Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on June 14, 2017
It started out as a routine Local Law 11 facade-repair job. It led to the discovery and preservation of a lost gem of New York City’s architectural history.
The five members of an Upper West Side co-op board never doubted that they lived in an exceptional building. Ten stories tall and adorned with large leaded-glass casement windows, it was designed by the legendary architect Rosario Candela and built in 1929, as his most productive years were coming to an end and the national economy was on the brink of collapse. But when the board got ready to tackle their mandated Local Law 11 repairs last summer, they weren’t expecting anything out of the ordinary – a mix of “Safe with Repair” work that had come due from the last inspection cycle, plus some new repairs that needed to be addressed immediately. The total bill would come to about $400,000, money that was on hand thanks to flip taxes and a refinancing of the underlying mortgage. Some money also came from the co-op’s healthy reserve fund.
“When the workers started doing the facade work – scraping away old black paint – they noticed that the decorative terra cotta tiles were flaking,” says board president Diana Revkin, a studio director in an architecture firm who moved into the 38-unit building in 2003 and joined the board two years ago. “They could see beautiful verdigris tiles underneath. We don’t know when it was painted over. It’s not meant to be painted over. It’s not authentic."
When the contractor, Key Restorations, emailed pictures of the exposed terra cotta to the property manager, he knew it was a major discovery. “We said, ‘Oh wow, we should restore that!’” says Josh Koppel, president of H.S.C. Management. “I advised the board to restore it, but I left it to their discretion.”
So the board faced a decision. Repaint the tiles? Or restore them to their original verdigris glory?
“We debated it as a board,” Revkin says, “and we were all keen to bring it back to its original state. We were excited to discover this beautiful tile no one knew about. It would only add to the building’s beauty and value. So it was a no-brainer.”
Since the building is in a Historic District, the change in engineer Rich Koenigsberg’s original plan needed the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The commission readily agreed to the change, and the board allocated an additional $20,000 for restoring the tiles – a relatively small addition to a job of this scope, which included brick repointing, facade cleaning, minor masonry repairs, stripping and painting the metal on the facade’s leaded-glass windows, as well as repainting the original wooden sash windows that have not been replaced by shareholders.
That $20,000 outlay may wind up paying for itself. “By restoring the tile,” Revkin says, “we no longer have to maintain the paint that had been covering it, which would be an ongoing future cost.”
The building’s history doesn’t end with its famous architect. In 2003 the state’s highest court ruled that the co-op board was justified in forcing shareholder David Pullman to sell his shares and vacate his apartment. In a landmark decision, the court said that the Business Judgment Rule confers such powers on co-op boards provided they act “in good faith and in the exercise of honest judgment” to further the corporation’s interests.
While she’s aware of that history, Revkin would rather talk about the legacy of Rosario Candela’s terra cotta tiles. “We believe the restoration adds value to the building in its entirety,” she says. “There have been some mixed feelings. Some people liked the black finish, but most people adore the verdigris. I think it was the right thing to do.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – MANAGER: H.S.C. Management. ENGINEER: Koenigsberg Engineering. CONTRACTOR: Key Restoration.
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