Bulova building still ticking
Former watch company HQ is now home to tenants ranging from an airline to a locksmith
BY CHARLES ERICKSON
Charles Erickson is a freelance writer
April 12, 2005
On weekday mornings for most of the past 52 years, workers have filed through the doors of 72-20 Astoria Blvd. in Jackson Heights. But the hum of a factory has been replaced by the keyboard tapping and telephone chatter of a service economy.
Bulova Corporate Center, built in 1953 as the watchmaker's head offices and primary manufacturing plant, now functions as an Art Deco office park for about two dozen tenants.
Occupants include an airline, a spinal-injury organization, two insurance companies, the federal government, a health club and even a locksmith, but the watch company remains only in spirit.
Blumenfeld Development Group purchased the building 20 years ago.
Turning the factory into office space involved more than shoving a bunch of desks onto the old assembly floor. Many of the glass-walled offices look out on a atrium topped by translucent panels.
Traces of the building's past are strongest in the front lobby, where twin staircases hug the outside walls and curl beneath large murals depicting humankind's recording of time.
"It's got a terrific ambience," said William Egan, executive vice president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, based here since 1994.
The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Grand Central Parkway cut across the property's front side, which has made it a place that is well-known and easy to get to.
"The location puts us in a good light with our members," Egan said. The chamber also uses the building to hold meetings and conferences.
Bulova Watch transferred most of its timepiece production out of the country by the late 1970s, but Queens remains its home borough. The company's executive offices and service operations, still close to the BQE, are in a nondescript low building on Bulova Avenue in Woodside.
In the Bulova Corporate Center, with its many tenants, neighbors separated by only a few doors tend to remain strangers.
Sitting in her office on a recent morning, without a single customer in the branch, Maggie Patrzalek lamented about the reactions of some fellow tenants when she tells them about the building's State Bank of Long Island branch.
"They say, 'Really? We have a bank here?'" the customer service representative said.
On one side of the bank, at Sun Cleaner, a man hunched over a sewing machine worked on a garment. On the other side, a woman got her nails done at Salon De Beauté.
One of the newest tenants, Gotte's Café, took over the building's cafeteria in January. Surveying the large room with a giant watch face molded into the ceiling, co-owner Vincent Gottesman boasted that he's learned the first names of nearly every customer and doesn't regret not having a tablecloth eatery.
"We accomplish what you accomplish in a restaurant with breakfast and lunch," he said.
Athlene Palmer of Hempstead has worked at the Bulova Corporate Center for 18 years. Her employer, British Airways, was the first tenant in 1987.
"The inside has changed a lot," she said, standing at the north entrance on a cigarette break.
When Palmer started working at the center there was no atrium and no shops, and meals were prepared in a makeshift cafeteria on the third floor.
She recalled some of the departed or deceased tenants that once appeared in the building's directory - names she hadn't thought about in years, like Trump Shuttle.
Palmer pointed to an evergreen growing from a terrace next to the front steps. It is doing very well.
"When I came here," she said, "I used to sit under that during lunch."
But now the tree is so thick and tall, it is difficult to go near it.
"That," Palmer said, "is how much time has gone by."
Charles Erickson is a freelance writer
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.
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