By Gretchen Berger
On Thursday, September 8, Community Board 7’s Preservation Committee heard an application for the reconstruction/renovation of the front south-facing facades and collapsing “party wall” (communal interior dividing wall) at 231-233 West 74th Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue: two rowhouses that have been a neighborhood blight for some 20 years.
The West Side Rag posted an exhaustive article about these crumbling buildings back in March —You’d Think After 10 Years We Would Have Solved This Real Estate Mystery. Now, there’s hopeful news on the horizon: a resolution was passed by the committee to approve this application, which will next be voted on by the full board in October. Still, these are only the first steps because the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will have the final say, as community boards serve only as advisory bodies. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful first step in the process after a very long wait.
A Summary of the Discussion
The current problems were first documented around 2007, when building inspectors encountered very bad structural conditions, including serious “settlement, brick and stone deterioration and weakness in the backup masonry.” There were also “weakened support lintels, and other observed distressed conditions” due to deferred maintenance over decades as well as normal aging and weathering and wear and tear. This was about the time when the scaffolding was first erected and it has remained ever since. There were numerous DOB “Failure to Maintain” violations posted on the buildings since 2008. Even worse, the party wall, shared between the two buildings, is greatly compromised, likely because of a number of steam pipe mishaps underneath the buildings, which caused the settlement. While the party wall isn’t “collapsed,” it has settled to the point where the buildings are tilted and lean into each other, a concerning structural condition.
The current owners of the buildings hired MVN Architect LLC, which specializes in facade restoration and historical preservation. They presented their findings and proposal for the buildings’ reconstruction and restoration at the meeting. MVN claims they need to dismantle the front facades brick by brick, catalog and salvage all the reusable bricks, then build them back piece by piece. This way, they can save as many bricks and masonry materials as possible to preserve as much of the original facade as they can. Any replacement bricks could be customized to look like the original bricks and intermingled on the facade to blend in. Using this careful process, the front facade can be restored safely to its nearly original condition, as shown in a 1940’s photo above. After the work is completed, the owners plan to renovate the buildings’ interiors to create new rental apartments.
It was noted that the other exterior walls (sides and rear) were overall in reasonably good condition, as was the roof; they may need a little work, but nothing as dire as the front facade and party wall. MVN estimates that all the restoration work would take a little less than two years to complete.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission was not in favor of the facade being taken down; they wanted it restored by pointing and pinning. However, due to the significant damage, the architects claim that this could not only be difficult, but pose significant safety hazards for workers. Repointing and pinning the bricks would not be enough nor safe, and a collapse could occur, they said. Moreover, nobody from the LPC had actually visited the site and seen the level of deterioration, which continues to worsen.
After many comments and a Q&A, the Committee voted in favor of the application. Everyone realized that while this might not be the perfect solution, it’s a significant improvement over doing nothing. It is believed that if this work is not done, the buildings could be razed or there could be a collapse. There were several people in attendance who live on the block and want to see this work completed as soon as possible. The potential danger these buildings pose now or in the future was not lost on the committee members who voted in favor of the resolution.
The West Side Rag will keep you informed of any further developments on this project.
The meeting on YouTube is below.