You can't buy the Brooklyn Bridge, but have you considered a piece of old New York on West 20th Street—a stone building, built block by block from Manhattan bedrock 176 years ago?
In an unusual reinvention that is also a sign of the times, a four-story Gothic-style building created out of hand-laid blocks of gray mica-flecked Manhattan schist is being restored and converted into condominiums. Half a floor of New York history is on sale for $4.5 million and up.
The structure, with thick stone buttresses on the corners and walls that are two to three feet thick in places is known simply as the "West Building," to distinguish it at one time from a nearly identical "East Building" that was demolished more than a century ago.
The West Building is one of the oldest caught up in the city's condominium conversion craze. When the General Theological Seminary erected the building west of Ninth Avenue in 1836, it was near the shores of the Hudson River, before the river was pushed westward by many tons of landfill.
A print from the seminary archives show sailboats moving past the West Building. But now, to shore up its finances, the seminary has sold the squat building with a peaked roof to a developer, the Brodsky Organization, along with the site of a tennis court and playground next door.
The stonework exterior along with gothic details of carved wood on many windows have been restored by Beyer Blinder Belle, an architecture firm that specializes in historic preservation.
The interior was gutted and is being converted into eight large condominiums with wood-burning fireplaces and with private gardens on four duplex units. Ceiling heights range from 8½ feet to about 19 feet, on the top floor beneath a steeply pitched roof.
Next door a new annex building is now under construction on the site of the tennis court with an additional 14 apartments. The two buildings are being connected by a three-story glass atrium that serves an entrance and encloses a section of stone wall on the West Building.
Since the buildings, both with an address at 455 W. 20th St., went on the market by word-of-mouth last fall, 11 of 22 condominiums have gone into contract, according to James Lansill, a senior managing director at Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, which is selling the apartments.
This includes a combination of two penthouses at the top of the annex building that were listed for a total of $12.6 million. A formal launch of the project is scheduled in the next few days. Prices for the remaining apartment are listed beginning at $2.26 million for a one-bedroom unit.
Unlike trendy new condominiums along the High Line or in the Meat Packing district a few blocks away that are attracting foreign buyers, most of those looking at the West Building are New Yorkers, familiar with the Chelsea neighborhood, Mr. Lansill said, and some prospective buyers only want to look at the old building.
The buildings open on a block-square garden known as Chelsea Square—between Ninth and 10th avenues and West 20th and 21st streets—that has been home to the seminary since the 1820s.
The land was donated to the seminary in 1817 by Clement Clarke Moore, the author of the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Mr. Moore taught literature and divinity was also an early developer of the Chelsea neighborhood.
When landfill later was added and expanded the area westward to 12th Avenue, the seminary owned the new land next to its property and benefited financially, according to a report by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
But in the past few years, it came under financial stress and began selling off some of its buildings.
In a statement, the Rev. Patrick Malloy, associate dean at the seminary, said the West Building was sold in January as part of a plan to reduce debt, rebuild its endowment and rehabilitate dorms, and to create new classrooms and administrative space.
The Brodsky Organization built the 53-unit Chelsea Enclave on Ninth Avenue on the seminary grounds a few years ago, and has developed three townhouses that had been faculty housing.
It also converted and sold a 38-unit apartment building that had been owned by the seminary on 20th Street, across from the square.
During a tour of the latest construction site, the interior of the West Building was still largely raw space, while the taller annex building already had pipes and wiring installed.
"It turns out that it is easier to put up a new building that to restore these older buildings," said Thomas Brodsky, who is overseeing the project.
Write to Josh Barbanel at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared January 23, 2013, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Condos Blend Old With New.