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A Roaring Twenties Co-op Steps Into Modern Times

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on May 5, 2021

Great Neck, Long Island

Lobby renovation, Kenwood Gardens, co-op board, committees.

The paneling made the lobby at Kenwood Gardens feel dated. Not anymore. (images courtesy of Building Studio Architects)

May 5, 2021

The luxurious Kenwood Gardens, Long Island’s oldest housing cooperative, opened in Great Neck during the Roaring Twenties, when a writer named F. Scott Fitzgerald was living nearby and chronicling the lives of his fabulously rich neighbors. The result is the classic novel “The Great Gatsby.”

A century later, if you had walked into the approximately 70-unit Kenwood Gardens, you would have gotten the distinct sense that the lobby was frozen in a long-gone era. The carpets had a heavy floral pattern. Curtains blotted out the light. The hallways were dim. And, in a crowning touch, the lobby walls were paneled.

“It was dated,” says Harold Axelrod, president of the nine-member co-op board. “Who has wooden paneling anymore? We decided it was time for a new lobby. We wanted to bring back the historical features of the building, and we wound up literally remaking the place.”

The board has several standing committees to help with gardening, elections and other facets of co-op life. Board member Abraham Mazloumi chairs the 10-member lobby committee, which is split evenly between board members and shareholders. Mazloumi shared Axelrod’s feelings about the need to bring the lobby into the 21st century.

“The lobby did not match the grandeur of the building,” Mazloumi says. “After some back and forth, everyone on the board agreed it was time for a change. We decided the only way to do it right was not do it piecemeal, but to come up with a comprehensive plan.”

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Dissatisfied with its original architect, the board brought in Building Studio Architects, then got bids from six contractors. The unsatisfactory experience with the original architect taught Mazloumi a lesson: “Boards should not get married to a professional.” As for hiring the right contractor, Axelrod adds: “You have to look at what each one is offering – their skill set, materials, scheduling, everything.”

And boards have to be ready for surprises. “Especially when dealing with an old building,” Mazloumi says, “once you start peeling off layers, you’ll probably discover defects. When we ripped out the paneling, for example, we realized some of the doors were rotting at the bottom. Instead of resurfacing the doors, we decided to replace them.”

They didn’t head for Home Depot. They refurbished the six exterior doors, which have glass and iron flourishes, then replaced the approximately 20 interior doors with oaken ones that fit the building’s feel. The project’s designer, Samantha Spector of Building Studio Architects, explains the thinking: “There was a big emphasis to freshen up the building while maintaining the architectural integrity.” A big part of that integrity is the hand-made Portuguese tiles in the common areas, which were preserved.

As the project nears completion, the value of the lobby committee has become apparent. “It was a group of very dedicated shareholders,” Mazloumi says. “A few had design experience. Without this group we would not be where we are right now. We didn’t always agree, but there was none of the infighting that can stop a project like this in its tracks. Compromises had to be made. And one other thing: you have to be willing to defer to your designer.”

Adds Axelrod, “The advantage of the committee is that they can do all the legwork and present it to the board. You also bring in shareholders and get the community involved. There’s only so much a board can do.”

The building’s reserve fund is enough to cover the cost of the project, so no assessment or maintenance increase will be required. “With money so tight these days,” Axelrod says, “that’s very, very nice.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PROPERTY MANAGER: Einsidler Management. ARCHITECT: Building Studio Architects. CONTRACTOR: RJK Construction.

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