Today this building is a plain brick industrial building that has been converted to educational use. But when it won an award in 1966, the building featured an unusual combination of breeze block screens, fieldstone veneer around the entrance, aluminum framing the windows, and vertical piers of marble chips embedded in white cement. Sadly, none of this remains today as an example of when companies were using eye-catching buildings to stand out from fellow competitors. The owner of the building Arnold Levien likely gave the architect and his relative, Maurice Levien, a loose hand to design as he liked when he radically altered the building from its previous appearance.
This building today serves as a social services center for the disabled but largely remains the same on the exterior from its industrial days as a factory for knitting and sewing. The structure is a large, singular rectangle with clad in brick with some granite details at ground level. There is a prominent double-height entrance framed by vertical and horizontal exposed steel beams, which originally had a cantilevered entrance staircase, since modified. The building is sited on a slope which accommodates a garage underneath the building for parking.
Although many of the nearby Queens Chamber award winning buildings have been demolished, this one-story, utilitarian building remains. The building sits at on a corner lot with an angled entrance facing directly into the intersection. Besides several lines of subtle decoratively-shaped stone tiles in vertical rows, the entire structure lacks any overt detailing.
In an interesting twist, the former Michelin Tire Corporation building is now owned by the Bulova Watch Company, whose former school and corporate center are both among the awarded structures, although neither is now owned by Bulova. The building is long and low with corporate offices at level with the parking lot and a warehousing area behind. The structure is oriented at a right angle to the street to protect from noise and sun exposure as the site sits astride a service road to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, which roars away in a sunken roadbed below. The color palette of the complex is subdued in browns and blacks, although the awards program states that it was originally highlighted with additional blue, orange and yellow accents at the entrance and interior.
Barkin, Levin & Co. Is a tour-de-force of mid-century design hiding in plain sight. The building is off the beaten track in a rather quiet corner of Long Island City, befitting its original role as a factory and offices for a coat manufacturer. The factory is a fairly standard steel frame with brick facade, but the administrative wing with its umbrella support system sheltering a glass box is very striking even with some minor modern alterations, like a low masonry wall breaking the openness of the glass pavilion. Unusually, the Queens Awards write-up states that the spaces of the building and equipment were jointly designed by the architect and the owner of Barkin, Levin. Franzen went on to design other significant modern structures but this “collaboration” is a definite highlight.