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A 19th-Century Dividend at a 21st-Century Station

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A 19th-Century Dividend at a 21st-Century Station

By DAVID W. DUNLAP

 

 

 

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The 19th-century Corbin Building, at Broadway and John Street, is emerging from a cocoon of scaffolding.

 

 

 

 

The brightest new architectural addition to Lower Manhattan is now emerging from its cocoon of scaffolding, 124 years after construction began.

 

 

 

No, this isn't another post about the World Trade Center project.

 

 

 

It is about the Corbin Building, a sumptuous nine-story Romanesque Revival tower that was built from 1888 to 1889. Its future was imperiled in July 2003 when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began developing plans for the Fulton Street Transit Center on the same block.

 

 

 

At the time, it was by no means certain that the Corbin Building would be left standing. Indeed, there seemed - on the face of it - to be little reason even to try. Why go to the trouble and expense ($59 million, as it turned out) of grafting a decrepit, inefficient, obsolete office tower on to a modern transit interchange and shopping mall?

 

 

 

Yet, the Corbin Building had many things in its favor, beginning with the arrestingly robust design by Francis Hatch Kimball, among the more imaginative New York architects of his day. On his death in 1919, The New York Times said he was "often spoken of as 'the father of the skyscraper.'" The namesake of the building, Austin Corbin, had united a tangle of small railroads on Long Island into the colossus of the Long Island Rail Road.

 

 

 

"Under his wise management," The Times said in 1896, on Corbin's death, "the development of Long Island was very rapid, and great and beautiful towns arose in places that a little while ago were waste."

 

 

 

Preservationists had another incentive to fight for the Corbin Building. Since the Fulton Street Transit Center was going to set the tone for downtown redevelopment projects outside the World Trade Center, they believed it was important to demonstrate that Lower Manhattan's historical buildings had a continuing role to play as the area recovered from Sept. 11. If a structure as notable as the Corbin Building could be razed, what was to protect other potential landmarks?

 

 

 

An ad hoc group called the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund began lobbying on behalf of the Corbin Building. They engaged SHoP Architects and Robert Silman Associates, a structural engineering firm, to make the case to the transportation authority that preservation was a practical alternative.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission joined the effort in a kind of back-channel exercise of its influence. Simply designating the building a landmark would not have helped much. As a government agency, the transportation authority was not required - as a private owner would be - to comply with restrictions imposed by the commission.

 

 

 

By October 2003, their concerted lobbying effort paid off with an announcement by Peter S. Kalikow, who was then chairman of the authority, that the Corbin Building would be saved, preserved and made part of the Fulton Street Transit Center. The rehabilitation team included Page Ayres Cowley Architects, the engineering concern Arup, and Judlau Contracting.

 

 

 

In recent weeks, there has been a second payoff, as construction scaffolding started coming down from around the Corbin Building to reveal something far more luscious than any living New Yorker would have remembered. The building is surprisingly colorful. There is a vibrant contrast to the many different materials used. Its roof has regained its pyramidal peaks. (The Fulton Street Transit Center, now simply called the Fulton Center, is to open in 2014.)

 

 

 

"I passed by a couple of days ago and was stunned," said Robert B. Tierney, the chairman of the landmarks commission, then and now. "I couldn't have imagined a better outcome." Mr. Tierney said he had been reluctant during his term to work outside the ordinary designation process. However, he said, "In some cases, it is the best way to proceed."

 

 

 

 

 

Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and an alumna of the emergency preservation fund, had an even more pointed reaction when she saw the freshly restored facade:

 

 

 

"Wow!"

 

 

 

"We knew she was a beauty, with Kimball's elaborate use of terra cotta, pink color and great arches," Ms. Breen said. "Imagine uncovering such beauty at a time like this, when we need a boost. Makes you wonder how many other unappreciated or unnoticed great buildings are out there."

 

 

 

Another veteran of the preservation battle is Frank E. Sanchis III, who was then with the Municipal Art Society and is now the United States program director of the World Monuments Fund.

 

 

 

"The Corbin Building looks spectacular; its ornate design and materials are in dramatic juxtaposition to the simplicity and strong shapes of the transportation center next door," Mr. Sanchis said. "Aside from the sheer intelligence of preserving such a historically and architecturally significant building, this provides so much richer an urban result than demolishing Corbin would have yielded.

 

 

 

"It always amazes me," Mr. Sanchis continued, "that it's such a struggle to get the preservation message across in the early stages of a project, when the end result is so obviously worthwhile."

 

 

 

 

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The Fulton Center at left and the Corbin Building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such a beautiful building! Looks like it's gonna be an interesting addition when the whole thing wraps up in 2014.

 

Read More- http://cityroom.blog...entury-station/

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Now, are they just keeping it there, or are they connecting it somehow?

 

 

Yeah, it's gonna be connected to the complex, by having entrances/exits to the street and platform, as well as retail space.

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Well this is certainly interesting to have these 2 buildings near each-other, Its like some time travel story that no one wants to get into...

Extremely weird to have that station house next to that old building though.

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