Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gilsey House: History Lesson #1

A description from the building's website gilseyhouse.com:

Gilsey House was designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch for Peter Gilsey, a Danish immigrant merchant and city alderman who leased the plot – which included the grounds of the St. George Cricket Club – from Caspar Samlar for $10,000 a year. It was constructed from 1869 to 1871 at the cost of $350,000, opening as the Gilsey House Hotel in 1872. The cast-iron for the facade of the Second Empire style building was fabricated by Daniel D. Badger, a significant and influential advocate for cast-iron architecture at the time; the extent to which Badger contributed to the design of the facade is unknown.
The hotel was luxurious – the rooms featured rosewood and walnut finishing, marble fireplace mantles, bronze chandeliers and tapestries  – and offered services to its guests such as telephones, the first hotel in New York to do so. It was a favorite of Diamond Jim Brady and Oscar Wilde, Samuel Clemens was a guest, and it attracted the theatrical trade at a time when the area – which became known as the "Tenderloin" – was becoming the primary entertainment and amusement district for New York's growing population, with numerous theaters, gambling clubs and brothels.
Gilsey House closed in 1911 after legal conflict beginning in 1904 between the operator of the hotel, Seaboard Hotel Company, and the Gilsey estate over the terms of the lease. Parts of the facade, such as cast-iron columns, which went over the property line were removed, and the building deteriorated, with rust, water damage and sagging floors. In 1925, plans were filed to rebuild the structure as an ordinary loft building of brick and stone, but were never carried out, although the ground-level storefronts were modernized in 1946. The building's future was decided when it was purchased in 1980 by Richard Berry and F. Anthony Zunino and converted into co-operative apartments after a cosmetic cleanup of the exterior, which won a commendation from the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture. The facade was finally almost fully restored in 1992 by Building Conservation Associates.
The building, with its "extraordinary" three-story mansard roof  and its "vigor that only the waning years of the 19th century could muster" was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It was designated a New York City landmark in 1979.

Some images from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery:

Note: the corner block of the building was changed substantially after conversion to commercial lofts in the 1930's
It is amazing how much the original window configuration suggested more verticality.  The 29th Street wing (where our project is located) retains the original window pattern.

Gilsey House: Preliminary Design

Before they found this apartment, we had spent over a year with our clients looking at other spaces. We would draw a few quick floor plan sketch options for each to make sure they would yield a home that could meet their needs - both practical and aesthetic.

Here is the Floor Plan from the Corcoran listing...

Here is our initial pass at a floor plan (after rotating it so that north is up).
We always show furniture in initial sketches, to make sure we have a grasp of each room's scale.
After more careful measurements, we drew the floor plan in AutoCad, adding detail.

Gilsey House: Hints of the Building's Past(s)

At first glance, the inside of Gilsey House offers little to the visitor curious about its history. But look closely and bits of the distant and recent past begin to come into focus...

We were wondering about the masonry bump in the west wall of the Living Room...
Could it have been a fireplace in an 1869 hotel room?
The blocked up opening led into the freight elevator
(added when the building was converted to commercial lofts in the 1930's)
These original accordion shutters are in the Master Bedroom.
They don't open (yet) but I suspect the hidden panels are louvered.
There is something sad about this very 80's sconce with its wan green light in the bedroom.
Looks like this was a fire pull of some sort? Mounted on the back of the electrical panel.
This is a somewhat mysterious piece of (audio?) equipment.
The bronze medallion from City College was used as a pull on one of the industrial light fixtures.
The verso tells more of the story...

Everything about this is classic late 70's/early 80's

Gilsey House: Adventures in Existing Conditions

As soon as the owners closed on the property, we set about poking and prodding inside the walls of the apartment, looking for pipe chases and other possible impediments as well as hidden opportunities, such as additional ceiling height.

This can be messy...

Pulling back the 1930's tin ceiling revealed the original plaster and lath.
I pulled down the paneling at one of the windows and was covered in black soot
The soot is likely from loose joints in the boiler chimney in the bump-out in the corner of the Living Room
The few extant baseboards are likely original to the building...  
You can see that they're made of multiple pieces of milled stock and molding profiles
The wood strip flooring was laid on top of an older floor and a subfloor
(with empty space between the joists to the ceiling beneath)

Gilsey House: New Project

We've just begun a new project at Gilsey House, the spectacular pile that dominates the corner of Broadway and West 29th Street (across the street from the Ace Hotel, and conveniently, our office). Gilsey House was built as a hotel in 1869, converted to commercial lofts in the 1930's and finally to a residential co-op in the late 1970's.

We're working on the sixth floor, turning a *very* rough space into a home for a family of four. The space has four windows facing 29th Street, and four more along the lot line to the east. Besides an abundance of light, the ceilings are nice and high at about 11 feet. Otherwise it's a mess - just the kind of challenge we love to take on!

Gilsey House from our office window
The project is located on the 6th floor on the 29th Street side
Living Room, the three windows on the right face 29th Street.
Living Room to the Kitchen, showing east windows
From the Kitchen to the Living Room
From the Living Room, looking west
Compare this little room's plain window to its exterior manifestation...
That's the same window on the exterior
This is the Master Bedroom, where the window surround remains from 1869

What have we learned?

One is a pretty brutal bit of public housing, the other is Mercedes House, a luxury rental apartment building by Enrique Norten. Neither looks like a particularly pleasant place to live...