Tag Archives: neo-Grec

Hugh O’Neill Building

The dazzling white Hugh O’Neill Building on Sixth Avenue is a great example of historic restoration and recycling in New York. Not only did the developers bring an old building back to life, they also magically added two floors without changing the original appearance. While structural problems have appeared, the future looks bright.

Hugh O’Neill, an Irish immigrant, was a very successful retailer. He outgrew his original Sixth Avenue store and replaced it in 1887 with a four-story double-domed emporium. In 1890, he expanded the store at the rear of the West 20th Street wing. In 1895 he added a fifth floor (raising the domes one story in the process).

Alas, after O’Neill died in 1902 the store (and most neighboring retailers) deteriorated and closed. The corner domes were removed in the early 1900s, and the building was converted to lofts.

In 2004 the by-then grey building got a new lease on life: Conversion to condominium apartments. The developer Elad Properties, and architects Cetra/Ruddy Inc. got Landmarks Preservation Commission approval to restore the missing domes – and add two stories of apartments at the same time. The trick was to set back the new floors so that they are not visible from the street.

In December 2012 one of the building’s columns on West 2oth Street collapsed, forcing evacuation. Repairs were made, but scaffolding still covers the West 20th Street facade at this writing (June 2013).

Hugh O’Neill Building Vital Statistics
Hugh O’Neill Building Recommended Reading

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Potter Building

Orlando Potter set out to make a fireproof building. It became “one of New York’s most significant surviving tall office buildings of the period prior to the full development of the skyscraper,” according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “Its brickwork is among the handsomest in New York City.”

The 1886 Potter Building replaced the ill-fated headquarters of the New York World, which had the distinction of burning up in the shortest time on record. Potter, the building’s owner, set out to make the replacement fireproof.

Iron framing and terra cotta fireproofing were key elements in the plan designed by architect Norris G. Starkweather. The structure represents an early phase of metal framing: Iron columns and joists supported the floors and interior of the building; the exterior walls supported themselves. (To bear the weight, those brick walls are 40 inches thick at the base and 20 inches thick at the top.) Terra cotta tiles surround the iron columns and joists, to protect them from the heat of a fire.

Abundant brownstone-colored terra cotta also decorated the red brick exterior. Starkweather combined four different architectural styles in the 11-story building (which was more than double the height of the previous structure). He emphasized vertical lines – counter to then-current practice. One critic condemned the resulting architecture as “coarse, pretentious, overloaded and intensely vulgar” and in its verticality, “spindling.” Starkweather died before the building was finished.

Potter liked the terra cotta so much, he founded New York Architectural Terra Cotta Co. and became one of the country’s largest producers.

Fast forward to 1973: After eight sales and 87 years, the Potter Building wound up in the hands of Pace College. The school planned to demolish this (and neighboring buildings) to build a large office tower. That project fizzled, and Pace sold the Potter Building in 1979 to 38 Park Row Associates – which converted the building to co-op loft apartments.

Remarkably, the new owners preserved and restored the exterior at great expense – 17 years before the building was designated a NYC landmark.

Potter Building Vital Statistics
Potter Building Recommended Reading

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