By Eve M. Kahn
Victorian cast-iron façades were the first curtain walls, maximizing natural light and column-free interior space. When poorly maintained, they can become unstable sieves. Scott Henson, the head of a five-person preservation architecture firm in New York City, Scott Henson Architect, LLC, spent part of the past four years overseeing the disassembly and reconstruction of a ten-story sieve.
The cast-iron 1890s front of 648 Broadway, in Manhattan's trendy NoHo neighborhood, has been brought back from the brink of crumbling to watertight and structurally secure status. The longtime owners originally hired Henson just to inspect the façade after a chunk of cast iron fell, but the assignment grew into a $1.2 million overhaul. Tenants can now gaze across NoHo's higgledy-piggledy water towers through noise-blocking double-paned windows framed by metal rosettes, wreaths, dentils, balusters, and volutes. (Much of the intricate ornamentation is new, made by Robinson Iron in Alexander City, AL, and CCR Sheet Metal in Brooklyn, NY.)
Henson was drawn to the commission partly because so many innovative Belle Epoque buildings survive nearby, including Louis Sullivan's leafy Bayard Building and McKim, Mead & White's Romanesque-arched Cable Building. "The historic and current development of the NoHo district is built upon progressive architectural experimentation," he says. The original name of 648 Broadway was the Banner Building, after its millionaire developer, Peter Banner. A wholesale clothing merchant, he also put up commercial and residential structures, including luxury apartment blocks on Central Park West.
For the first phase of 648 Broadway, he hired Cleverdon & Putzel, prolific architects of everything from Harlem row houses to a crematory in nearby Queens. Tenants, mostly clothing manufacturers and sellers, filled Cleverdon & Putzel's eight floors soon after the Banner Building opened around 1892. Six years later, Banner brought in Robert T. Lyons (the architect of several Banner apartment buildings) to add a two-story penthouse. Lyons echoed Cleverdon & Putzel's arched windows and Classical vocabulary, and the top two floors serve as a lacy six-bay capital for the four-bay plainer base and shaft. Banner was prominent enough that his daughter Rosalie married a Bloomingdale department store heir (and that couple's son married a Rothschild baroness).
But the developer apparently overextended himself. By 1906, 648 Broadway was embroiled in his bankruptcy proceedings. The current owner's family acquired it in the 1940s, and its tenant roster has evolved over the decades from handbag makers to a jazz club to designers, theater and film professionals and other creative types. The building is now loftily called Bleecker+Bond (after the adjacent side streets). Henson and the contracting team (Soho Restoration, Brooklyn, NY; subcontractor: MJE Contracting, Corona, NY) ended up removing unfortunate 20th-century accretions. Underneath a 1970s aluminum storefront, they found fluted pilasters, reliefs of lions' heads and an 1890s advertising plaque for the Cornell brothers' Manhattan iron foundry.
Leaky window air conditioners had fostered decay in the wood sash and helped corrode the wrought-iron bolts that held together the cast iron. Lyons' sheet-metal upper floors were severely deteriorated, pocked with dents and punctures. The façade had to be literally taken apart. "Cast-iron construction is a complex assembly, a very heavy, unwieldy, brittle puzzle that demands meticulous care," says Henson. Soho Restoration dismantled the façade and patched the salvageable iron with epoxy from Belzona of Glen Cove, NY. Robinson Iron and CCR fabricated and installed new elements. The fasteners are now stainless steel, and the joints are soldered. J. Scott Howell, Robinson's general manager, is a veteran of such replication projects, and reports that New York's 19th-century foundries supplied an astonishing variety of compatible patterns that clients could mix and match. "Everybody wanted something a little special about their particular location," he says.
Viles Contracting Corp. of Newark, NJ, used Cathedral Stone mortars to repair the eroded brownstone trim at the former Banner Building. JPadin of Newark installed Spanish cedar-framed, insulated-glass windows in double-hung and pivoting formats. New HVAC was woven throughout the ten floors, with mechanical equipment hoisted onto the roof, all while the offices remained occupied. Coal storage spaces on the ground floor, still full of container-loads of coal, were cleared out to adapt into a fire stair egress leading to a back alley. Henson and project subcontractor Julio Mejia recently toured a reporter through the building, starting at its foundations on granite blocks and brick ziggurats.
In a basement cavity, a brick vault arches over the adjacent subway tunnel. (A train rattled ominously through, just in time for the tour.) A petaled leaded-glass transom illuminates the lobby's white marble walls. An ADA-compliant steel ramp, fitted snugly over a basement lateral beam, now leads to the ground floor's deli. Floral and ribbon motifs recur there in the pressed-metal ceiling, exposed column capitals and penny round tile floors. On the shaft for the venerable Otis freight elevator, Eastlake florals and stripes are incised on each floor's door latches. Iron asters and scrollwork trail down the back stair's railing. Construction debris from the 1890s still lurk in a strange windowless half-floor between the Cleverdon & Putzel base and Lyons' addition. Henson has developed a kind of sub-specialty in such dusty crannies and daring vintage architectural materials around New York City.
