Things Change Postscript: A Facelift

by Don Friedman on April 16, 2018

That’s 1 Broadway circa 1900. (A very high-resolution version of the picture that this was cropped from can be found here.) It was completed in 1882 with a then-current but soon-to-be-old-fashioned structural system: the exterior facades are bearing walls and support iron floor beams. There are also iron interior columns.

Here’s a modern picture, showing the building after its 1920 facelift:

Photo courtesy of Americasroof.

Replacing the dark brick with limestone certainly made the building lighter; losing the three mansard penthouses and the cupola above the main mansard made it both less silly and more boring. But how much really changed?

  • The major masonry openings at the base are the same width and maximum height, although the new arched openings mean that the average height has been reduced a bit.
  • The main window pattern appears pretty much identical.
  • There were eight full floors above the base before you got to the edge of the mansard and a floor of almost continuous dormers; there are now nine floors of the masonry facade above the base.
  • The masonry spandrel panels between the top two floors of the main block (below the original mansard) have been removed and replaced by recessed metal panels. Most likely, there are new steel beams behind those panels, in the plane of the wall.
  • There was one full floor above the first dormer level, there are now two.
  • The curved windows at the Battery Place / Broadway (right) and Battery Place / Greenwich Street (left) corners are gone, replaced by chamfered corners.
  • There were there small-footprint towers – the mansard penthouses – and there is now one at a different location, set back from the front (Battery Place) facade.

It sounds like a lot of work was done, right? Not so fast…except for the spandrel panels, all of these changes could be performed without any significant demolition or removals of masonry or floor structure. The old mansard framing was removed, when the top two floors of the building were replaced by the three new floors, but the old walls remained intact as did all of the floors below the old mansard. The curved corner windows were cantilevered from the side walls, so replacing them was no big deal. The new tower is most likely the bulkhead for modern elevators that replaced the old-fashioned equipment of 1882.

In short, it was possible to greatly change the appearance of the building without changing any of its basic structure. More than possible, it was relatively cheap to alter the building in this manner. And that was the point: a nearly forty-year-old building got a whole new appearance for far less money than building a new a structure.

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