New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide




Projects & Improvements Up Close: Rockefeller Apts — Fixing Up a Landmark

Frank Lovece in Board Operations

"It's more challenging than a regular building, where you just put new bricks in and get the board to approve it," Hafez says. With landmarks, "You have to go through several authorities who want to make sure it's done properly. It takes more time and effort. But believe it or not, I like working on landmarked buildings. It's more interesting."

The board evidently appreciated its buildings' landmark status and rare architectural details itself, which helps obliviate the hassle factor. "I have another building, 360 Riverside, which is within a landmarked district but is not officially landmarked itself. The residents are dong a lot of stuff to the building to get it landmarked," says Hafez, 46, who after college in Egypt obtained a master's degree in engineering from Brooklyn Polytechnic, now the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, and works at Merritt Engineering Consultants. "They want to be able to say, 'I live in a landmarked building.'"

And they do at the Rockefeller Apartments, two brick buildings at 17 West 54th Street and 24 West 55th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, commissioned by a young Nelson Rockefeller and designed by Wallace K. Harrison and J. André Fouilhoux from 1935-37. It won its designation from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1984, thanks to the is smooth and simple surfaces, curving bays of metal-sash windows and use of industrial materials that are hallmarks of early International style design. Originally envisioned as weekday pieds-à-terre for businesspeople working in Rockefeller Center, the 138-unit rental complex was later converted to a 70-unit co-op. It then underwent a previous renovation, supervised by the film William Leggio Architect, in 1997.

Blueprint Blues

Remarkably, for such an historic and pedigreed building, few original materials such as blueprints have survived, a not-uncommon dilemma from the days before the city began landmarking. "We found some stuff at the building itself," Hafez says. "A layout, with structural plumbing. We had to do all the measurements ourselves, and then do a lot of homework to compare the original drawings to what we were doing. We also had some pix of the building from the past."

Equally remarkable are the death of city records. "The problem is that for certain years, they didn't keep old records," Hafez says. "After the 1960s or something, they starting keeping microfilm. Now everything is [digitally] scanned."

The renovation, which began in 2005 and ended in 2008, included replacement of the main roofs, the bulkhead roofs and the terraces, with a new quarry tile surface for the terrace area. As well, Local Law 11/98 façade repairs were performed, including masonry repointing of the brick joints throughout the façades and bulkheads, replacement of deteriorated bricks, lintel replacement with new flashing, window sill replacement, and coping stone repairs.

The Rockefeller residents "didn't want to replace the windows," Hafez says. "They wanted to keep the style and restore the steel windows. It cost a lot more money and time, but they thought it was worth it." Likewise, to restore the old brickwork, "You have to fabricate [bricks] especially for this building in order to match the color and texture. We found some [old, leftover] bricks in the building, but not enough to cover the project. So we had to leave time to fabricate more bricks to match."

Doubtlessly, Nelson would have been proud.


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