A homecoming of sorts was held last night at the former site of the Maidenform Brassiere Company, which now sports another piece of its unique history for residents to enjoy.
The hulking, four-building industrial complex at 154 Avenue E was converted into the SilkLofts rental complex in 2014. But before its lengthy and occasionally trying renovation, the building facilitated the manufacturing of everything from the modern bra to military parachutes and carrier pigeon vests.
The property, the oldest parts of which date back to 1890, was originally the Schwarzenbach Huber Mill, but Maidenform took over the facility in 1929. The company was one of the largest employers in Bayonne at their peak in 1940, employing an estimated 1,300 workers.
During that heyday, the company gained national attention for their print advertisements, some of which were considered risqué at the time. Maidenform would frequently arrange for Broadway stars to be seen buying their products at stores and even recruited a few to model in their ads as part of their famous “I Dream…” series.
Last night, Joan and Kenneth Rosenthal, descendants of Maidenform’s founders, presented a reproduction of artwork depicting the famed “I Dreamed I Was a Work of Art” ad, which will now hang in the building’s lobby. Joan and Kenneth, both of whom worked at the company, also shared some fond memories of life in the building, where Kenneth said he earned $37.50 a week back in the 1960s.
Maidenform, which is now owned by Hanes, occupied the building until 2007. It was shortly thereafter that investor Doug Stern purchased the building in 2009 with the intention of converting it into Brooklyn-style loft apartments.
Stern says that he remembers sitting in the Mayor’s office during the planning process and being told by some officials that he was “crazy.” And during the renovations, he may have wondered if they were right. Stern told Jersey Digs that the building was a “wreck” when he took it over there was even a point during the renovation where construction workers found skeleton remains underneath the building.
After calling the authorities, they thankfully determined that the bones were either from a dog or a horse. But there were also other trials, like removing many layers of paint from century-old brick. Despite the challenges, Stern says he always felt the building was “a gem that needed to be polished.”
The 85-unit SilkLofts opened last year and reuses many of the building’s historic details. The development, overseen by GSR Construction, kept all the original cast-iron columns and exposed heavy timbers of long leaf yellow pine. The group also added many high-end, unique touches like Mahogany doors, gourmet kitchens, Quartz countertops and bamboo floors. There is a washer/dryer in every individual residence.
Stern is quick to call the living spaces “homes” instead of apartments, emphasizing that the development is community-based. He says the property is for people who want to embrace a loft lifestyle and are looking for “more than vanilla” in a cookie-cutter market.
One of the least vanilla features of SilkLofts is the common courtyard, which features smaller artist loft spaces, a firepit and a fully-operational wood-burning pizza oven. The oven is even ventilated through an old smokestack that was reused at the property. And in case you need a few last-minute ingredients, the courtyard also has a few small gardens growing herbs, tomatoes and jalapenos nearby.
Despite the modern conveniences, there are also many nods to the past at SilkLofts. There’s an old fire door on one of the building’s floors and several old Maidenform advertisements are on display around the property. The facility’s gym features a Maidenform ad showcasing Elizabeth Taylor, which should make the newly-gifted art added to the facility last night feel right at home.
[gmap height=”250px”]154 Ave E, Bayonne, NJ 07002[/gmap]
SilkLofts – 154 Ave E, Bayonne, NJ 07002