New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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An Invisible Facelift for a Venerable Central Park West Co-op

Sue Treiman in Bricks & Bucks on January 15, 2020

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Local Law 11, terra cotta, cornice repairs, co-op board.

485 Central Park West and its reborn cornice (images courtesy CTA Architects).

Jan. 15, 2020

Celebrities say the best facelifts are the ones you don’t notice. Residents of 485 Central Park West, a 67-unit, seven-story cooperative overlooking the park at 109th Street in Manhattan, will soon learn whether the adage applies to aging edifices, too. 

The 120-year-old building is deep into its largest capital improvement project ever, the $763,000 repair and restoration of the entire facade. After an architectural firm uncovered weather- and pollution-related damage to exterior walls, it warned that some flaws could threaten compliance with the Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP), which requires inspections and repairs to buildings over six stories every five years. But the suggested repair effort barely inched along. 

“A lot of projects had sort of been kicked down the road,” recalls newly elected board president Gregg Mason

Today, Mason, fellow new board members, and a new management company are moving steadily toward the fall completion of the long-anticipated renovations, just as the Department of Buildings reignites FISP enforcement. The increased vigilance follows the tragic death of a pedestrian from falling terra cotta near Times Square late last year. 

While the co-op’s project is now on track, reaching the finish line may not be a walk in Central Park. The initial 2016 architect’s assessment was not fully approved by the previous board until 2017, then it stalled again while the board debated next steps. Last spring, a sidewalk shed finally went up, and brick and mortar repairs at the U-shaped structure began. That left the additionally sticky issue of installing historically-accurate recreations of the building’s distinctive terra cotta flourishes and the turn-of-the-century cornice.  

“The new cornice panels must have the same dimensions and profile as the original ones, so we’re doing a mock-up to stay as close as possible to the initial sample and color,” says Laura Blanco Moreno, part of the technical team at CTA Architects

That takes time. Milder-than-expected weather has helped offset the painstaking process of duplicating the cornice, allowing work to continue well into winter. “I can see the cornice being finalized as soon as the weather improves,” says Mason, “and that just leaves the terra cotta.” 

Those ornaments, though, are still the biggest challenge. With few companies capable of duplicating the late-19th-century designs found at all the corners and surrounding every window, backlogs can run up to six months. 

Fortunately, the co-op board recently refinanced the underlying mortgage at a significantly lower interest rate, freeing adequate capital to cover the restoration without a special assessment. The building was lucky in another way, too. “While it definitely looks like a landmark building,” says Blanco, “485 isn’t in a Historic Landmark District, so we have much more leeway with design and can take some liberties while making the walls look great.” 

The co-op board and its professional team, including management company Charles H. Greenthal, are confident that the building’s revitalized and secure face will be ready by fall. “At the end,” says Mason, “the project will change the look very little.” 

And that, as any celebrity will tell you, is the sign of a great facelift. 

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS - ARCHITECT: CTA Architects. CONTRACTOR: GC Contracting. MANAGEMENT: Charles H. Greenthal & Co.

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