Remember that original Friday Top 5 a few weeks back all about America’s most historic bars and taverns?
Well Jessica Baldwin Phillips, executive director of Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City, was kind enough to spend some time telling us about the tavern, the block that is its home, and what it takes to keep the place alive. Restoration of the historic façade began in June of this year.
What are some of the architectural challenges you face preserving and maintaining such an historic American landmark?
Keeping all of these old buildings is hard. People didn’t build the building thinking it was going to last forever. It’s a lot of work to keep the life of the building for as long as we can and it’s always ongoing. So every 5 years we have to paint every building. The 24 Water Street Building has a cast iron and aluminum façade, which was very popular in the mid 1800’s. It was originally a brick building and they were like, “Oh, let’s make it modern and new,” and they put this metal façade on it. Up until a couple weeks ago, that metal façade had birds living in it and a lot of holes and problems. It has been painted many times but paint sometimes isn’t enough to deal with corrosion of the metal, and NYC has a harsh air quality, and all those pollutants take its toll.
Fraunces Tavern is a small part of a larger New York City block, which is registered with the National Register of Historic Landmarks and owned by the non-profit group Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York. Is it just 54 Pearl Street (Fraunces Tavern) currently having work done?
There are 3 buildings having their facades redone. For the metal façade building they took off all of the paint and exposed the bare metal, and they saw all the holes but also all the detail, so to repair some of the holes they have to fabricate filler pieces and recreate the decorations to make it match and they’ve got to paint it all and seal it up. It’s a lot of work. $325,000 worth of work.
26 Water Street and 54 Pearl Street are brick facades, and a lot of the brick deteriorates and mortar breaks down, so the bricks need to be re-pointed, all the window frames are wood and they are being scraped, caulked and re-painted, so think of it as if they are sealing the building back up properly like when it was first built.
It must be hard finding contractors the museum can trust to restore such a fundamental structure in the City?
While these buildings aren’t very common down here in the financial district they are common in other places of Manhattan, so there are a lot of contractors that specialize in metal façade work. They’ve been working since June and they’ve done an amazing job. I didn’t know it could look so good and it’s not done yet. It’s going to keep the stability of the building going for many years.
Any last words of wisdom or advice for our Find Everything Historic readers?
There’s always something to do in an old building. Even if you had a million dollars worth of restoration done, there is always going to be something new next year. It’s the charm of it, I suppose. But it’s not just restoration for restoration sake. If we didn’t keep the buildings occupiable, we couldn’t have the school kids here in the mornings and we couldn’t have 25,000 visitors [per year] come from all over the world to learn about America’s fight for independence.