James Farley Post Office delivers as event space
Long gone are the days when the James Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue was the gatekeeper for processing most of the mail in the U.S.
Now, machinery rumbles far below its floors, constructing train tracks in the $267 million first phase of its transformation into the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Station, a glamorous extension of Penn Station.
Phase 1 is slated for completion in 2016. Meanwhile, parts of the expansive building are being repurposed as a venue for multimillion dollar events for big nonprofits and corporations, such as the Whitney Museum and Samsung.
In September 2012, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation accepted a bid from events company Skylight Group to start making use of the cavernous loading dock and sorting room.
The MSDC was looking for a way to use the building during its construction, so the collaboration now called Skylight at Moynihan Station was born.
Built in 1912, the Farley Post Office is actually two conjoined buildings amounting to 1.4 million square feet.
It stands on a "superblock" which stretches from 31st to 33rd streets between Eighth and Ninth avenues.
The building still exists as a 24-hour post office, known to New Yorkers as the spot to file their taxes on deadline and send last-minute holiday presents.
However, thanks to technology, the 33,000-square-foot loading dock and 41,000-square-foot sorting room are no longer in use for their intended purposes.
The building stands as an iconic piece of New York history, and that is what Skylight Group President and Founder Jennifer Blumin said she fell in love with when she tagged along on a tour hosted by the MSDC.
"The space was so clearly amazing and tragically underutilized that it had to happen," she said on an exclusive tour of the rustic spaces with amNewYork.
The areas are provided for events in their raw form, with the loading dock still housing mail trucks in the back and the sorting room featuring its shiny black floors, catwalks (which make for spectacular lighting schemes) and painted glass ceiling.
Because the spaces are so raw, Blumin said it takes inventive thinkers to create the events hosted in the Farley building.
For that reason, there won't be any weddings or bar mitzvahs there -- but Kanye West performing for a Samsung event in October 2012 and Daniel Craig driving a new Land Rover into the loading dock last March are more the Skylight at Moynihan style.
Other affairs have included a Whitney Art party last May, the Warner Bros. "Man of Steel" premiere party last June and several fashion shows.
For this past New York Fashion Week, Rag & Bone had a runway show on Sept. 6, and Prabal Gurung and Jen Kao had runways on Sept. 7.
Blumin said Skylight focuses on the industries that make New York tick: fashion, art, culture, technology.
"We don't need the marble and the crazy artistry to find beauty in this," she said of the space's rustic appeal. But it takes a lot of work.
Before an event can happen, the groups must go over a roughly 10-page fine-print checklist to make sure that the functions of the post office are not disrupted.
"We had to coordinate the delivery of the mail with the delivery of Daniel Craig," Blumin joked.
David Stark, president of David Stark Design and Production, which designed the Tate, the American Foundation dinner at Skylight at Moynihan on May 8, agreed that a huge transformation happens in the spaces before an event.
"It does not have the bathrooms or the amenities that the fancy ballroom has," he said, adding that groups often have to bring in their own bathroom facilities, but "what you trade off from there is a unique experience that you can't have every day."
Walking into Skylight at Moynihan is akin to stepping into a night club, he explained, as even the entrance is hidden off to the side on 34th Street.
"It's like falling down the rabbit hole," he said. "You can feel the heartbeat of the people that have been there previously."
'Filled with surprise'
The events at Moynihan contribute to the redevelopment project and "significantly offset the cost of operating the building," according to Michael Evans, president of MSDC.
In addition, "MSDC has received inquiries from station operators in other cities looking for more information on how MSDC successfully launched an events venue as part of the project," he said.
The organization also brings New Yorkers into a historical space that they otherwise would not be able to see -- even though it's mostly the city's elite that attends the events.
"And I think that's one of the biggest tricks for an event," Stark said. "Finding venues that are filled with surprise, that are things that they haven't experienced before, are what makes it a really enriching experience."
Blumin pointed out that attendees experience history in the making, as she believes the new Moynihan Station will bring old-world glamour back into New York train travel.
"This is the idea of bringing people back inside these shuttered landmarks," she said.
Click here for more info about the events at Skylight at Moynihan Station.