Lisa L. Colangelo in Bricks & Bucks
With its Tudor touches and stately courtyards, Amalgamated Houses has offered its residents a haven of affordable housing in the Bronx for 90 years. But the oldest limited-equity housing cooperative in the nation was starting to show its age – sparking a multimillion-dollar renovation project that is replacing everything from slate roofs to boilers.
The sprawling complex consists of 11 buildings and 1,500 units next to Van Cortlandt Park. It was sponsored by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and built by Abraham E. Kazan, a member of the Cooperative Hall of Fame, as affordable housing for its members, who had lived in cramped Lower East Side tenements in Manhattan.
“You couldn’t imagine anything better,” says Jerzy Warman, a longtime member of Amalgamated’s board of directors and its secretary. “I came here with my mother from Poland in 1970 and everyone just welcomed us with open hearts. I’ve seen the community change over the years demographically and economically, but it has remained a community.”
Finding the cash and the will to finance costly maintenance work on the complex had historically been a struggle, but the co-op board and its property manager, Charles M. Zsebedics, recognized the need for emergency repairs and a comprehensive renovation. The process started with a physical needs assessment performed by Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, which produced vital information that helped the board obtain loans for the work.
The first phase, which started in 2013 and was completed last year, included work on a three-level, 270-car garage that was severely compromised in some sections, along with reconstruction of parapets and roofs on several buildings. Facades on the Tudor-style buildings received new stucco, dormers and gables. The work is being financed with a $30 million loan from National Cooperative Bank (NCB) – with $20 million for capital repairs and $10 million from refinancing an existing loan. The board also withdrew $500,000 from the co-op’s reserve fund to renovate lobbies in two buildings.
Phase 2, scheduled to start in Spring 2017, will use a second NCB loan to pay for $17 million worth of repair work, including major façade repairs to five buildings, according to Zsebedics. In addition, two boilers that date back to 1949 will be replaced.
Alanna Rosenblatt, project associate at Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, points out the complex’s original buildings were constructed between 1927 and 1930, and new structures were added in the 1950s and 1960s. The most recent tower was completed in 1970. “We focused on restoring the original design intent (and) maintaining the character of the buildings within the context of the neighborhood,” she says.
Adds Zsebedics, “This is the largest [renovation] in Amalgamated history [since] the original construction of the buildings. This will long be remembered as a milestone. The board and management recognized the need for ensuring that the property is maintained for all future generations.”
PROJECT PLAYERS – ARCHITECT: Howard L. Zimmerman Architects. ENGINEER: Lawless & Mangione Engineers & Architects. CONTRACTORS: Quality Building Construction; Yates Restoration Group; Cerina Constructions; Infrastructure Repair Service; AWR Group.
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