By Carter B. Horsley
was designed by Cass Gilbert in 1907, several years before he
designed the magnificent Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway, known
as the "Cathedral of Commerce" and for several years
the tallest building in the world.
buildings have facades
of white terracotta with Gothic styling, although this building
sports a mansard roof.
building, whose address
is 90 West Street, was badly damaged in the terrorist attacks
of September 11, 2001 as a result of the collapsing of the nearby
towers of the World Trade Center.
December 4, 2001 article
by James Glanz in The New York Times noted that Derek Trelstad,
a structural engineer with LZA/Thornton-Tomasetti observed that
the building's "archaic, tile fireproofing materials"
protected much of the building.
article provided the following
five years before
Mr. Gilbert's more famous F. W. Woolworth Company Building, which
happens to overlook ground zero from the northeast and was undamaged
in the attacks, 90 West Street has a Gothic facade made of two
layers of terra cotta totaling more than a foot in thickness.
boasted a top-floor establishment that billed itself as the highest
restaurant in New York, according to the city's Landmarks Preservation
Commission -- a curious parallel with Windows on the World in
the north trade tower.
the south tower
collapsed, said Mr. Trelstad, the engineer, some of its huge columns
fell and ripped out many of the steel spandrels, or cross beams
between windows, on the north facade of 90 West Street. One series
of spandrels, from the 11th down to the 3rd floors on the east
part of the facade, was destroyed as if a giant claw had run down
the front of the building.
because the heavy
terra cotta acted like armor or because some of the blows were
glancing, none of the vertical steel columns holding up the building
were damaged in the south tower's collapse. But it was not until
Mr. Trelstad ventured inside that he fully appreciated the building's
first struck by
the scale of the devastation and the eeriness of the setting.
Fires set by the south tower's debris had gutted the 2nd, 3rd,
10th and 23rd floors, and much of the northern portions of the
4th, 5th, 8th and 21st floors. At least two people are believed
to have died in the building, trapped in an elevator.
had been surrounded by four to six inches of heavy tile fireproofing
and were virtually untouched by the blaze. Most of the dozens
of steel columns holding up the building were encased in
blocks of tile much like the material of which flower pots are
for four places
on the upper floors where columns had softened and bent slightly
in the heat, the heavy tile had done its job and protected the
steel. And even though that kind of tile can be brittle, columns
in the facade that had been exposed by the impact of debris still
had their fireproofing in place.
in the floors
was still more impressive, with an archlike arrangement of tile
a foot thick having stopped the flames from burning through one
story to the next."
building was designed by
Gilbert for the West Street Improvement Corporation and its Gothic
styling and ornamentation served to emphasize its 23-story height,
and foreshadowed Gilbert's later work on the Woolworth Building.
Its top floor was occupied by "The Garret Restaurant,"
which advertised itself as the highest restaurant in New York.
on West Street, between
Cedar and Albany Streets, just south of the World Trade Center
site, the building had a view to the Hudson River before Battery
Park City was built on fill across West Street.
the building's exterior
was designated an architectural landmark by the city's Landmarks
office workers were killed
when they were trapped in an elevator in the building at the time
of the terrorist attacks and the firestorm raged out of control
in the building for several days.
building at the time houses
offices and was completely gutted.
building reopened in the
spring of 2005 as a 410-unit rental apartment building and its
meticulous restoration earned it in 2006 a National Preservation
Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation
and the restoration of the lobby revealed some of Gilbert's original
terra cotta work that had been covered over during an earlier
building has been widely
regarded as an important example of turn of century skyscraper
design as it was analogous to a classical column with its tripartite
configuration of base, middle and top, with an added romantic
mansard at its top. The tripartite arrangement of the exterior
was reflected in the use of materials" the base is of massive
"Fox Island" granite, middle of terra cotta with polychrome
terra cotta as it gets closer to the top and topped off with a
copper mansard roof.
PC, Architects and Engineers, oversaw the exterior restoration
and H. Thomas O'Hara designed the residential conversion.
7,000 pieces of terra
cotta were replaced.
of liquor bottles
were found in wall cavities and were incorporated, along with
a horseshoe, in the roof parging. It is assumed that the horseshoe
provided a source of luck for the building.
building's innovative design,
along with Gilbert's super-solid structural sense, prompted owners
Kibel Companies, Brack Capital Real Estate, and BD Hotels to invest
$150 million in its restoration with the help of Liberty Bonds,
tax incentives, and other downtown rebuilding benefits.
time of the terrorist
attacks, the building was about 90 percent done with a two-year
renovation and its north side was covered with scaffolding that
helped protect it.
restored building has a
garden courtyard, a gym, a recreation room, central air-conditioning
and a garage.
In November, 2007, residents had to be evacuated because a flood
in the basement caused by a broken sewer forced emergency crews
to shut off power.
the fires had cooled
and "the smoke lifted, an architectural inventory of the
1907 neo-Gothic building showed that the landmark had lost its
gargoyles," observed Glenn Collins in a February 28, 2005
article in The New York Times.
truth is," Mr.
Collins wrote, "some of the gargoyles may have succumbed
long before: victims of age, neglect and entropy. No one knows
for sure. But now it can definitively be said that as part of
the $148 million rebirth of the former office building created
by the architect Cass Gilbert, all those owls, goat heads, griffins,
baby dragons, monkey heads, bats and other assorted creatures
are coming back.
a new $4 million, 45-foot mansard roof, a $5 million, three-story
granite base, and $11 million worth of new terra cotta tile and
nearly 7,000 new pieces
of exterior terra cotta had to be recreated for the restoration,
"since so much of the terra cotta at 90 West Street was destroyed
in the attack," said Gretchen E. Krouse, a vice president
at Boston Valley Terra Cotta in Orchard Park, N.Y., south of Buffalo.
clay was shaped by
computer-assisted design, but many of the new terra cotta pieces
were pressed into molds, and then glazed, by hand, just as they
had been in the early 1900's. 'You can see workers' handprints
inside, just as you could on the originals,' Ms. Krouse said.
the more than
100 replacement gargoyles were also made at the Boston Valley
factory. And in an homage to the playful exuberance of Gilbert's
1913 Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway, the gargoyle reproductions
are being augmented with seven contemporary faces.
new caricatures include Peter Levenson, a principal of the Kibel
Companies and one of the building's owners; Henry Kibel, another
of the owners; Michael Y. Ahearn, president of Seaboard Weatherproofing
Co., the exterior contractor; and Jeff Smith, Seaboard's on-site
Collins articled noted
that the hoteliers Richard Born and Ira Drukier were also involved
in the financing for the building's restoration and conversion,"
adding that "The depleted quarries that supplied the original
granite could not furnish enough stone of the right color to permit
complete replacements of the originals, said Christopher J. McConnell,
president of Continental Marble Inc., who is the project's stone
wrangler. There was, however, enough quarry granite to carve stone
building has a doorman
and some ceilings are 14 feet six inches high and some apartments