100-Year Face-Lifts Restoring Landmark Buildings

From the venerable Dakota on the Upper West Side to the small-but-fashionable antique brownstones in the Village, to the formidable New York Public Library, hundreds of buildings in Manhattan and the outer boroughs have been designated historic landmarks. While landmark residential buildings are considered very desirable, even stylish, places to live and visit, they carry with them several unique concerns when it comes to maintenance and restoration projects.

Securing the permits and filing the paperwork necessary to commence work on a landmarked building is a project in itself, and the fines for not doing so are considerable. Contractors must comply with very specific guidelines, blueprints and designs when giving a landmark a facelift, right down to using the original color of caulking designated in the building plans. Of course, it's not all bad. By following the correct procedures, the efforts will keep landmarks looking their best for the next hundred-plus years, and guarantee their status as desirable places to live.

I'll Need to See Your Permit

Lina Gottesman, president of Altus Metal and Marble Services, a New York-based contractor specializing in refurbishing and maintaining metal and marble accents on historic buildings, says Lower Manhattan and Midtown are home to many of New York's historic and landmark buildings. Manhattan, she says, began there and then grew northward over time, which makes the area a hotspot of architectural history. In order for a building to qualify for landmark status, Gottesman says it must conform to Landmarks Preservation Commission - or LPC - guidelines, which pertain to age and the manner in which the building was preserved, among other factors. According to the LPC, the Landmarks Law requires that to be designated, a potential landmark must be at least 30 years old and must possess "a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation." Once the LPC receives a request, an Request for Evaluation (RFE) Committee, consisting of the chairman, the executive director, the chief of staff, the director of research, and other agency staff members, review the materials submitted and discuss whether the property meets the criteria for designation. The director of research then sends a letter to the person who submitted the request, informing him or her of the committee's determination. If considered for designation, a public hearing then will be held on the request.

The proper permits, permissions and licenses from the LPC and the Department of Buildings - or DOB - must be secured before work can begin. And that, says Wayne Bellet, president of Bellet Construction, a New York-based contractor and landmark preservation expert, is no simple task. "If it is landmarked, you have to go through the approval process not only of the co-op and condo board - which is almost secondary - but more so the LPC." Thus, the LPC must approve in advance any alteration, reconstruction, demolition, or new construction affecting the designated building.

Before that step, the building must secure a professional engineer to prepare drawings for the DOB. Those will be filed, signed and sealed by the professional engineer, or PE, who will be solely responsible as the applicant of record. After that, the next step is to file the plans with the LPC.

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