55 White Street

July 21, 2015

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Completed in 1861, 55 White St. (James Kellum & Son) is noted for its ‘sperm-oil candle façade’. Originally one of a dozen, it’s the sole remaining building in Manhattan to feature this 1800s ornamentation, reminiscent of the highly-coveted, brightly burning candles composed of sperm whale oil.

The building originally had keystones crowning the tall arches, Corinthian capitals atop the columns, and decoratively faceted quoins on the pier at the corner of Church St. Archives. It was originally a large saddlery; in later year’s draper and textile firms tenanted the space.

Though the building was designated as part of the Tribeca East Landmark District in New York City in 1988,  55 White had fallen into a period of disrepair. Many elements of the original cast iron facade were discarded in favor of riveted aluminum and substandard fiberglass in response to building settlement and value engineering. Other aspects of the building were left to deterioration by weather, the elements, and neglect. Several corner quoins were dangerously close to falling onto the sidewalk below and the historic integrity of the building was greatly compromised.

Cast Iron Façade Restoration

To restore the building’s integrity, HLZA removed the majority of the cast iron elements; they were  restored  and reinstalled upon completion. Missing elements were replaced to replicate the exact details of

original lost elements. The entire façade was then coated to match the original color of the building. A computer matching process revealed the color of the original surviving paint beneath the years of dirt and rust. The paint system that was chosen was a high quality epoxy basecoat and intermediate coat with a urethane topcoat.


Cornice, Dentils and Corbels – Little metal repair was required at the uppermost section of the building in comparison with the remaining cast iron elements. These elements were fully exposed with the use of hand sanding in order to ensure all original paint was removed from the intricate details of the metalwork. Open gaps behind the anchored façade elements were sealed to ensure water could no longer travel where it is not wanted.


Arches and Keystones – Keystone scrolls were removed from the top of each arch and shop prepared and primed. They were then sent back the building and reinstalled prior to installing the finished coat of paint. Each arch was fully exposed and painted.


Columns and Corinthian Capitals – Between each window on the first, third and fifth floors tall columns topped with ornate Corinthian capitals proudly stand. Each capital is comprised of approximately a dozen blossoms and leaves all of which were removed, stripped of years of paint coatings hiding the complex detailing of the metal forms and meticulously restored.


Faceted Quoins – Running the length of the building at each corner of the front façade are lines of decorative metal quoins bolted to 30 foot strips of iron. Due to the dangerous nature of the existing condition of the façade, all the plates were immediately removed along with temporary strapping that was installed as a means to hold the pieces in place. Each piece was tagged and cataloged to ensure proper placement upon reinstallation. The original intent was to remove the backup metal as well in order to remove all deterioration; however the size and weight of each segment made this unfeasible. As a result, RD Elastometal was used. The product is a system of flexible, rust inhibitive mesh reinforced waterproofing product that was installed over the open seams between metal backup plates and over the exterior surface of the metal to create a watertight space behind the columns to impede corrosion and encapsulate the substrate to prevent future bleed-out. The restored quoins were then repaired in the contractors shop; broken sections were welded, repaired and each quoin was systematically reinstalled with new fasteners to the substrate.


Water table – The water table above the first floor was nearly rusted through. All corrosion was removed down to sound metal. Sections of the band that were too badly deteriorated were cut away and filled with new metal flush to the exisiting. The east side of the water table was an aluminum replacement section, sagging due to building settlement. Large sections of the mismatched aluminum was removed and replaced with new cast iron elements true to the original in material and detail. The displaced sections of the band were then raised to be plumb and level. The lower portion of the water table is adorned with 2 piece cast iron scrolls some of which were missing. Casts were taken of an original piece and precise replacements were created to complete the decorative band.


Window Restoration

All historic wood façade windows were stripped to bare wood, repaired and painted to match the original condition. Deteriorated wood, rusted fasteners and metal flashing was removed and replaced with stainless steel.  Cracks, holes and voids in the wood were filled with wood filler. Heavily damaged or missing wood sections were replaced utilizing Dutchman repairs. During the Dutchman repair the rotted sections of wood are cut out and new wood is spliced into the existing frames flush with the existing. New sill moldings were replaced as well, replacing heavily deteriorated original pieces. All façade windows were then lightly sanded, primed and painted with two coats of the same paint system used on the front facade.


Roof Replacement

During an earlier building conversion two penthouse apartments were added above the 5th floor roof of the building. This created unusual drainage problems and a large amount of leaks on the remainder of the original roof, now the wraparound terrace level. Multiple leaks were addressed by removing the conventional bituminous membrane roof and installing a liquid applied Kemperol roof, replacing all perimeter base flashings at both, the penthouse and parapet sides of the roof. All drains were replaced as well.


Masonry and Stone Restoration

Secondary elevations primarily consist of brick masonry with large marble window headers and sills. Each window on the east and south elevations is flanked by large iron shutters. The majority of the historic shutters were severely rusted. All of the shutters were repaired in the shop. Some of the more deteriorated shutters were replaced with new steel to match the originals in detail and re-anchored to the wall.


All marble elements were removed and stored while waterproofing took place at all window heads and sills. The original marble units were reutilized in their original locations. Some stones were patched and pinned where required. The parapet wall on the east elevation was rebuilt down to the roof deck level and fully waterproofed beneath the face brick to ensure that the building will remain watertight. Delaminated and weather damaged bricks and mortar were replaced to match the existing with the approval of the NYC Landmarks Commission. Narrow mortar joints were maintained to match the historic ones.

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