WESTFIELD, NJ—A bank building designed by Delano & Aldrich, a relative of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with a vault dating back to 1922, will soon unlock the secrets of modern urban chic for young Westfielders and other area residents.
The town’s Board of Adjustment on Wednesday gave unanimous approval to the application of Poly C LLC and Serf Realty LLC to turn the original Westfield Trust Company building at the corner of Elm and East Broad Streets into the new home of Urban Outfitters.
Urban Outfitters originated as "The Free People's Store" in 1970 in Philadelphia, focusing on "funky" fashion and household products. Shortly thereafter it changed its name to Urban Outfitters. The product line started out featuring vintage, bohemian, retro, hipster, humorous, and kitschy apparel and furniture, but now includes luxury brands and several designer collaborations.
The bank building, most recently the home of Wachovia Bank, until that facility closed around 2008, was designed by the architect of New York City’s Knickerbocker Club and a number of other prominent and historical buildings in New York State and around the area, according to Sherry Cronin of the Downtown Westfield Corp.
She urged approval of the application on Wednesday.
The facility’s historic background and character as well as the vibrancy of the area were two of the reasons Urban Outfitters decided to lease the space, according to Liam Sullivan, development manager for the firm.
He added, aside from some “brand appropriate changes” the clothing retailer would retain the character of the building, as it does in many of its other stores around the United States.
Sullivan noted the square footage of the building as well as its central location at Elm and East Broad also were considerations.
He noted continued retail use of the basement, in which Urban Outfitters plans to located some sales areas along with fitting rooms, a management office and employee lounge areas, also was a key part of the decision.
The applicants, who own the building and will have the clothing chain as their tenants, sought and received a variance from the town’s zoning prohibition against the retail use of basements.
Dennis Flynn, architect for Poly C, said most of the bank’s original fixtures would be retained and the basement bank vault and former safe deposit box rooms would be repurposed for retail uses in the Urban Outfitters store.
Urban Outfitters Store Design Manager Joe Kenney told the zoning board his firm would keep the bank’s original front windows, lowering the side windows so those passing by could see the activity within the store.
He added the bank’s cornices would stay and ceilings in the mezzanine area would be removed the reveal the original concrete.
A new vestibule will be constructed and new, larger and more “grand” doors will be installed leading into that area, Kenney said.
The oak-paneled former president’s room on the second floor will stay with shelving installed to transform it into what probably will be a women’s lingerie area, the design manager noted.
“The existing building presents an opportunity to be used by this unique tenant,” said Paul Grygiel, planner for the landlords.
He noted one of the reasons for requesting permission to install signage larger than that normally allowed by the town’s zoning ordinance was that the public would be able to view the entire depth of the building from all sides.
Kenney noted all signage would be lit from the bottom and the signs needed to be above the height normally allowed to prevent them from blocking any of the proposed new windows or the doors.
Board chairman William Heinbokel congratulated the applicants for taking into consideration the unique design of the building and how it fits into downtown Westfield.
He added the proposed basement use in general continued the bank’s use of the space and the proposed signage was not overly large and appeared to be well-designed.
Board vice chairman Chris Masciale praised the applicant’s proposal to have employees only use the basement from time to time rather than constantly throughout the day.
Robert Newell, also a member of the zoning body, called the proposal a “creative reuse of a prior use” and complimented the applicants on their plans to make the mezzanine and basement areas of the structure more open.
The board, did, however, place a few conditions on its approval:
- Review of the basement plans by the town’s fire subcode official;
- Presentation of detailed plans for heating, ventilating and air conditioning units on the roof to make sure they will not be too visible beyond the boundaries of the former bank building;
- Painting of the exterior in an off-white color, as promised by the applicants;
- Guarantees that timers will turn off store lighting by 11 pm
- Removal of “coming soon” signs from construction barriers near the building either when renovations are completed or when the store initially opens.