After Escaping Demolition, the Butler Bros Building is Reborn


Modera Exterior

The Modera Lofts, Jersey City

Last week we had the privilege of touring the old Butler Brothers, and current Modera Lofts building under renovation in the Powerhouse Arts District of Jersey City.

Butler Brothers originally started out as a mail order wholesaler of general merchandise. They expanded into variety stores as those rose in popularity, eventually starting the Ben Franklin five and dime chain. Which, side note, is where Sam Walton got his start before going on to found Walmart.

The building was built right around the turn of the 20th century along with the iconic Powerhouse as the Jersey City waterfront underwent its own industrial revolution. It was one of the last post and beam warehouses built in Jersey City and one of only a handful that have survived. Butler Bros mainly used this building for storage and distribution. No manufacturing ever took place here.

The property was abandoned sometime in the 60’s/70’s and sat mostly empty until renovations began last year. The developer heading the project is Mill Creek Residential, the second largest developer of multi-family homes in the US.

Modera Lofts is a unique project for Mill Creek. It’s their first foray into rehabilitation as they typically build new construction. Early on with the project, they committed to honoring the integrity of the building. But with that came some challenges.

For one, the entire interior had been painted numerous times over the years. All the post and beams were layered with paint. The first order of business for Mill Creek was sand blasting. All posts, beams and brick walls were sandblasted to reveal their original charm. On the posts and beams specifically, the sand blasting left the wood coarse and a bit unsightly. So each beam has since been refinished by hand.

Another major challenge were the windows. Since the building was originally a warehouse, large windows were not a priority. But when you’re repurposing the building for residential use, you want as large of windows as possible to let the light in.

Mill Creek decided to increase the height of the windows by removing some of the bricks below each window. All 1100 of them! At first they tried cutting out the bricks but that left a too obvious difference between the original height and the new, so they abandoned that approach. They opted instead to re-brick each window by hand to match the existing brick. A very tedious process that has yielded an almost perfect transition between the old and new brick.

Modera Window
If you look closely you can see where they built out the bottom 12 rows.

Ground Floor

In addition to respecting the history of the building, Mill Creek recognized the role the building played in the history of Jersey City and wanted it to continue to play a part in Jersey City’s future.

Mill Creek has worked closely with the Powerhouse Arts District Neighborhood Association (PADNA) and local artists to conceptualize a ground floor space that will be an asset to the community. They agreed on a plan the provides a large art gallery as well as individual artist studios on the main floor of the building. With limited retail offerings in the immediate area, Mill Creek’s goal is to activate the street and embrace the local artistic community that has made the Powerhouse area what it is.

The gallery is roughly 3,500 square feet and they anticipate a regular rotation showing various artist’s works.

The gallery space
The gallery space

Adjacent to the gallery is 15,000 square feet that has been built out as artist studio space. There are 14 spaces of various sizes that will be leased out to artists of all types.

In addition, theres is one retail space available on the ground level whose use has has yet to be decided. They’re currently entertaining various proposals

Amenities at Modera Lofts

The amenities are pretty much your standard offerings with some added perks. A professional grade spin studio with elevated cycles as well as a yoga room rounds out the fitness area.

Modera Wood
The future lobby showing off the posts & beam and underside of the tongue and groove floors above.

For the lounge area, they are adding in private offices and meeting rooms to help those working from home actually get some work done.

They are also embracing the future resident dogs of the building with a dog run and dog bath on the huge roof deck.

The Units

Containing 368 units, the building is comprised mostly of studio and 1-bedroom’s with around 35% being 2-bedrooms and only five 3-bedrooms. Because it is a repurposed warehouse versus new construction, the units tend to be on the larger side with the average 1-bedroom coming in around 800 square feet.

The units have a true loft feel with polished concrete floors, 12’ ceilings and the requisite exposed utilities throughout.

As luck would have it we toured the building before final finishes where decided so we got to see a little behind the scenes of how the finishes are picked. They built out the kitchen in two separate units using the different finishes to see what they will look like in the actual space.

The first unit, had high gloss white top cabinets and dark wood grain bottom cabinets. The backsplash choice was a slate style 12”x24” tile.

The second unit flipped the top and base cabinets putting the high gloss white on the bottom. For the backsplash they went with a glass tile. Personally, I like this setup better.

kitchen 2
The first kitchen
Modera Kitchen
The second kitchen

Some units also feature elevator pulleys left behind from the original elevator shafts.

Elevator Pulleys in the wall.
Elevator Pulleys in the wall.

The current timeframe has pre-leasing beginning in August with the first move-ins happening in the Fall. No official pricing has been set, but Mill Creek is confident their property is unique enough to compete against all the new inventory around it.

Walking out of the tour it was obvious to us that Modera Lofts offers something quite different. Sure they can’t compete with the views of the high rises, but the history and charm of the building will set it apart. Add that to the fact the units are much larger than the competing new construction and there will be plenty of people more than happy to call Modera Lofts home.

Modera Lofts Pricing

Update 11/2015: Modera Lofts are Now Leasing!
Studios from $2,050
1-Bedrooms from $2,650
2-Bedrooms from $3,550
3-Bedrooms form $5,175

Modera Lofts Renderings

modera lofts jersey city 1

modera lofts jersey city 2

Modera Lofts, 110 Morgan Street, Jersey City NJ 07302



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