Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on January 8, 2020
The 30-story, 275-unit St. George Tower & Grill co-op in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District has been restored to its original splendor. Notable architect Emery Roth designed the 315-foot tall tower in the late 1920s as the final expansion of the glamorous St. George Hotel, then the largest hotel in all of New York. The common roof deck on the 27th floor provides spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline and harbor. The building features extensive terra cotta ornaments: six-foot-tall Egyptian figures flank windows at the 27th floor, and five-foot-tall eagles rise from the base of the parapet wall. In the 1920s, the hotel was an instant success and a fashionable destination.
“It was built at an interesting time in New York building technology,” says Dan Allen, principal at CTA Architects, which oversaw the restoration. “They could build a steel frame, and they could build all the historic skyscrapers, but they did not yet have the true, thin curtain wall. This means that they built a thick masonry wall around the steel. Over time that steel can corrode inside those walls, and when that happens, the steel becomes much larger and pushes the masonry and the terra cotta outwards. That creates a dangerous situation.”
Because the building’s steel frame had corroded, crews needed to go the bones of the building. The top floors were most affected, and the steel had to be reinforced before the masonry and the terra cotta could be repaired. Each terra cotta element was removed from the facade to determine its structural condition. Most of the eagles and Egyptian figurines were salvaged, cleaned, and reinstalled with stainless-steel anchors that will not corrode. “Some ornaments, including several heads, could not be salvaged and had to be recreated and replaced,” says Frank Scanlon of CTA Architects.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission requires that new masonry, mortar and terra cotta has to match the color, texture, and pattern of the existing facade. The project also included the replacement of 11 monumental arched, steel-framed windows on the 25th and 30th floors. Those were replaced with new state-of-the-art stainless steel-framed windows that match the originals. “There were many challenges with the window installation,” says Hugo Ramirez, a sales executive at Adler Windows. “Every opening size was unique and required precise field measurements before shop drawings could be produced.” The window units were hoisted from the street along the exterior of the building. Altogether the renovation cost $2.8 million. In addition to replacing the ornamental units and installing the monumental new windows, workers had to replace approximately 13,000 square feet of brick, exactly matching the originals.
For a project of this magnitude and complexity, it was vital to have a precise and realistic budget. “Our budget had to include not only the contractor's estimate,” says Michael Vekassy, president of the St. George Tower & Grill co-op board. “We also had to budget the consulting fees, the Department of Buildings fees, the scaffolding charges, the site safety oversight, and the restoration of historic materials. It was also essential to budget for contingencies to handle the unforeseen items.” To raise the estimated funds, shareholders were assessed two years in advance. Once the capital assessment was depleted, the co-op had to dip into its reserve fund.
“They stepped up to the challenge and realized that the work had to be done thoroughly and correctly,” says Allen. “This is an example of a board doing the right thing.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ARCHITECT: CTA Architects. ENGINEER: GACE Consulting Engineers. PROPERTY MANAGER: Solstice Residential Group. WINDOW SUPPLIER AND INSTALLER: Adler Windows.
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