In recent years he has secured the envelopes of everything from Flemish Revival stepped parapets to Colonial Revival limestone corner quoins, copper mansards, Beaux-Arts gilded domes, 1930s skylights, 1960s concrete balconies and 1980s curtain walls. Clients keep coming in with unique building conditions compromised by weather, time and gravity, or building components in some unexplained state of duress. "Those are the kinds of challenges I love," he says, "and that are important to me for my work as a preservation architect." TB
The Francis H. Leggett Co’s Warehouse is a Landmark building designed by George W. DaCunha, whose buildings are found in the Tribeca Historic district as well as other Manhattan historic districts. This structure was built in 1881-82 for Francis H. Leggett (1840-1909), an influential businessman and owner of one of the country's largest importing firms in groceries, teas, and coffees. Leggett's business remained in the building until at least the middle of the second decade of the twentieth century. The facades display the bold, linear articulation of the neo-Grec style in combination with more intricate and complex detailing that characterizes the Queen Anne style. Originally the building, which replaced eight structures, had three imposing, and very similar, facades. In 1914, as part of the widening of Varick Street and the extension of the IRT line, the western side and half of south side of the building were demolished and a brick wall with simple openings was erected on the new western building line.
We have completed an Interior Renovation of the lobby and hallways, to bring back the industrial look to this former warehouse. We are also working on the Exterior and Storefront Renovation in compliance with the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
46 Commerce Street was completed in 1844 as a portion of one of the first New York City residences built for Alexander T. Stewart. Stewart went on to build the first department store in New York and one of the most successful retailing businesses in the country. Stewart was later nominated as US Secretary of the Treasury by President Grant and died as the seventh wealthiest American in history.
SHA is currently working on a restoration of the building’s upper floor apartment and building upgrades, including a new roof deck and bulkhead. The building will also be undergoing façade repairs, including restoration of the original wood cornice, masonry repairs and roof replacement.
8 Gramercy Park North, a five-story co-op building located just outside the Gramercy Park Historic District, was originally constructed as three separate buildings. In the early 1920s a hotelier converted it into a single structure and re-clad the new building in Neo-Tudor stucco and timber.
In 2007 we directed the restoration of the façade, which had fallen into disrepair. It was important to all involved that the restoration be sensitive to the surrounding historic district. Utilizing details from archival photographs and the adjacent buildings, SHA designed a new unified facade which revived the elegant brownstone detailing of the original 3 buildings. In keeping with the details of the surrounding buildings, deep red period brick with tight butter joints were specified, and a new copper cornice was installed to match the sheet metal cornices of the original buildings.
The restoration received a 2012 Brick in Architecture Gold Award from the Brick Industry Association and an Award of Excellence from the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates on 2011.
These two ten-story brick and terra cotta buildings have undergone exterior restoration as part of the New York City LL11 repair program. The buildings, built in 1912 and 1913, are located in Morningside Heights and serve as residences for Columbia University.
The scope of work included exterior masonry repairs, structural steel repairs, sill and lintel replacement, limestone and terra cotta restoration, and corner reconstruction.
This building dates from 1860 and is built primarily in stone and utilizes the same round-arched Italianate detailing that appears on early cast-iron facades. It is located in the SoHo Cast-Iron Historic District. It was masonry buildings such as this, in fact, that inspired many of the first prefabricated cast-iron facades.
We were retained to perform the exterior restoration as well as sidewalk vault and light repairs, and the renovation of the storefront bulkhead and entrance, all in compliance with the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The sidewalk vault and cast-iron sidewalk lights were repaired and restored to enable future use. The owner of the building wanted to conserve the neglected and weathered appearance of the building’s façade. Accordingly, all interventions to the building were very subtle.
The Mercantile Building is an art deco skyscraper designed by the New York architectural firm of Ludlow and Peabody.
When it was completed in 1929 the 48-story tower was the fourth tallest building in the world. The building’s original owner was Frederick William Vanderbilt.
SHA directed a full exterior restoration program which included terra cotta repairs, the restoration of the copper mansard roof, the installation of a new roof membrane, masonry repairs, and a window replacement program.
C.P.H. Gilbert, a society architect best known for his work on townhouses and mansions in the Gilded Age, designed this eleven-story office building in 1904.
The building was referred to as the Knabe Building after its longtime tenant the Knabe Piano Company.
SHA directed the exterior restoration of the building which included repairs to the terra cotta façade elements, reconstruction of deteriorated brick, copper mansard roof repairs, storefront restoration, sidewalk replacement and structural vault repairs. We are currently working on the design of a new roof deck.
We were retained to undertake a penthouse renovation program of this 1907 commercial building at 366 Fifth Avenue.
The scope of work included renovation of a commercial penthouse, the addition of new oversize window openings and clerestory, creation of new openings in the existing parapet walls and installation of new skylights and bathrooms.
We are currently working on the exterior restoration program at the 900 Grand Concourse. Located in the Grand Concourse Historic District near Yankee Stadium, the building was originally constructed as a hotel whose notable guests included Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and is currently programmed for senior housing.
The present restoration includes reconstruction of the original brickwork, terra-cotta urns and stone repairs, reconstruction of the masonry parapets and new roofing membrane. The project is currently under construction and completion is scheduled for Fall 2017.