At 74 Trinity Place, Skyline Restoration salvaged an early 20th century piece of history for generations to come
It took six weeks to remove and salvage approximately 600 pieces, each weighing between 50 to 200 pounds and ranging in size from 1x2 feet to 3x3 feet. Elements were numbered to indicate the original construction configuration, wrapped in plastic, loaded onto trailer trucks, and hauled to a storage facility off site, while a new building was constructed on the site by Trinity Church. Photos: Skyline Restoration
“We’ve accomplished something here that is extremely unusual. Extraordinary measures were taken to preserve part of the disappearing New York City building history for future generations,” says Ruslan Dimarsky, account executive for 74 Trinity Place.
In 2015, the Skyline Restoration team was hired to conduct a type of rescuing work rarely performed in today’s fast-paced, cost-cutting construction world. A 1920’s building connected with a pedestrian bridge to the historic Trinity Church was to be taken down and a new building constructed. The new structure was to be a state-of-the-art glass and steel façade tower, specifically designed to integrate into the historic neighborhood. Yet, since the aging building’s façade contained still beautiful, ornamental Terra Cotta, the intent was to carefully remove and preserve some of the existing custom Terra Cotta sections so they could be reused as an ornamental mural for the new building thereby salvaging part of a vanishing New York City history.
“The owner recognized the historic value of the building. Terra Cotta elements were simply too beautiful to destroy and discard,” says Ruslan Dimarsky.
Edgar Cajilima, Skyline’s project manager, assembled a team of craftsmen, certified masons specially trained in handling Terra Cotta. Tools and machinery were selected to perform the unique demolition salvage process.
Says Ruslan Dimarsky, “Terra Cotta is one of the most decorative elements in historic building façade elements, but it is also very fragile if not handled properly.”
“Because Terra Cotta is so delicate, we used hand tools – hammer drills, spatulas, small jack hammers weighing just six pounds,” says Edgar Cajilima.
The salvaged Terra Cotta pieces remained in the storage facility while a new building was constructed on the site by Trinity Church.
After close to two years, Skyline Restoration was invited to return and complete the job.
Edgar Cajilima and his work crew sifted through the stone pieces to select the most salvageable elements required for the new mural. Blocks that were cracked or irreparably damaged were rejected. Those that were nearly intact or able to be restored were cleaned with light chemicals and special scrub brushes.
A mockup of carefully selected elements was formed on sheets of plastic and photographed. The size, height, and width of each had to be measured and recorded precisely to determine the exact dimensions they would occupy when reinstalled. Once the mockup was approved following a series of design and construction meetings, a structural cast-in-place concrete backup wall was put up, preparing for the new mural installation.
“Terra Cotta is an ornamental element. It needs special support to stay in place, it cannot stand alone,” explains Edgar Cajilima.
Once the new backup wall was in place, Skyline Restoration was ready to rebuild.
A custom-made anchorage system manufactured by Hohmann & Barnard was designed to secure the stone elements in place. The crew reinstalled the wall piece-by-piece, precisely matching the original design. Reconstruction work was completed by July 2020. The finished ornamental wall is 20 feet high by 10 feet wide, stretching two stories from the fifth to the seventh floor.
The reconstructed mural is proudly presented at the building roof terrace, visible from a pedestrian bridge connecting the new building to the Trinity Church historic site. An intricately designed work of art and architecture from the early 20th century has been successfully integrated into a striking glass and bronze-trimmed tower from the new millennium.
Today, 74 Trinity Place contains The Trinity Church Parish Center, a gymnasium, a music room, meeting rooms, program space and various offices on the upper floors (newyorkyimby.com.)
Says Ruslan Dimarsky, “The owners went an extra step by deciding to incorporate the existing pieces into the new building. Restoration is usually a matter of necessity. This one was done to preserve history.”