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Dumbo Beat: 10 Jay Street’s storied past, and a solid argument for renter’s insurance

January 25th, 2008 · by Holly · 4 Comments

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10 Jay Street is haunted by ghosts with pacifiers. (Party photo by Kirk Peterkin at pbase.com)

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The ninth floor circa 2008.

On Tuesday afternoon, vibrations and general construction noise disrupted our otherwise pleasant workday. Where were the noises coming from? What was vibrating? Were we safe? Would the ceiling come crashing down? The Great Flood of 2007 proved that 10 Jay Street is a place to expect the unexpected.

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On Wednesday morning, to our excitement and surprise, Dumbonyc reported that a stop work order had been placed on our building. The complaint (now unfortunately resolved): “While working on roof of the building, there’s a huge gap and the office space below is shaking and vibrating. Also building material is going right thru…”. On Dumbonyc, another tenant notes: “We’re in a corner office and there was a lot of dust falling from the ceiling before they stopped work, the office next to us had a computer crushed from a large piece of the ceiling falling onto it.” From this post we also learned that our office building was once home of the infamous rave space Lunatarium.

In October, Brownstoner reported that cabana structures were being erected on our roof, perhaps signaling the inevitable march to condo conversion. Curbed writes that it was actually prep work for the vertical expansion, but it did coincide with a substantial rent hike. 801a has seen several generations of studio-mates come and go. Andrew’s been here the longest, and he remembers hearing rumors that beer would sometimes leak through the ceiling during the parties that were once held upstairs. Through a bit of Google Journalism, we discovered the not-so-secret history of 10 Jay. The Lunatarium was a semi-legal 18,000 square foot venue located on the top floor of our building from 2001 to 2004. In 2002, before Jam Master Jay died, Run-DMC played their last show here. There are amazing photos of this alternate universe posted on Kirk Peterkin’s site and here.

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(Photo by Kirk Peterkin at pbase.com)

The Lunatarium was somewhat notorious: In 2003, the New York Press voted it the Best Warehouse Fire Waiting to Happen. “We mean, really, what kind of venue would bring out a propane-driven version of Simon? (You remember, that toy where you had to repeat an increasingly complex pattern by smacking buttons in the right order?),” writes the Press. “We ask you, what kind of venue would allow a man in half-unbuttoned overalls to light this ‘Simon’ device, while a volunteer stood in a square cage of metal tubing, the corners of which were spouting 7-foot flames in random succession? What kind of venue, indeed, would conscientiously let its warehouse-raw brick-oven space cool down for 20 minutes before a kickball-pregnant woman with a makeup black eye dragged The Device out again, in the middle of a faux-redneck party, her thin, sweat-drenched wifebeater nearly slipping off?

“When we first went there to hear DJ Spooky spin, it wasn’t like they had flame dancers on a midlevel platform, while below a portly gentleman with a very large fire extinguisher was hardly obscured by sozzled loungers twirling in dangling cloth chairs.”
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(Photo by Kirk Peterkin at pbase.com)

Playing fast and loose with fire hazards led to its eventual shutdown. “…Three weeks ago, on January 11 [2002], … a small fire started on the sixth floor of the building during an ambient party called Airport. The fire department came, put out the small trashcan blaze, and left. Two hours later, representatives from the New York City Social Club Task Force arrived and started writing violations,” writes NonsenseNyc.com. “Several fines later — for alcohol, for dancing, for occupancy — the party was shut down. (Irony alert: Yes, fined for dancing at an *ambient* event; apparently there were about 20 people grooving to a DJ spinning jungle in the small room, while approximately 800 in the main space were standing, sitting, and talking.)”

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“Decompression” was a popular party at the Lunatarium founded by a group of Burning Man aficionados called the Society for Experimental Arts and Learning (SEAL). Above left, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey at 10 Jay Street. Photo via tranceamericana.org

According to its Wikipedia entry, by day, the Lunatarium was an electronics refurbishing company; by night it served as a free rehearsal space for the fire spinners who performed at events. Party-goers took the freight elevator to the ninth floor and watched pyrotechnics in the well-loved loading-dock / “shanty-town” area behind the building. Constructions such as inflatable plastic lounges (photos here and here ), giant see-saws, and art projects involving flame throwers provided entertainment for the 800 to 1500 partygoers that showed up each weekend night.

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Preliminary plans for the 10 Jay Street expansion from 2004. They have been scaled back substantially, to 5 stories / 120 feet.

The Lunatarium ranks among the many forgotten art/performance/dance/exhibition spaces that populated a still-desolate, undesirable, and slightly dangerous Brooklyn at the turn of the millennium. Fleets of bicycles and the G train shuttled young people along the north-south trajectory of a disjointed network of collective-y lofts on the industrial edges of gentrifying neighborhoods throughout the borough. The Lunatarium was massive and oriented towards dance rather than rock culture — “The DUMBO space catered more to the post-rave crowd than the indie rockers who like electronic music only occasionally,” wrote Tricia Romero in a 2004 article in the Voice. Eventually, like most of the smaller impromptu, informal spaces passed from friend to friend, it eventually shuttered after rent increases and code violations, leaving no trace beyond the hazy recollections of the people who used to go there and unchecked Friendster profiles.

 

Tags: DUMBO Beat · Important Cultural Moments · Parties · Special Places · The past

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pressman // Jan 25, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Holly Gressley, google historian! Future archeologists will know your name.

  • 2 Renda // Jan 25, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    When I saw that stop work order on the building last tuesday morning, it wasn’t all torn up.

  • 3 Dumbo NYC, Brooklyn » Archive » Dumbo Links Week of 20Jan08 (DumboNYC.com) // Jan 26, 2008 at 12:05 am

    [...] 10 Jay: Past and Present, 25Jan08, 801a.info [...]

  • 4 G Santé // Dec 1, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Ah, man…I used to go to parties at The Lunatarium! Some of the best times EVER! first one I went to was Halloween 2001. Dressed up in a stolen Elmo costume, I rode that freight elevator up to the 9th floor, and when those doors opened…AWESOME; the only way to describe it. That humungous space was packed with all sorts of people. I was immediately accosted by two small Japanese girls wanting to take a lpicture with me, due to my costume. I drank absinthe for the first time at that party… The view was intense out those massive windows.

    The Lunatarium was the epitome of the “loft party.” from the space, to the crowd, to the almost-secretive location (it just fell short of needing a password to find the place and get in, and Brooklyn, let alone DUMBO, wasn’t exactly what it is today), to the events and crazy things you saw and could do there… It all had this feeling of not being entirely legit; that feeling of lawlessness. Which is another way of saying that good ol’ New York City vibe.

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