Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sorta like Indiana Jones: adventures in architecture

It’s a cold rainy day. As I head to the church from my study group, I wonder if the architects’ tour can come off in the rain. The Landmarks Conservancy has found money through a Rockefeller grant to produce a master plan for restoration of the exterior and create an accessible entrance. Heading the team will be Matthew Gottsegen from the firm of Franke, Gottsegen and Cox. They’ve been with us from the beginning, through every iteration. From their  stunning new cathedral conception to the hybrid preserved sanctuary faux prewar apartment complex tower combination through potential school plans to our new landmark restoration vision. They’ve been there.
A ladder’s been placed against the scaffolding and team members are scrambling up for a closer look at the church’s exterior. Danielle and I are the last two up. We’re all in rain gear. The scaffolding is strewn with large chunks of red sandstone. That’s why this scaffolding is necessary. A few empty bottles. A golf ball. I take a close look at the remaining letters of Not by might, nor by power...still moved that a late 19th century protestant church would choose these watch words. The intrepid Anne Friedman from the conservancy notices an overflowing gutter. The Baschnagel roofer guys will have to come back.

the gutter overflows

Thus begins  tour through every possible inch of the building. We climb up a ladder into the empty north tower. Another ladder to the roof door ten feet up the tower wall. Out onto the sanctuary roof. There’s an odd faux marble planter there overgrown with weeds. How did that get there? Matthew wants to know if there’s a way into the space between the sanctuary ceiling and the roof. Well, yes, there is a way...I say.
But first the other roof. Up another ladder. Lift a hatch. Through the attic. Another ladder, another hatch onto the roof. History revealed. Matthew points to the bricks revealing a very different original roof configuration. You’ve discovered the Eidlitz building, I say, half ironically knowing that former Columbia architecture dean Martin Weaver said that any evidence of Eidlitz was obliterated by 1889. There are skylights for the gym, covered over during World War II. Classic slate shingles.  Terra cotta shingles. Asphalt covering. The rain is steady and cold. The roof slippery.

more work to be done

Now to go to the space between the ceiling and roof.  Another set of ladders. And more ladders. Up and up. My acrophobia severely tested. As bad as narrow ledges on New Mexico mesas. I admire Ann’s hands on (feet on?) approach, willing to go anywhere. The Conservancy becoming a real partner here. I never realized architecture was such an adventurous profession, says Danielle. Sorta like Indiana Jones and the landmark Temple of Doom, I reply. 
The space between the ceiling and roof soars up another twenty feet. Everyone careful to stay on the catwalks and not crash through the painted over glass ceiling. Old pulleys left over from 
construction days. What a sight it must of been to see this church being built. Chalked names from late fifties adventurers on the beams. 
Finally down and down and through the crawl space, through our beloved Stygian darkness to the newly restored drain. More issues. Work remains to be done. Again, I marvel at how little those who wax eloquent and romantic about these buildings really understand. And back up again.
So who’s going to pay for this? asks the man from Sciame construction. Well, says Ann, our city councilmember Gale Brewer said she could raise 10 million or more from the community. We’ve got about 12,000 now.  Matthew chuckles, and that will be gone when I’m done. And so a plan begins to develop. Stabilize the stone. Get the scaffolding down. Mid six figures, tops. Show progress. Develop interest. A five year fundraised process to completion. Accessibility. Maybe even the windows, says the glass expert. A meeting is scheduled. We will begin.
Hand shakes all around. The team leaves. Danielle and I left alone. More work to be done. We go outside to carefully examine the sidewalk in preparation for a discussion with Community Board 7. The cold rain continues. Steady.

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