Traditional Building Portfolio



Turret Living

A former hospital on Manhattan's Upper West Side is adapted as luxury condominiums.

Project: 455 Central Park West, New York, NY

Architects: Rothzeid Kaiserman Thomson & Bee Architects and Planners, New York, NY; Peter Bafitis, AIA, principal

General Contractor: Bovis Lend Lease, New York, NY

Structural Engineer: DeSimone Consulting Engineers, New York, NY

Hadiya Strasberg

Designed by Charles Coolidge Haight in the French Renaissance style and built by John Jacob Astor in 1884, 455 Central Park West in New York City has been through many transformations. It served as the New York Cancer Hospital, the precursor to Sloan-Kettering, for 71 years and then as the Towers Nursing Home from 1956 to 1974. After the nursing home closed its doors, the building had numerous owners, each with a different development plan. Since the early '80s, one thing has remained consistent: the architect.

New York City-based Rothzeid Kaiserman Thomson & Bee Architects and Planners (RKT&B) worked on the adaptive re-use of the building for 20 years before the project was completed in 2004. "We had worked with four developers before one stuck around," says Peter Bafitis, AIA, principal with RKT&B. "Over the years, schemes for re-use included rental housing, a school and an assisted-living facility."

According to Bafitis, a confluence of events hindered the restoration. "It was politics – real-estate politics, preservation politics, New York City agency politics and the fluctuation of the economy. Then 9/11 happened and people didn't want to touch housing. On top of these issues, for a very long time the neighborhood was blighted, which was partially due to the abandoned hospital. It was a rotted hulk that attracted a lot of unsavory people."

In 2001, MCL Companies, a Chicago, IL-based developer, bought the property – listed on the National Register of Historic Places – and began renovating it. MCL's plan was to restore the exterior and gut the interior in order to create a 19-unit condominium. An additional 81 units in an attached 27-story, 210,000-sq.ft. high-rise, designed by Perkins Eastman of New York City, were constructed between late 2000 and early 2004.

RKT&B collaborated with MCL to develop a design for the Landmark building. "MCL's vision was to restore the building," explains Bafitis. "The company wanted spacious, pre-war-sized family apartments." However, it wasn't an easy transition. After remaining vacant for so many years, the old hospital had fallen into great disrepair. The roof was damaged and caving in, the stonework was displaced or eroded, most of the windows and trim were missing and vegetation was overwhelming the building. "When we approached the site, we didn't know the extent of the structural damage," Bafitis says. "We ended up revealing a structure in far worst shape than we had imagined. The developer might not have taken on the project had he known that major renovation work was required."

While the exterior walls of the building were largely retained, the interior was gutted. Almost everything needed to be replaced, including the roof structure, the roofing slate, the windows, the flooring and the stairs. "Even the top 5 ft. of the exterior walls were removed, because they were eroded," says Bafitis. "All of the mortar had been washed away and replaced with dirt and soil. Plants had then gained a foothold, which compromised the wall."

Aided by historical images, RKT&B's renovation was sympathetic to the historic fabric of the exterior. Additions dating from the mid-1900s were disassembled, scars were repaired and any exterior elements that could not be salvaged were replicated. The brick and stone façades were re-pointed and replaced with matching pieces where necessary. "On the lower and upper levels, the façade is brownstone; Belleville brick, a longer and thinner variety of standard brick, makes up the façade of the middle floors," Bafitis explains. "We salvaged as much as possible from other parts of the site and matched the original with new brick when we ran out." Similarly, the stonework was repaired where possible. When it could not be repaired, it was replaced with cast stone.

After re-framing the roof, New York City-based Carleton Restoration installed new slate roofing that matched the original in size and color. Additionally, all four of the masonry chimneys were disassembled and rebuilt and metal dormers were replaced.

Windows, fabricated by Wausau Window and Wall Systems of Wausau, WI, were designed and detailed to accurately replicate the originals. "We choose modern metal windows to replace the old ones," says Bafitis. "In terms of sightlines and trims, they were replicated. The new mahogany casings were replicas of the original profile."

The interior, on the other hand, was a blank slate. RKT&B had considered working with the existing interior layouts and only modifying them slightly, but decided that a completely new plan would better suit the new application. MCL choose not to apply for historic tax credits, which meant that the company wasn't required to preserve parts of the interior. "We inserted a completely new interior, including a new core that really facilitates using the building for residential," says Bafitis.

RKT&B was interested most by the unique outline of the building – especially the five round turrets and the chapel with its Gothic-style windows. In the building's years as a hospital, the turrets served as patients' wards. Each turret's five oversized windows had provided excellent light and ventilation. "The wards were round, because, at the time the facility was built, the leading healthcare belief was that corners trapped germs," explains Bafitis. "Also, the nurses' stations were positioned at the center of the rooms, which allowed them to easily keep track of the patients."

In the renovated building, the rooms in the 42-ft.-dia. turrets were transformed into living/dining rooms and master-bedroom suites. Those apartments on the top floor feature turret spaces with 40-ft. cathedral ceilings. "The cones weren't intended to be left open," says Bafitis, "but we took advantage of a very unique element to do something special. It's one of the reasons people want to live here."

Other selling points of the building are the numerous amenities, such as a private health spa with a pool, a parking garage, full concierge services and a drive-up entry courtyard and intimate interior garden designed by Imlaystown, NJ-based landscape architect Zion & Breen. The apartments are similarly luxurious, with high-end kitchens and bathrooms. Some kitchens feature wood flooring, cherry cabinets and stainless-steel appliances. Bathrooms can be outfitted with nickel plumbing fixtures and marble flooring. Most living spaces have 13-ft.-tall ceilings, maple flooring, laundry and wood-burning fireplaces with stone hearths and wood surrounds and many have patios or balconies.

Because of their size and expense, some of the apartments, including the chapel unit, were left unfinished so that the buyers could design them to their specifications. Designed and built in the second phase of the original construction, the 5,000-sq.ft. chapel originally featured mosaic-tile flooring, iron railings, stone detailing and a wood vaulted ceiling. Unfortunately, very few of these original elements remained, although RKT&B was able to preserve column details and the wood ceiling in its entirety. The interior walls of the chapel were re-stuccoed and the vaulted ceiling was repaired and painted. To secure the exterior envelope, the original inoperable windows were replaced with operable replicas. As far as other interior items, most of the original flooring in the building had been ripped up at some point. "In fact, there were gapping holes in the floor," says Bafitis. "Of the interior masonry and brickwork that remained, very little was of interest."

The restoration of 455 Central Park West, completed in November 2004, has received much favorable attention, including the Best of 2004 Project of the Year Award from New York Construction, the 2005 Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award from The New York Landmarks Conservancy, a Roger H. Corbetta Award of Merit, a Gold Award for Engineering Excellence from the American Council of Engineering Companies and a Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America Award.

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