The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Stella Tower Gets Back Its Crown

    Anna Bergren Miller reports for The Architect's Newspaper: How Stella Tower Got Its Glory Back.

    JDS Development Group and Property Market Group's renovation of Ralph Walker-designed Stella Tower included restoring the Art Deco Crown.

    When JDS Development Group and Property Markets Group purchased the 1927 Ralph Walker high-rise in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in order to transform it into the Stella Tower condominiums, they realized that something was not quite right about the roofline. “The building had a very odd, plain parapet of mismatched brick,” recalled JDS founder Michael Stern.

    “We were curious about why it had this funny detail that didn’t belong to the building.” The developers tracked down old photographs of the property and were pleasantly surprised by what they saw: an intricate Art Deco thin dome crown. “We were very intrigued by putting the glory back on top of the building,” said Stern. They proceeded to do just that, deploying a combination of archival research and modern-day technology to recreate a remarkable early-twentieth-century ornament.

    Demolition crews uncovered intact portions of the crown base.

    The developers, who had previously worked together on 111 West 57th Street and Walker Tower, another Ralph Walker renovation, began with what Stern calls “archeology” or “surgical demolition” of the crown area. The excavation revealed that the entire base of the crown remained behind the bricks added by Verizon, the building’s previous owner.

    They also tracked down original drawings of the building, which showed the shape of the crown and some of its dimensions. “We didn’t have shop drawings—we didn’t have a road map,” said Stern. “My team had to basically reverse engineer the crown using the drawings as a guide.” They also leaned on 3D scans of the base to fill in the missing dimensions, and constructed a 3D model of the crown in SolidWorks. The SolidWorks model helped the developers answer important questions, like how many new pieces should be cast, how they would be installed, and what support would be required.

    A local cast company produced 48 new pieces for the reconstruction.

    JDS Construction, who led the reconstruction effort, called on Corinthian Cast Stone to fabricate the new pieces. Corinthian cast a total of 48 pieces for the upper half of the crown in colored concrete. To support the new work, JDS designed a complexsteel structure for the inside of the crown. They assembled the entire structure offsite before disassembling it and lifting it to the top of Stella Tower using a custom pulley and lever system. Eight craftsmen installed the precast pieces one at a time over the course of approximately five weeks.

    Each precast piece was clipped to the steel structure, then mortared to its mates. The design and fabrication process, which began with the decision three years ago to reproduce the crown, culminated this September. “The crown is so spectacular,” said Stern. “It’s better than the invention of the wheel.” Besides his pride in the crown in and of itself, Stern sees the Stella Tower project as a chance to restore Ralph Walker’s place in the architectural canon.

    In addition to recreating the crown, JDS and Property Markets Group recast every piece of cast stone and replaced every window and every mismatched brick on the building’s exterior. “We’ve fixed some of the wrongs history has done to the building,” he noted. “This was a great telecom building by one of the fathers of New York architecture, but over the years his buildings have been lost in the landscape. With Walker Tower and Stella Tower, we’re trying to bring attention back to his legacy.” To view a video and more images click here.

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  • The Third Largest Theater in the City is Undergoing Restoration and Modernization

    Henry Melcher reports for The Architect's Newspaper: The Kings Theater's Second Act. Brooklyn's largest and most stunning theater gets a meticulous renovation.

    In September, 1929, the grand and extravagant Kings Theater—one of Loew’s “Wonder Theaters”—opened its doors in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

    Designed by Rapp & Rapp, the palatial space hosted vaudeville shows, and later films, inside a grand auditorium that could seat more than 3,000 people. With its ornate plasterwork, soaring ceilings, and two-thousand-pound chandeliers, the Kings Theatre was intended to have all the detail and elegance of Versailles. And it did, until the 1970s when the curtain fell at Kings.

    The once bustling venue stayed dark for the next 37 years. But now, after a two-year, $93 million renovation, the Kings Theater is slated to start its second act this January. Washington, D.C.–based architecture firm Martinez+Johnson is leading the transformation with meticulous precision and attention to every detail in the 93,000-square-foot space.

    The Theater before Restoration.

    The Theater before Restoration.

    To return the theater to its original glory, the team looked through old newspaper articles, photos, and playbills to get a sense of the space at its prime. They salvaged everything that they could and painstakingly recreated everything they could not. When a section of wood in the foyer was damaged beyond repair, it was replaced with a new piece, taken from the same type of wood.

    The Theater under Restoration.

    The Theater under Restoration.

    The Theater under Restoration.

    But before any plaster could be restored, or paint retouched, the long-abandoned Kings had to be structurally secured. “Some of the damage came from vandalism,” said Gary Martinez, president of Martinez+Johnson, on a recent tour of the theater, “mother nature took care of the rest.”

    A new roof had to be installed and recreations of all that was ripped out had to be brought back in. The theater also had to be transformed into a 21st century performing arts venue. This meant altering the seating rake for better sightlines, installing state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, adding a new ventilation system, and installing new bathrooms, concessions, loading docks, and dressing rooms. And the entire space had to be made ADA compliant. When the restoration is complete, Kings Theatre will be the third largest theatre in the city.  

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