A year ago, I heard that plans were in the works to remake Rosemary’s Baby, and my reaction was exactly what you’re thinking now: NO. The film is a masterpiece, and to remake it would be nothing short of cinematic blasphemy.
In the days that followed, however, I found myself mulling over the central question: what would a Rosemary’s Baby set in the New York of 2014 would be like? For starters, the idea of Guy and Rosemary finding an affordable apartment in a place like the Dakota is simply ludicrous, even by Hollywood standards. But would the Woodhouses, a young, struggling, artistic couple, even care to live in Manhattan in the first place?
The more I thought about where to set the infamous Bramford, the more I kept coming back to one of my all-time favorite apartment buildings: The Astral, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Before I continue my remake pitch (which I reiterate is a terrible idea and SHOULD NOT HAPPEN), let’s take a closer look at one of Brooklyn’s finest buildings. Stretching a full city block on Franklin Street (between India and Java), Astral Apartments was built in 1885/86 by industrialist/philanthropist Charles Pratt (namesake to Pratt Institute) and looks pretty much the same nearly 130 years later.
Designed in the Queen Anne style, its facade is a fascinating assortment of bays and recesses, brick and terracotta detailing, fire escapes and balconies, and just about every size and shape of window you can imagine.
Something about the Astral has always felt eerie to me. Maybe it’s all those recesses and windows – so many places for someone to be watching you from.
Or maybe it’s the enormous arched entrances, which seem more like portals than doors.
The Astral’s 125 apartments apartments are separated into six different sections, each with its own slightly different entrance design.
Even the name The Astral (“of the stars”) conjures up an air of mystery and the occult:
In fact, the name comes not from the supernatural, but from Pratt’s nearby oil refinery, known for its Astral Oil, a safer, less flammable lighter fluid (“Will not explode!” is a great brand slogan). Pratt built the Astral Apartments specifically to house his refinery workers in a safe and healthy environment, a very progressive idea in a time when thousands suffered in the squalor of tenements.
In addition to comfortable, well-ventilated apartments, Pratt also provided residents with a library/lecture hall at the India Street corner.
Here’s the first floor of that library circa 1895…
…and today, now a laundromat:
In researching the Astral, I learned that the library originally included a reading room/lecture hall in the basement, seen below circa 1900.
While the first floor space is long gone, was there any possibility the basement reading room might still exist? Last week, I headed into the bowels of the building with the super…
Sadly, the library was gutted decades ago to make way for the building’s boiler.
However, if you look behind the boiler…
…you’ll find the library’s original fireplace still in place:
See it there on the right?
The fireplace has some nice detailing…
…including this bit of advice: “Waste neither time nor money.” Also, note the building’s founding date inscribed below:
Another neat remnant from the library…
…I’m told these braces originally held a bookshelf:
Finally, you can see these two columns in the above picture:
A little bit of detailing at the top:
Pratt also provided a kindergarten for residents, seen below circa 1895:
Today, that space houses the Brooklyn Label cafe:
The interior space has been heavily renovated, though you can still see one of the original columns on the right:
For such a large building, many of the most interesting details are actually quite small. One of my favorites is impossible to make out from the street…
…but if you go up to the roof…
…you’ll see that the roof posts are capped with a really interesting – and somewhat creepy – terracotta design, alternating between two faces: screaming in horror…
…and maniacally laughing:
Of course, these most likely represent the theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy. But what an unusual addition, especially considering that you can’t see them from the ground. Sadly, most have been destroyed by lightning strikes or vandalism.
Another neat flourish – zig-zaggy rails in the rooftop fence:
There are several other neat hidden details, like the lion heads at the base of the arches…
…significantly deteriorated from age:
Flanking the main entrance…
…two odd faces wink down at passersby:
On either side of the Franklin Street facade, a really beautiful emblem…
And beneath the bay windows…
…a very pretty plant motif:
But the real beauty of The Astral is in its inventive use of recesses and bays, like this three-story arched recess:
I’m not kidding when I say this building has a lot of different window styles and sizes:
And then there are the simple patterns set set into the brickwork that accent the building:
An arch detail:
Circular windows above an entrance:
I love how the apartments get their own fire escape balcony:
Inside, things are a bit cramped as one might expect for a building meant for early 20th century refinery workers:
This is the lobby at the main entrance…
…while the side entrances open onto the stairs:
Long, thin corridors lead off of the stairwells to apartments…
…often with less than a few feet separating doors:
Many of the original floorboards remain:
Looking out one of the large arched windows from the stairwell:
Finally, I headed to the backyard…
More zig-zags on the gate:
I love the courtyard of the Astral, which feels like the archetypal New York rear apartment facade. While we’re remaking movies that clearly do not need to be remade, this would be great for Rear Window.
The courtyard is dotted with all sorts of mysteriously small, sealed doors:
Last but not least, there’s a great little alley leading back to India Street…
…with a neat little arch over the stairs:
So here’s the pitch! Guy Woodhouse, a struggling musician, and his wife Rosemary move to Brooklyn in the hopes of finally making it big with his hipstery band. After moving into a small apartment in the Astral, it doesn’t take long for Guy to realize that his hipstery band sounds extremely similar to the literally hundreds of rival hipstery bands in the neighborhood, and that his chances for success are very minimal. To make matters worse, mom and dad threaten to stop paying the rent, and it looks like Guy might actually have to get a 9-to-5 job.
That’s when Guy hears the strange chanting coming through the walls…and meets his strange neighbors the Castevetts, who have lived in the Astral since long before the Brooklyn renaissance…
Terrible idea? I agree! As I’ve said from the outset, THIS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. But I’ve always thought of the Astral as Greenpoint’s version of the Dakota – perhaps not as singularly iconic, but full of character nonetheless.
Anyway, I suppose it’s all moot; they just announced the Rosemary’s Baby remake will be set in Paris. Clearly, they know what they’re doing.
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