VOL. 132 | NO. 202 | Wednesday, October 11, 2017
By Patrick Lantrip
Frank Roberts has a passion for recapturing pieces of history. And while a 65-year-old Quonset hut on the outskirts of Tobey Park may not be have the elegant art deco accents of Crosstown Concourse, it certainly captures the essence of its post-war industrial beginnings the same way the former Sears building did in the 1920s.
“My understanding is that the building started out as a radio station, but it looks like an old Army barracks,” Roberts said. “I tell folks when they don’t know what a Quonset hut is, that it looks like you took a soup can, cut it in half and laid it flat-side down.”
So when his friend Robert Taylor with Rasberry CRE approached him about the 3,600-square-foot Quonset hut on Flicker Street, Roberts saw an opportunity to reclaim a piece of history, and thus Quonset Studios was born under the viaduct where Poplar Avenue and Union Avenue come together.
Frank Roberts said the Quonset hut on Flicker Street reminded him of old Army barracks and, with open office plans now common in office layouts, his idea for Quonset Studios was born. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)
“There’s a surprising dearth of available quality space for artists and artisans that’s not dingy, unsafe, or outrageous,” Roberts said. “So we’re trying to step into that niche and meet a need.”
He got the idea to convert the old prefabricated steel structure into an industrial-chic arts studio from the Art Factory, a property his family converted into art studios in the Cooper-Young neighborhood a few years back.
“It was a resounding success,” Roberts said. “For years, we’ve just kept a waiting list of people wanting to get in.”
So to help meet that need, Roberts decided to purchase the old Quonset hut and subdivided it into 19 individual studios ranging from 128 to 204 square feet that are separated into units by nine-foot walls.
“We kept the open concept, so you still get to experience the building in the round,” he said. “While it’s not ancient, it does have a certain historical nostalgia, so we’re trying to preserve that as much as possible.”
Roberts hopes to have Quonset Studios up and running by the end of October, and has already begun leasing and showing the units to a wide range of artists and artisans, including translators, writers, painters, photographers, architects, seamstresses, potters and weavers.
But because of the open-ceiling layout of the studios, Roberts discourages crafts that are excessively loud or give off fumes.
It may not be for everyone, Roberts said, but these types of open layouts are becoming more popular.
“Business in general is going that way,” he said, “leaving the cubical and going more toward common work spaces where people collaborate and work together as a community rather than getting in your own cubicle, putting your head down and working.”
Since Roberts oversees, among other things, the architectural salvage and custom woodworking operations at his family’s business, Palladio Home and Garden, Quonset Studios is only a side project. He said he is also considering retrofitting other nearby spaces into larger, 1,000- to 2,000-square-foot spaces for nonprofits or small companies looking for an open concept working space.
“At the risk of increasing competition, it’s something that personally I intend to continue to explore as opportunities present themselves in the future,” he said.