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Puttin' (a New Roof) On the Ritz

Tom Soter in Bricks & Bucks

Upper East Side

465 Park Avenue

The Ritz Tower (image courtesy of The New York Public Library)

Every co-op board knows that no matter how grand a building may be, it will eventually need to be refurbished. And if the grand building happens to be a designated landmark, the repairs can get extremely tricky.

That was the situation faced by the board at the Ritz Tower, a 41-story cooperative that publicizes itself on its web page as “the first residential skyscraper in the city.” Designed in 1925 by noted architect Emory Roth, the elegant Park Avenue co-op has what contemporary real estate journalist Carter B. Horsley calls “sheer verticality, as it narrowed, through its setbacks, to a tower in the clouds.”

Back on planet earth, however, the current board has had to cope with a building that had recently been classified “unsafe” by the Department of Buildings. “They had falling terracotta, falling limestone, and some other issues around the upper portions of the building,” notes Andrew Halpin, the project manager who supervised the repairs for Howard L. Zimmerman Architects.

One of the challenges with this building was doing the initial inspections, since specialty rigging had to be installed. Performing typical scaffold inspection was not possible because of the roof design. “There's an obelisk at the top of the roof,” Halpin says. “Then there are two pitched copper roofs. You have really nowhere to hang your scaffolding from. Basically, without that, you can't inspect the top 15 floors.”

Therefore, to do the initial inspections, the firm had its inspectors rappel down the side of the building. When the work itself was performed, a platform was installed at the top of the building, and then the scaffold was hung off it, from the 40th down to the 36th floor.

“It turned out they had about 50 leaks that were pretty severe,” says Halpin. “We had a lot of tough issues with leaks. We replaced the two copper roofs at the top of the building, which were causing leaks for the penthouse tenants.”

Technology helped. “We actually tracked everything using software,” says Halpin. “We were able to track all the work performed throughout the entire job – everything on the facade, and on the walls, and the roof.”

Ritz Tower is a designated landmark, a situation that created new challenges and delays. “We had to get approvals from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC),” Halpin recalls, “and we were trying to get it done within the one-year time period that the board wanted. We were under the gun, because it is a Local Law 11 requirement, and they had only a certain amount of time to complete the work. Otherwise they'd be facing civil penalties.”

The board declined to disclose the cost of the project.

Sometimes, the LPC requirements sent the Zimmerman team on the road. “It's very important that you try to match the material, the color, and the texture of the original materials,” says Halpin. “This building has limestone, brick, and terra cotta. With the limestone, we did patching, not a full panel replacement, which was easier to match. But," he adds with a laugh, “we anticipated that problem. We know we have to find it and know how to find it. It goes a little bit smoother than it sounds.”

PROJECT PLAYERS: CONTRACTOR: Rally Restorations. ARCHITECT: Howard L. Zimmerman Architects.

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