at the corner of Broadway and Saperstein Place. Once a bustling site for businesses, it is now viewed by residents and village officials as an eyesore and a waste of space.
There is hope for development, however. Since November, representatives of the Garden City-based Breslin Realty Development Corp. have been in talks with village officials and Barry Singer, the building’s owner, to construct rental apartments at the site.
Mayor Alan Beach has made it his mission to develop the building since he took office in October, after the sudden death of Mayor William Hendrick.
“The building has been a blight on this village for more than 10 years,” Beach said. “Our vision for the village is to have each structure be thriving and productive, benefiting the residents of Lynbrook.” He also expressed optimism that a deal would be brokered soon.
The building would have 102 one-bedroom apartments and 111 parking spaces. The first floor would be a garage, and the developer has purchased a vacant lot on the west side of Langdon Place for additional parking. The complex would also have a gym.
Beach has said many times that the site is an ideal location for development because of its size, its proximity to the Long Island Rail Road station and its central location downtown. The apartments would be targeted at millennials, empty-nesters, homeowners looking to downsize and couples just starting out.
David Orwasher, Breslin’s chief development officer, referred the Herald to the village for details about the project. Beach said that talks were continuing. Singer was in Israel and unavailable to comment at press time. Orwasher was supposed to present the idea to the public at village board meetings earlier this year, but has been waiting for the deal to be finalized.
Beach met with Singer for the first time as mayor on Nov. 9. On Nov. 20, Singer brought Orwasher in to present his ideas and renderings for the project to village officials. In his presentation about the complex, which would be called the Feather Building, Orwasher said that redeveloping the site would honor the village’s history, return a significant asset to the tax rolls and anchor revitalization of the village’s downtown.
A storied history
The building has been a fixture in Lynbrook since the early 1900s. Village historian Art Mattson noted in his book, “The History of Lynbrook,” that it was originally known as the Bates Opera House, and owned by Ed Bates.
“The Bates Opera House had boxing, musicals, vaudeville, minstrel shows, opera and even a gymnasium,” Mattson wrote. He noted that the venue’s Tuesday Night Fights boxing bouts were popular in 1911, and were attended by a crowd of both white and black people, which was rare at the time.
According to Mattson, the opera house was sold to Max Strassner and Jesse Bettmann in 1916, and they converted the building into a knitting factory. By 1917, the Atlantic Knitting Mills became Lynbrook’s largest employer, hiring 60 men and 60 women. There were also dozens of workers specializing in embroidery. The business thrived, Mattson wrote, to the point that night work became common.
The property remained a source for development for many years, and eventually the Mangrove Feather Company moved in on the ground floor. It produced feathers for the carnival and apparel industries.
In 1982, Reuben Marin purchased the 35,000-square-foot, three-story building and manufactured men’s sportswear for his company, English Sportswear. He distributed his products to well-known outlets such as Brooks Brothers, Saks Fifth Avenue and others.
“I love that building,” Marin said. “It was a great, great building. . . . I feel dismayed when I walk by and see it all boarded up.” He added that he would like to see it developed soon.
Marin, who lives in Woodmere, said he had many tenants when he owned the building. There was a law office on the ground floor facing the railroad tracks, he said, and uniform hats were manufactured on the top floor of the building, which also housed many designers. Marin said that about 130 people worked in the building at its height.
One of Marin’s tenants was Howard Wechsler, who in 2002 built a photography studio on the second floor, facing Saperstein Place. “It was a large, large space,” Wechsler recalled. “It was like a New York SoHo loft. It was a little cold in the winter, and there were these big, six-foot radiators scattered around the room.”
Weschler used the building to take clients’ headshots and shoot fashion photography. After Marin sold it, Weschler moved his studio to Valley Stream.
The feathers fly
In 2005, Marin was looking to close his business when he received what he described as “a very compelling offer” from Singer, and sold him the property. There were still tenants in the building at the time.
Singer purchased the property to develop it, but clashed with village officials when they did not approve his plans to redevelop the building. There was once a proposal to build a Holiday Inn Express at the site, but nothing came of it. In 2011, hotel developer Lee Browning eyed the property as a potential place to build a Courtyard by Marriott, but that didn’t come to fruition, either.
Browning has tried to develop a hotel in Lynbrook since 2004. He briefly walked away from the project last summer, but restarted negotiations in February to build it over a municipal parking lot just north of the feather factory. Village officials have yet to make a decision.
After failed negotiations, the relationship between Singer and members of the village board soured. The building was vacated around 2008, and shortly after, issues of graffiti, squatting, skateboarding and trespassing were frequently reported there, according to a 2012 study by Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, LLC, a Mellville-based engineering and surveying firm. The firm was tasked by village officials with studying the area of the feather factory to determine if it was a blight, and if it was worth redeveloping.
The study found that the building was deteriorating, but could thrive again given the vitality of the area. The board continues to make it a priority.
“The village will get the project done,” Beach recently told the Herald.