Historic Preservation

Beautiful and Oddly Located

by Don Friedman on March 23, 2018

We now interrupt our regularly-scheduled blogging for today’s extra post.

A sharp-eyed reader – Patrick Sparks – noted the good-looking building almost under the Queensboro Bridge. The picture above is a cropped and expanded version of one of the pictures from yesterday, showing the building in question and a bit of its context. The bridge is at the upper left, the building in question is between the bridge and the boat. To the right, in Long Island City (the southwest corner of Queens) is a big factory labelled “New York Architectural Terra Cotta Works.”

Looking quickly, I assumed that the good-looking building was the headquarters of the terra cotta company for the simple reason that I’m familiar with that building. It’s the only part of the factory that has survived, and it barely did so. It was landmarked and abandoned, and has been for some time now the property of Silvercup Studios, who have said that it will be fully restored and reused. Here’s a terrible picture of the headquarters, with the bridge above:

My mistake was based on a stupid assumption: how many beautifully-ornamented masonry buildings this size could be at one location? The answer, in this case, is “two.” If you look closely at the top photo, which I did not do, it’s obvious that the building Pat was asking about is on Roosevelt Island, not in Queens. It so happens that the photo is taken at an angle that lines up the mystery building with the terra cotta company, so that the mystery building is directly in front and blocks the view of the terra cotta company. Seeing the terra cotta factory off to the right just makes the easy and wrong assumption even easier, although not wronger.

So what is the mystery building? It took a little digging to find it. Roosevelt Island was named Welfare Island for a chunk of the twentieth century because of all the city services located there in the nineteenth century. There was a smallpox hospital, a charity hospital, a prison, an insane asylum, and a workhouse. Most of these structures are long gone, with only the ruins of the smallpox hospital and a small portion of the asylum remaining. The mystery building was, as it turns out, the workhouse warden’s residence. There it is, in the middle of a page on the island from the 1895 King’s Photographic Views of New York:

I have no idea why a touristy guidebook had a page devoted to the buildings of an almshouse and an asylum.

The Box Versus The Contents

March 13, 2018

This article at the New York Review of Books is both a celebration of the people who have made the old St. Denis Hotel their professional home and a depressing discussion of commercial gentrification. The building is being emptied of tenants prior to redevelopment, for the second time. Its first big change was just about […]

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Less-Ambivalent Ambivalence

February 16, 2018

If you’re looking for a good long article on some of the difficulties in landscape preservation, you won’t do better than this, from Urban Omnibus: Under Annihilation’s Sign: Public Memory and Prospect Park’s Battle Pass. Central and western Brooklyn was the site of the Battle of Long Island in 1776, the largest set-piece battle of the […]

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The Hardest Thing In Preservation

February 2, 2018

Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building has been significantly altered despite the fact that it’s calendared to be reviewed for designation as a landmark. The designation being considered is, like most New York designations, for the exterior facade only; the current work has demolished a piece of the interior lobby. There is an interesting debate about preservation […]

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A New Publication

January 8, 2018

Gabriel Pardo Redondo of OSE and Berta de Miguel Alcalá of Vertical Access‘s – not coincidently, a married couple – have a new paper out in Loggia on preservation engineering in New York. Somehow my name ended up on it, even though Gabi and Berta did about 98 percent of the work. If you go to […]

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Doing The Wrong Thing Right

December 14, 2017

I’ve talked before about my ambivalence concerning the way in which the Dickey house on Greenwich Street is being preserved as part of the development of a new tower next door. Façadism does not have a good reputation in the preservation world. Since no one has asked my opinion, the work continues regardless of what […]

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A Long-Overdue Designation

December 12, 2017

The IRT Powerhouse has been designated as a New York City landmark. First, as the pictures may make clear, this is a huge building that is quite visible: it fills the block between 58th and 59th Streets, and between 11th and 12th Avenues. In other words, it’s 200 feet wide and about 600 feet long. […]

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What’s Been Lost

November 20, 2017

The green glass-walled building straight ahead is 2 Broadway. It’s as close to a generic circa-1960 office high-rise as you can get. There’s nothing about it that’s inherently bad…except….it was built on the site formerly occupied by the Produce Exchange. Here’s the Exchange, designed in the 1880s by George Post: In short, we lost a […]

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Something New

November 18, 2017

The idea of using LEGOs to provide temporary repairs to damaged masonry is either genius or moronic. I alternate between the two opinions.

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Missing One Thing

November 7, 2017

That’s a picture of demolition in progress at a 140-year-old house – a mansion, really – in Brooklyn. The bulk of the building will be demolished and/or altered into an apartment house that will look quite different. There is a need for more apartments in the city as construction of new units, particularly at the […]

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