WLH meets The Cary Building

WLH is proud to work on such a historical landmark of NYC and even more proud to respectfully enhance the architectural details which have been preserved for over 150 years. The addition of new windows replicating the original ones as well as the complete facade cleaning and repainting is going to make this already iconic building shine just that much more! #wlh #buildstrong

The inside is going to be above and beyond …. Stay tuned!


PRESERVATIONISTS gnash their teeth when confronted with half a building — some elegant landmark where the bottom or the top has been torn off or mutilated. But the 1857 Cary Building, at 105 Chambers Street, has a dissonance of another sort. The intricate twin cast-iron facades facing Chambers and Reade Streets are surprisingly intact, but the widening of Church Street in the 1920’s exposed a 200-foot-long utilitarian side wall of unadorned brick. There is not too little of the Cary Building but too much.

After the construction of City Hall in 1811, the blocks to the west filled up with elegant houses. In 1818 Mary Mason Jones — memorialized as Mrs. Manson Mingott by her niece Edith Wharton in ”The Age of Innocence” — built a house at 122 Chambers Street, between Church Street and West Broadway. The New York Times said the Jones residence was the first in the city to have gas lighting and a bathtub.

By the 1850’s the same streets were full of businesses and boarding houses, and in 1857 William H. Cary put up the biggest building on the block, 50 feet wide and reaching 200 feet back to Reade Street. Cary had established the dry-goods firm of Cary, Howard & Sanger in the 1830’s and the Union Sketchbook of 1861, a business guide and directory, described his new store as ”the product of the taste and ingenuity of three continents . . . 1,500 different kinds of foreign and domestic fancy goods, comprising jewelry, perfumes, watches, cutlery, guns, musical instruments, combs, brushes.”

Cary had built cast-iron storefronts on Fulton Street in Brooklyn and on Pearl Street in Manhattan designed by the architects King & Kellum and cast by Daniel Badger’s influential Architectural Iron Works in Manhattan. For 105 Chambers Street, Cary returned to the same team but had them design and erect two entire five-story facades.

The original ground floor was a straightforward series of windows and doors separated by slender columns. The upper floors are arcades of windows separated by paired columns, set on a field of cast iron modeled after rusticated blocks of stone. Above everything is an intricately modeled cornice and a large central medallion reading ”Cary Building.”

The Cary Building was one of New York’s most notable cast-iron buildings, but it was eclipsed by the 1856 Haughwout Building at Broadway and Broome Street because of the latter’s corner location. In 1857 the Cary Building was still two lots west of Church Street.

IN the 1850’s and 1860’s cast iron was a miracle material. The iron framing permitted the wider windows so important for retail stores, and also allowed for quick construction in mass-produced but highly detailed designs. Daniel Badger’s 1865 catalog lists 19 cast-iron commissions on the two blocks of Chambers Street from Broadway to West Broadway.

Cary died in 1861, and although Cary, Howard & Sanger dissolved, the Cary family held on to 105 Chambers Street as an investment until 1950. In the 1920’s, during their ownership, Church Street was widened and the Cary Building lost its easterly neighbors and gained its current corner position. Although some windows were cut through the facade after the street was widened, and more windows were added later, the Church Street side still presents an ungainly contrast to the delicately modeled cast iron.

In 1980 the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Cary Building as a landmark. These days the building, although mostly intact, looks forlorn, its upper floors vacant. Rust stains bloom over the entire facade, which looks like it has been dunked in tea. But a new owner, Chambers Street L.L.C., has begun a two-part restoration plan.

The architect Martin J. Marcus is designing new commercial spaces for the first four floors. And the firm of Li/Saltzman Architects is designing three residential spaces for the top floor, along with an exterior restoration.

”The detail of this building is just astounding, how far they went to imitate stone,” said Judith Saltzman, a principal of Li/Saltzman. She said her firm is examining options for replacing missing elements in cast iron, cast aluminum and fiberglass for an estimated cost of about $500,000.

To determine the original paint color, a microscopic paint analysis was undertaken by the New Jersey firm Historic Preservation and Illumination. Cynthia Hinson, head of the company, said that the original color was a uniform yellowy white, with sand thrown or blown on the the wet paint to imitate the granular surface of stone.

The techniques of paint analysis have advanced significantly in the last 15 years and it is now common even in routine preservation projects. Raymond Pepi, president of Building Conservation Associates in Manhattan, said that the earliest methods were often used to analyze interior paint finishes in residential buildings and were derived from the work of art restorers, who often had to strip away successive layers of paint.

But since he began work in the 1970’s, Mr. Pepi said that the discipline had advanced on its own, especially with color matching by colorimeter, instead of eyeball judgment, and staining and fluorescent microscopy, which can reveal layers invisible to the eye.

The kind of work necessary for the Chambers and Reade Street facades is similar to work done on other buildings in the area. The expanse of raw brick exposed by the long-ago widening of Church Street will also remain largely as it is, with the exception of new windows.

Another way to treat such an unadorned wall is with illusionistic detail — like the side wall of the cast-iron building at 112 Prince Street, near Greene Street, where the muralist Richard Haas continued the front of the building along the side wall, which was exposed by demolition of the adjacent structure.

But Ms. Saltzman is not pursuing that kind of expression. She said that she was trying only to relate some additional window openings on Church Street that are part of the renovation to the rhythm of the old ones. As for the unadorned wall, she said, ”We just want to let it read as something that was not originally meant to be exposed.”







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